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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Worries

We're just a bit worried. You may remember that R repeatedly had abnormal blood tests starting in September. They seemed to indicate cancer - but an ultrasound and an echocardiogram did not uncover any tumors. We decided to take a wait-and-see approach, while we began feeding R a home-cooked diet designed by a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition.

After more than 2 months on the new diet, I took R to the vet to have his blood examined again. Unfortunately, it was worse than it has been in the past. The abnormalities are now suggestive of leukemia or lymphoma so his blood is presently at the Colorado State University Vet School where they're doing high tech tests to look for those two diseases.
We are nervous about the outcome. R is far too young to have these diseases but it's not unheard of.

In general, R's energy and spirits have seemed pretty good. He likes playing with his sister, most of the time.
However, Shyla is sometimes a bit more wild than he prefers. He avoids her, by hovering behind us, when she's playing too rough. We'd like to see him tell her to "chill out" with a correction... but that's up to him. I'm not sure if he has the personality to give corrections - he may be too sweet and forgiving.

I've felt, for months, that something intangible wasn't quite right with R. Our vet suggested that it was the loss of K that provoked the change that I think I see. It's possible that she's right.
But, since he still runs with glee, plays with abandon, and rolls in the snow like a goofball most of the time, I find myself feeling doubtful that he could be very sick.
R adores rolling and rubbing his face in the crusty snow. Shyla hasn't taken up this hobby yet.
Here's what Shyla has to say about all this worry...
I agree.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Training Tuesday

Thanks for your very thoughtful comments yesterday. I had no idea how many people had experienced similar feelings about a parent's death as I have. You helped me see how many people never stop grieving a beloved parent and that many of you have experienced a feeling of disquiet when your age approached the age of your parent's death.

Today is training update day. Shyla has had a stupendous week of training. We had a few fabulous trips into town, visiting shopping areas and the spooky park where the skateboards scared her so much last time she was there. She handled everything in stride during socialization this week although she was not tested by skateboards. She was tested by a hand-truck in the vet's lobby, and she declined to go anywhere near it. That was fine because she bounced back from her initial fear so quickly that the hand-truck fear didn't affect anything else about our outing.
We visited a pet supply shop that was the first shop that Shyla was ever willing to enter last fall. This week, she and I wandered the shop, doing obedience practice in some aisles, meeting nice people and dogs, and browsing their treat department. When I went to the register to pay, the owner of the shop said that she'd been watching us, and, if she hadn't seen Shyla last fall, she would've thought that Shyla was a perfectly well adjusted dog with very few fears. In celebration, she gave us a bag of home-baked treats to take home! It was wonderful to get that external validation that we are making big progress!

At home, we kept working on old tricks and new tricks. On one evening walk, it was just me and Shyla (the boys were running), and she did a prolonged off-leash heel despite many distractions. I was very proud of her because I consider off-leash heeling to be a critical part of staying safe during our hikes and bike rides. I'm still working on teaching her to heel next to my bike - that's more of a challenge but we'll get it eventually!

We practiced her "relax" cue in all sorts of places.
She now needs rarely needs guiding with my hands to get into position. I can stand up straight and say "relax", and she lies on her side. She is so smart!
We started working on her rolling from one side to the other. So, she starts out in a "relax" on her right side, then rolls over into the "relax" position on her left side. She still needs a lot of guidance in the form of hand movements from me. I hope that we can strengthen that behavior in the coming week.

We have expanded her retrieve so that she'll pick up and return a variety of objects. A piece of PVC pipe...
A screwdriver...
She didn't always look happy about holding the screwdriver!
And, a brush...
She still is leery of holding metal objects with her mouth so that's on our "to do" list. I also want to practice fun retrieving games outdoors. Now, when she's calm, she retrieves beautifully. But, after a few repeats, she gets so excited that she forgets to return the object to me and instead zooms in circles around me. I think that if I move away from her excitedly after she picks up the object, I may be able to shape a fast and fun retrieve, even when she's excited.

