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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Duo and Shyla

I love the days when I get the Duo together for our evening hike.
Shyla and R are fabulous friends. They play and play and play. However, as I mentioned before, sometimes Shyla is too rambunctious for R's taste. I've realized that all the dogs who R has lived with before have been very gentle during play, and he's been the rambunctious one. I'm not sure that he's ever met a dog who plays as wildly as Shyla.

He hasn't set ground rules about playing intensity for Shyla yet. So, I interrupt them, and have them doing a little obedience practice whenever R starts acting reticent about play. Interestingly, R did set the rules about a tennis ball that he was holding. When Shyla tried to take it from him, I heard a low rumble of a growl from R, and Shyla quickly retreated to the other side of the room, leaving R to enjoy his tennis ball. That tells me that R will set the rules about things that are important to him, and Shyla will follow them.
Shyla has become extraordinarily competitive about recalls when we practice them during our hikes. I always start the Duo in a sit-stay, and then I go a distance away to call them. Until recently, R won almost every recall race to me. Now, Shyla has become obsessed with getting to me first, and she's usually successful.

This was just after I'd called them. Shyla was a little faster out of the blocks.
Shyla kept her lead, and looked kind of surprised about it!
But then, R turned on the turbo chargers as they went around a curve to follow the packed trail to me. Both dogs are in this photo. R is directly behind Shyla. You can barely see his black paw.
I'm not sure how this happened after they'd been neck-and-neck just a few strides earlier... but Shyla made it to me first.
We think that the reason for Shyla's success is that she's young and naive. Today, I did a quick calculation that R has probably practiced at least 10,000 recalls in his life. So, it's not quite as exciting for him as it is for Shyla!

We will keep practicing recalls for our dogs' entire lifetimes. Because recalls are so important to their safety, the dogs always get an amazing jackpot of treats for a fast and enthusiastic recall. For other behaviors - like sit, stay, down, and other basics - we fade the treats with time. Both dogs only occasionally get rewarded with treats for those behaviors. But they always get praise!
I want to lay out a few March training goals for Shyla. I want to teach her to cover her eyes with a paw, to rest her snout on my knee when I'm sitting, and to "shake" (as if she's getting water off of herself). I also plan to continue socialization training with 2-4 trips to new places each week. I won't make any specific goals for that part of Shyla's training. It's up to her how fast or slow it goes.

Our last two socialization training sessions have gone, for the most part, extremely well - after she had such a dramatic setback post-spaying a few weeks ago. I'm certain that there will be more backward steps in our future because that's how this process goes, according to people more experienced than me. But it doesn't matter in the big picture - I love this girl for who she is, no matter whether she acts fearful or outgoing.
As I've thought about her, I've realized that simple things in life require tremendous courage from Shyla. Even on the days that I perceive that she's fearful, she has the courage to walk next to me through the crazy human world. I've started thinking of her as "Courageous Shyla", no matter how her training is going.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A surprise blizzard

We had a one day break from snow storms, and the pups and I enjoyed it at sunset yesterday. The snow had a golden hue from the setting sun.
The dogs romped together.
And R looked very serious, except for the slobber on his forehead. I suspect that it was Shyla's slobber decorating him.
Today, we were supposed to have light snow totaling about 2" accumulation. Oh my, those forecasters were wrong. We got about another foot of powder.

The view from our bedroom this morning - a snowstorm underway...
Before Shyla and I headed out snowbiking, I wanted to snap a photo for our Daily Dog Challenge photography group. A picnic in a blizzard!
In the next photo, it appeared that Shyla had decided that her human was truly crazy.
Don't worry - Shyla got to frolic in the snow after our photo-taking. During our blizzard bike ride, she peeked from behind a tree while she waited for her pokey human. Throughout my bike ride, she porpoised through the bottomless snow, running with endless joyful energy, covering at least twice the distance that I did.
The snow canceled Shyla's in-town training session. The road crews weren't ready for our surprise storm, and the airwaves were rife with stories of accidents and closed roads. We stayed home and sat by the fire.
R knows how to relax - I should take a lesson from him.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow Day!

The calm after the storm prevailed, early this morning.
Trees drooped under the weight of the snow.
Because the trails weren't packed down very much, snow biking was slow and laborious. I enjoyed many breaks watching Shyla play in her first really deep snow.
Actually, she wasn't stuck in the deep snow in the photo above, although it might look that way. When I released her to play, she shot like a rocket through the powder.
She was fully submerged a few times, emerging as a hilarious "snowdog"!
But, she mainly stayed above the snow surface...
I've been in a phase of not teaching her new tricks but allowing her to consolidate her knowledge of the many tricks that I've taught her over the past month. One funny thing has evolved as we've practiced her tricks. She now waves to me whenever I wave to her (with no verbal cue)! It makes me laugh every single time!
Part of the reason why I've held off on teaching new tricks is that my pain has made me grumpy. And, in clicker training, being grumpy is not good. The whole underpinning of clicker training is that it's fun, and your dog never gets punished - not even verbally or by hearing you sigh in frustration. Your dog gets rewarded for doing good things and the only repercussion for making a wrong choice is that your dog doesn't get a click and treat.

Because Shyla is so sensitive, I see the difference in her when I'm grumpy. She seems to worry more about "making a mistake". So, I try to avoid training, especially teaching new behaviors. For the past two days, the pain has been easing for short periods so I started a new trick with Shyla today while I felt decent. The trick is that she covers her eyes with a paw. We made progress on it, and I'm hoping that I'll be showing you the trick sometime soon!

