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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

It's turkey day!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Mischief

In a race, R has learned to use his wisdom to beat Shyla. He immediately cuts in front of her, and then blocks her from coming by. Despite Shyla's faster top speed, his technique works very frequently! You can see it in this photo.
Shyla's big brother still knows some tricks that she doesn't know!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Sundog!

The definition of a Sundog...

Friday, November 22, 2013

A ray of happiness

I have to be honest. Today was a rough day. I've been having lots of pain in my neck and shoulder since August. Nothing has helped. In fact, things have only become worse so I'll be having MRI's after Thanksgiving. For new readers, I have a degenerative spine condition, and I have two sections of my spine fused already (in my neck and in my lower back). The expectation is that I'll need more fusions in the future. However, my docs and I are doing everything possible to delay more surgery so I can maintain spinal mobility for as long as possible. I'm holding out hope that we can reduce this pain by some means other than surgery.

Chronic pain is no fun but I try my very best to find the good in each day and not to let the pain define me. I have my "go-to" activities when I need a ray of happiness. One is getting outside and another is playing with my dogs. So, today, Shyla and I played outside. I adore how hopeful and happy she is. I also love seeing how gracefully and fluidly she moves. I get vicarious joy from it.
The day was mostly gray and cold but the sun shined, ever so briefly, while we were out. I took the opportunity to take Shyla's photo next to a grand old Ponderosa Pine that I've played under with many of my dogs. My Angel K and I spent a lot of time under this tree so it's a happy place for me. I love sharing K's special places with Shyla.
Then, after its brief appearance, the sun disappeared. Ice and snow still clung to the tree twigs. The ice crystals were so delicate that they totally captivated me.
The world is overwhelmingly beautiful, even on gray days like today. Thank goodness for that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's Here!

Old Man Winter blasted into our neck of the woods last night. We went out this morning to visions like this one.
It was cold, very cold, for a body not accustomed to winter weather. I thought that I'd worn enough layers for snowbiking but the 10°F bitter air pierced my armor and gave Shyla a cute beard and eye brows.
A dog like Shyla is the best companion on a day like today. It would be easy to be grumpy about the uncomfortable cold but her enthusiasm was contagious. She led the way on every trail, greeting winter with joy.
It was snowing lightly throughout our ride. Shyla loves snow!
She cavorted like the young dog she is.
Whoa, check out that landing. I just happened to be clicking away with my camera when she took the leap. I have to admit that seeing this photo made me cringe, worrying about an injury. But, I need to remember that she's young and resilient.
It's so hard to believe that this is Shyla's second winter with us. It seems like just yesterday that I met her. I think she's come to love the Rocky Mountain lifestyle.
Because the storm started out warm before the temperatures plummeted, the snow stuck to everything, making beautiful sculptures. It was very hard for me to stay still for long enough to take careful photos (because I was so cold). But, near the end of our ride, I stopped for a few closeup photos. Here is one of a wildflower skeleton covered in snowflakes.
I guess that the season has turned! I will mentally try to turn the page to my winter state of mind, when 10°F is not really very cold. And, I'll enjoy sitting next to the crackling fire after being outside.

We have a lot going on in the near future so my posting may be erratic. In the meantime, I hope that you are all warm and happy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shyla's Socialization

It has been an interesting journey with Shyla, since she arrived 15 months ago as a fearful older puppy. At that time, I had no experience with socializing any dog except a tiny puppy. With my tiny puppies, I socialized them like crazy, literally running myself ragged to expose them to "everything" during the critical socialization periods. It was worth it because it prevented them from having major fears of everyday life. K had some relatively minor fears, caused by genetics and a wonky thyroid gland, but they have been dwarfed by Shyla's fears.
No doubt, Shyla has come a huge way in the 15 months that we've spent together. She is a happy and outgoing dog most of the time now.

Interestingly, I am noticing a pattern for when her fears flare up. A few weeks ago, I took her to town for the first time in a very long time after being stuck in the mountains due to the floods. On her first trip after the floods, she did tremendously well, breezing through situations that used to scare her.
Since then, some of those old fears have re-emerged. It seems as if a single event in town can cause her to be fearful of anything vaguely resembling it for a long time. For example, last week at my Physical Therapy clinic, a small child scared Shyla as we were leaving the clinic. This week, Shyla was happy and apparently carefree during my PT appointment until the end approached. As I tried to exit the clinic with Shyla, she was so skittish that I wasn't sure that we were going to make it through the door with all the "obstacles" in our way (people, a desk, etc.). There was nothing that normally scares her in our path. I think that she remembered being scared last week as we exited the clinic and has now generalized that exiting the clinic is scary. Her skittishness continued until we arrived home in the mountains.

That is just one example of something that I've seen time and time again with Shyla.
I'm beginning to think that Shyla may be a dog who simply needs to have a quiet life in the mountains with occasional trips to town but not weekly trips. I think that having a schedule of weekly events (e.g., taking her to town twice a week - once for training class and once for something else) lets her develop certain hard-wired fear patterns that only go away when we take a long break from visiting town.
An example of a "long break" was the 6 weeks that she didn't go to town due to the floods plus a couple of other scheduling problems. She was awesomely confident in town after that extended hiatus.

Have any of you who have worked at socializing very fearful dogs run into this kind of pattern? I'm curious to hear your experiences.

I plan to discuss this with our trainer because it seems opposite to how I've socialized our puppies. For a puppy, it's important to expose them to a variety of situations on a regular basis. It seems, for Shyla, like going to town on a regular basis amps up her fears.