Shyla has started creating her own tricks, which is one of the most fun parts of clicker training - dogs are not afraid to try out new behaviors. As you know, I've taught her to "take a bow".
Separately, I've taught her to rest her chin on the ground.
To my surprise, she decided to combine the two tricks, taking a bow with her chin on the ground! I gave her a jackpot of treats to teach her that creativity is encouraged!
An even funnier one, which I didn't capture in a photo, was that she decided to "wave" while lying on her side in the "relax" position. The next time she does that one, I'm going to click to tell her that it's good, and then try to get her to do it again. It was SO funny!

Our last thing for the coming week is that I want to continue to teach Shyla that nail-clipping is not a bad thing (we had quite a struggle over nail-clipping last week). I'm using a Youtube video as my guide. Basically, I started by taking her to the spot where I always clip nails and having her lie down. Then, I held her paw in my hand numerous times, rewarding her with a click/treat each time if she didn't pull away. Over a 10 minute session, I worked up to holding her paw while spreading out her toes and touching a nail with the nail clipper, without any signs of stress from her. I hope that I'll be able to clip a nail without any resistance within the next week.

I am finding that Shyla is perhaps the most trainable dog who I've ever worked with. She loves to learn, loves to get praise, and loves to puzzle out what I'm trying to entice her to do. I think that, in terms of training specific behaviors (e.g., tricks), the sky is the limit. In terms of socialization, I'm not sure where the limit is (e.g., skateboards may never be okay) but we'll keep working at it so that Shyla can eventually handle most things in the everyday world without a hitch.
I'm having such fun with this beautiful dog!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finding Beauty amidst "Life"

I've felt like life has had a few dark tinges recently, like ghosts hovering on the edge of my world.
Yesterday marked 25 years since my mother died. I know intellectually that I shouldn't even let myself remember her death date - that I should focus solely on her life but I can't help myself. I was relatively young when she died of breast cancer, and there has been a gaping hole in my life ever since. Now, I am approaching the same age that she was when she died, and it scares me. I've never been able to visualize myself as older than my last memories of my mom.
I have a tendency to try to embrace life even more when sadness and fear stare me in the face. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's not. But, seizing the day is how I live, and I can't change it.

So, I keep moving, searching for the beauty in life, regardless of the ghosts hovering in my peripheral vision. Sunrises are changing by the day. The sun is arcing higher in the sky each day and thus the "sunrise magic light" is more fleeting. Shyla still glows at sunrise but for less time. And, sometimes shadows dapple her, like yesterday.
I also search for the beauty in life by using my trail cameras to observe our wildlife. I've captured lots of photos lately throughout the forest but my "agility course trail camera", which is just outside our bedroom window, has seen the most action.

Multiple coyotes pass it nightly. The female coyotes are in heat now, as shown by their bloody urine spots in the snow. That means that pups will be born in about 9 weeks, just about when the first Pasqueflowers (wild crocuses) bloom.
Bobcats have been regulars at the agility course too. One night, I captured a solo bobcat who was heading straight for the "pause table" (not in the picture).
A couple of nights later, I hit the jackpot. The mother bobcat and her kitten are still together! First, mom walked past the camera.
Then, her kitten passed it. Notice the lighter color of his fur.
The two of them spent close to 4 hours doing something before they returned by the same path. First mom...
And then the lighter colored kitten...
I smiled when I saw the two of them, obviously still thriving. That kitten represents the renewal of life.

So, life on Mother Earth gallops onward.
At first, I didn't think that I could get through twenty-five days without my mother and now twenty-five years have passed. I have my mother's watch that surprised me when it kept ticking, with the second hand sweeping in circles, after the moment of her death. It finally stopped, silently and without fanfare, sometime in the past couple of years... but the sun still rises every morning.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Black and White Sunday: Lazing in the Sun

Snoozing atop Hug Hill...

In the next photo, I tried a trick that I've seen my friend from Tales and Tails do. It's pretty dramatic to keep the bright eye color of Shyla when the rest of the picture is black and white!
By the way, her newest trick, taught with a clicker, is to rest her snout on the ground or on her paw(s). You can see it in both photos.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Happy Saturday!