Shyla is so smart and trainable, as long as she's not in a stressful place like town. I'm trying something new to bring out her confidence when we're in town - I take short and frequent breaks in quiet spots to let her do her tricks, and I praise her lavishly for each one. I think it's helping a bit because she loves her tricks.
Tomorrow should be a very different day here in the mountains. The sun caused "snow bombs" to fall out of the trees this afternoon, creating a mystical aura in the forest and leaving bare branches.
It's our first major snowstorm yet we've already reached the springtime pattern of very rapid melting after the snow. What an odd year...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snow, snow, snow!

It was snowing hard at daybreak. This was the sight outside the bedroom window. The snow was already piling up on the deck and still hurtling out of the sky.
I was a little slow getting myself out the door because the weather looked so harsh. Indeed, when Shyla and I headed out, it was almost a white-out (and it's still snowing hard now).
But, that didn't stop us. Since there was only about 6" of snow accumulated, the Fatback could handle it even though no one had packed down the trails.
Shyla was overjoyed with the snow, flitting all around me, galloping like a happy puppy. It's such fun having a buddy who isn't put off by cold and snow!
As the ride went on, the snow got deeper and deeper. By the time I finished, it seemed like there was at least a foot of fresh snow. Here was Shyla at the end of the ride.
I'd asked her to do a sit-stay in the photo above, which she was doing beautifully. Then, I must have telegraphed with my body language that I was planning to call her. She leaned her head closer to me, looking at me intently, willing me to say the magic words "Shyla Come!".
Shyla has changed so much, from a dog who seemed almost apathetic about life when I first met her to a dog who looks at me with that level of intensity despite an aerial bombardment of snow. I love it.
Soon, we're heading out on snowshoes to start the long process of packing down the trails to make walking and snowbiking easier. I bet it's going to be a gorgeous winter wonderland.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A storm on the horizon

Our K had a love of rose hips from when she was a tiny puppy. She'd stop in patches of wild rose bushes to munch on the rose hip berries all winter long. Alas, I keep thinking of her this year because there are almost no rose hips in her favorite patches due to our long-term drought - she would've been very disappointed. Here's one of the few rose hips that I found.
I remember when K started nibbling on these berries as a playful puppy, and I asked my vet if it was okay. Her reply was that the only danger was that K would scratch a cornea on the thorny stems. Despite our usual bad luck with vet issues, that never happened! Using a macro lens loaned to me by a generous friend, I captured a close look at the details of those thorns. It's amazing how every thorn is different, and how the stem looks like a intricate sculpture when I look at it in detail.
Whenever I'm going through a rough patch, I think of K a lot. With my neck, arm, and hand pain these days, she's been on my mind. But, I've managed to re-focus on who I have here with me now.

I recently took my first close-up photo of Shyla's eye, like I used to do with K's eyes. I adore Shyla's eyes... they're different from K's but glorious in their own way. Notice the shadows of her lashes on her golden eye in the photo below.
R's eyes are harder to photograph up close because they're so dark. But, I love seeing the reflections of our snowy world and of me in them.
And, I love seeing the Duo together, with R so clearly the big brother, watching over his little sister, even though she's a pest sometimes.
Apparently, we're about to get a big storm, with some much-needed snow - up to 20" - but I'll believe it when I see it after this year of storms just missing us. We desperately need to break our drought so I am rooting for a monster storm. Shyla sprinted through our oddly thin layer of snow this morning.
This morning, the clouds were already hovering on our horizon and creeping closer to us, boding well for snow.
What a beautiful world!

P.S. A few new readers have asked about the origin of my spine problems. It's a hereditary condition that is causing my discs to degenerate at "break-neck" speed. I've had several vertebrae in my neck surgically fused and another few fused in my low back region. I usually can manage the pain through lifestyle adjustments but occasionally I go through phases like this one where the pain is almost intractable. This time, I have some carpal tunnel issues on top of the spine issues (hence, the wrist splints) so my nerves are being pinched in two places. Hopefully, if I'm patient, I'll recover without needing more surgery.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cats and Happy Friday

Wintertime is always a slow time for my trail cameras. This year has been particularly tough - perhaps because the drought has changed everyone's movement patterns in the forest - both human and wildlife. However, I have captured enough cat photos to keep me amused.

I love the "low view" of a mountain lion that I captured in late January.
I'm guessing that, if a person ever got this particular view of a mountain lion, they might not live to tell about it.
Less than 24 hours later, a similar looking cat showed up a few miles away at a site that is usually choked with a few feet of snow by this point in winter. What a weird year we're having. I can still ride my bike where these lions are pictured, and the cats are still hunting there. Usually, this slope is devoid of life, aside from rabbits and squirrels, at this time of year.
Then, just the other night, I captured a photo of a mountain lion quite near our house. Lions mark this spot a couple of times per year so I keep one of my oldest cams there to document their behavior. This big male left a deep scrape with his hind paws, a huge pair of furrows in the pine needle covered forest floor.
Last, but certainly not least, the bobcats have been around our area extensively. This evening, as the dogs and I finished our walk, we somehow surprised a bobcat who was on our front walk despite the loud jingling of the dogs' bells. At first, I didn't think that the bobcat was going to flee but, when he spotted the two Labs, he bounded up the driveway. Here, I captured a photo of a bobcat, perhaps the same one who we saw tonight, in a nearby forest clearing.
I'll share some more cat photos soon... And, I'm counting down the days until the bears wake up. The bears are my favorite animals in our forest, and I love the season when I can capture their photos in the forest!

In the meantime, Shyla wishes you a Happy Friday!