These days, I feel so very thankful that this amazing dog came into my life.
We are having so much fun together. Our clicker training is a blast - Shyla completely "gets it" now and is learning tricks very fast. Moreover, we had a stupendous outing to town yesterday. And, I adore snow biking with her!
She's at home on our trails and is an incredible athlete.
On top of all that, she's sweet and sensitive. Her sensitivity makes some things harder for her (like getting used to an urban setting) but it also makes her a wonderful friend.
Today, as Shyla and I headed up toward Hug Hill, we were treated to the sight of a huge flock of Bohemian Waxwings. Apparently, these berry-eating birds are appearing in lots of places south of their normal wintering grounds. One report says that the berry crop that they usually eat further north failed. I hope that they're finding enough to eat here.
The flock looks like a hundred or more to me. The photo just shows a fraction of the flock as they flew past me.
 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
P.S. To those of you who asked about yesterday's post, the mountain lions do come out in daytime, and I've captured lots of daytime trail camera photos of them in the past. However, they are very wary of people and are rarely seen. I do get a little scared when I realize that one was recently in the spot where I'm checking a trail camera but I honestly believe that it's more risky to drive on my steep mountain road on a snowy day than to ride my bike through mountain lion territory.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Surprise!

Shyla and I started our day with a snowbike ride in our neck of the woods. She zoomed through green Kinnikinnick just after sunrise.
She is so fast and graceful that she astounds me. I can barely keep up with her sometimes but I adore watching her zip back and forth by my bike, covering at least three times the distance that I do.

We pedaled up to Hug Hill where wind fluttered past us. It was a gentle breeze compared some of our winter winds. I played with my "usual lens" and then a 100 mm macro lens that a generous person has loaned to me. The difference was incredible. The colors and detail stunned me with the loaned lens even though I didn't push it toward its "macro" limits even the slightest bit.

Shyla's ears flapped in the wind, making graceful shapes.
She seemed to enjoy sampling the scents on the wind coming off of the invisible Continental Divide.

After our ride, I headed out alone to check a trail camera that is posted in a new place for me. I've had a remarkable lack of success with my trail cameras for the past two winters so I decided that it was time to try some "long shot" locations. Last fall, I noticed lots of cat "scrapes" on a certain rocky slope, and I marked the spot with my GPS to post a trail camera there someday. Now, the scrapes are under the snow but many sets of old bobcat tracks pock the area.

As I'd expected, I captured a photo of one of our tenacious bobcats.
Then, I captured a photo of his quarry, who is still alive and well, as far as I know.
As I checked the trail camera, I stood at the site, scrolling through the photos in chronological order. Right after the rabbit photo, this huge guy appeared hulking in the view finder. I literally jumped.
He was very curious about the camera which emits a soft red glow (an infrared "flash") at night.
He sniffed the area below the camera, where I kneel when I check it, giving the camera a great view of the furrow in the middle of his forehead.
After that, all his body parts including his long tail passed very close to the camera, as he tracked the movements that I'd made when I set up the camera. I could see his tracks today, following mine in the snow.

When he'd finished checking out my scent, he reappeared in front of the camera. He's a bulky and strong mountain lion. You can also see that he recently ate a big meal. His tummy is bulging.
He then examined the area where I know that there are lots of cat scrapes under the snow from my reconnaisance last fall.
He rolled around in the snow a bit, like a lion whom we followed last fall, making me wonder if it's the same one. I'd never seen this behavior until last fall.
Then, he prepared to leave, pausing stock still for a moment.
Then, just like that, he vanished like a ghost - a giant predator who lives all around us but somehow remains invisible to people almost all the time. 

That series of photos was a wonderful Friday surprise!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tricks and training

We've done lots and lots of training since my last update. I see our training in two parts: socialization and skills. Socialization involves going new places, seeing a variety of things, and meeting all sorts of people and dogs. Skills are things like "heel", "down", and tricks like taking a bow.

This week, we had a roller-coaster ride in terms of socialization. One outing was to attend an advanced dog-training class that meets in a different outdoor location every week. Last week, it was in a town park that Shyla has enjoyed in the past. So, I arrived at class full of confidence.

Unfortunately, the park was bustling with a lot of crazy activity, and a couple of things scared Shyla within the initial 5 minutes of class. The first scary thing was kids on scooters. The scooters were quiet but they zoomed in a way that scared Shyla. We walked away to observe them from a nearby hillside, and it seemed like Shyla was going to recover. However, to my chagrin, the scooters were followed by skateboards a few minutes later. We were still up on the hillside, pretty far away from the skateboards, but Shyla never recovered from the terror of the skateboards.

As class went on after those scary things, Shyla spent most of the time scanning 360° around herself and obsessing over anything even vaguely unfamiliar. It was a huge flat park (at least 200 acres of flat field) so she could see people doing recreational activities in every direction and then worry incessantly about them. In technical terms, except for a few respites during class, Shyla was "over threshold". In retrospect, I should have bailed out partway through class but my teacher and I kept thinking that Shyla was just about to recover.

In contrast, later in the week, we had an awesome socialization outing. We went to a busy shopping area, and Shyla was outgoing and relaxed. She even seemed to be getting used to the loud sounds of city buses, trucks, and push-carts loaded with boxes. Moreover, she went into a shop that was teeming with people, and she wagged at them as we weaved in and out of the people! We both had a fun day - and Shyla shined.

In the coming week, we plan to return to that scary park with our trainer at a quiet time of day to help Shyla relax there. We'll also visit a more urban setting - with traffic and city noises - with a focus on helping Shyla adapt to unexpected noises. Trying to socialize a teenage dog requires incredible patience - but I think that we're very gradually moving forward.

We've been continuing our clicker training of basic skills (our main focus was/is an off-leash heel but we work on the full repertoire regularly) and fun tricks. About 2 weeks ago, I taught Shyla to raise a paw off the ground. I've now shaped that into three different tricks: a handshake, a high five, and a wave. She adores waving and does it without me asking! I think it's very cute.

On Hug Hill...
At sunrise...

Another skill we've worked on is retrieving. Shyla has gone from being apathetic about retrieving to being over-the-moon happy about it! I've shaped it into two different games. In one game, she takes an object and holds it while sitting. She doesn't release it until I put my hand on it and say "out".

She held a rope toy...
A rubber stick...

In the more traditional form of a retrieve, I throw objects, and Shyla brings them back to me. She is great at this now (except if she gets too excited and starts zooming), including returning the object to my hand at the end of the retrieve.

Today, we played a modified retrieving game on Hug Hill. Usually, I throw the object away from both of us and then I send her to get it. Today, we did it differently, and Shyla had to think hard to figure out that it was just another form of a retrieve. I put the object between the two of us, and she started in a sit-stay. You can see from her face that she's thinking hard about what she's supposed to do.
I told her to "take it".
And then I asked her to "bring", which she was starting to do in the photo below.

I've purposely used fun toys for all retrieving games because Shyla seemed to actively dislike retrieving when I started teaching her - and the toys made her much more happy to play the game.

In the coming week, I plan to start teaching her to retrieve a variety of objects - like a piece of PVC pipe, handwarmers in a package, a hat, and all sorts of other random things. If she's okay with those things, we'll move toward the toughest things to retrieve - metal objects like keys. My goal is that Shyla will eventually pick up anything up off the ground if I ask her to. With my spinal problems, that can be a huge help to me.

While we were on Hug Hill earlier this week, she practiced her "relax" cue. She's known this one for a while... but, if we don't practice, she'll forget it.
Shyla will relax on either her left or right side. This week, I plan to teach her to lie on her back with her paws in the air, for a funny trick. I also plan to teach her a controlled roll, from the relax on her right side to relax on her left side. That should be fun!

I also hope to start teaching the "be shy" cue, which means that she covers her nose/eyes with a paw.

But, most of all, I hope to keep building her confidence this week. Working on tricks helps with building confidence and trust. We also have a couple of town outings planned... and I'm hoping that the happy and relaxed spirit that I know inhabits her body shines through.