No matter how it turns out - I feel so lucky to have Shyla as our dog. Her sensitivity is one of her best characteristics as my best friend... and I suspect that her sensitivity is the reason why the bustle of town and unfamiliar things can scare her so much.

My sensitive girl and I watched the moon set over the mountains this morning. It was sublime.
I'm learning so much from Shyla's sensitive heart and our journey together toward helping her cope with her fears. At the beginning, socializing her seemed like a huge insurmountable obstacle. I'm learning to accept her for the wonderful dog she is and to capitalize on her strengths rather than trying to eliminate her weaknesses. That's a lesson that I can generalize very broadly, including how I live my life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Wild Weekend

It was a wild weekend here, with fierce winds and fresh snow, a combination that can be tough to endure when we're outdoors. It was almost impossible to look to the west yesterday because of the wind blasting off the Divide and hurling icy snow at us. Shyla kept her eyes firmly pointed away from the onslaught of the wind.
By yesterday evening, many towering trees had been blown down, and our power had been out all day. We had a fire keeping us warm but Shyla and I still headed out into the wild world for an evening walk.

We discovered that the winds, while still blowing, were much less intense.
I still wasn't feeling normal, after the really bad migraine, but things were improving. I thought that Shyla's expression in the next photo summed up how I felt!
Honestly, I was feeling mildly sorry for myself (not common for me). I'd had to opt out of a fun hike up higher in the mountains due to the combination of my migraine and my impossibly fragile spine. I was glad that Shyla stayed behind with me so we could walk together at sunset. That helped my spirits - she's an amazingly sensitive dog - especially for one who is so young.

This is what the Continental Divide looks like when there's a big storm sitting over it that's blowing 75 mph winds toward us. It's eerily pretty.
When our power finally came back on, I discovered that there had been far more devastating weather in Illinois. When our power goes out, we are mostly cut off from the world, aside from battery powered radios, because we don't have cell reception here - so I was shocked to hear the day's news last night. I think the world's weather is going a little crazy.

Thanks for all of your input about my growing migraine problem. Based on what you've all written, I think that the arrival of this storm might have played a role in my migraine - both happened almost simultaneously. Your suggestions helped a lot and will help in the future (although I hope I never have another one - and that no one else does either!).

Here's to smooth sailing ahead for all of us!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A great start to the day!

I had a wonderful morning bike ride with my girl before my day went south. The wind was mild, the air was refreshing, and we were both happy.
We have a high wind warning for winds up to 75 mph this afternoon/evening so I was glad to enjoy the world before that hit. So was Shyla!
As our ride went on, the wind picked up. I had this photo all lined up and then a gust of wind bent the tall grass in the meadow, resulting in an ethereal image.
As I arrived home, my vision started going wonky. Then, the the light show started, with flashing zig-zagging lights throughout my visual field. Some of you will recognize this pattern as the start of a migraine. I didn't get migraines until about 4 years ago, and they've steadily become worse and worse. I now understand why people go to bed, with their heads hidden under the covers, during a migraine. I was there for most of the day, with sweet R's head on the pillow next to mine. I'm heading back to bed now... hoping for a better tomorrow.

At least I had my glorious morning!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Duo

Earlier this week, I had the chance to take both halves of our Labraduo for a mountain bike ride. It was fun!
Most mornings, R is out on the trails with the Runner, so I rarely get the opportunity to have R join me and Shyla. It was really interesting to experience R as the wiser and more experienced dog. He's still fast and handsome, but he's definitely changed his role in the pack since Shyla joined us.
When I ride with Shyla, I have to concentrate closely on a combination of not crashing my bike and keeping Shyla reined in. I've learned which sections of trail tempt her into following animal scents, and I require her to "heel" next to my bike in those sections. While she's heeling, my little brain is at its limit...

So, thank goodness that R is now an incredibly reliable dog because, otherwise, I could never ride with both dogs. He stayed close during his ride with us this week, shepherding me and Shyla without me needing to guide him. I remember, so vividly, the opposite situation when I took older sister K and R riding with me. K was reliable, and R was the wild one who needed lots of supervision.

I wonder if it's age or the change in pack dynamics that have changed R's role so much. I'd guess at a combination.
One way or another, he's a great example for Shyla and a joy to have join us on our rides!
I think Shyla is dreaming of the next time R can go on a ride with us!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sliding into winter...

Today was another gift - warm, sunny, and beautiful. This is so rare in November, and it truly reminds me to delight in the moment rather than worrying about the future.

Shyla greeted the sunrise.
I love sunrise time in the winter because it is peaceful. Shyla and I have the world to ourselves.
While we watched the sunrise, Shyla demonstrated what has become one of her favorite tricks. When she and R start to play, I've always taken off their collars. Being a "genius dog", Shyla has figured out how to deftly remove R's collar (by gently opening the quick-release). Then, she brings it to me. She carries it to me just like in the photo below. It makes me laugh every time. Perhaps my laughter is enough reward for Shyla to keep doing it.
Unfortunately, R has not been motivated to learn how to remove Shyla's collar so I still have a job when they start to play (removing Shyla's collar). We've tried breakaway collars but they "break away" within minutes of the start of play every single time so they aren't much use.

This morning, after we enjoyed sunrise, we headed off for our usual mountain bike ride. Shyla's nose was immediately working in overdrive and her body language screamed "wildlife"!
In fact, even I could smell the small elk herd that was nearby. So, Shyla was relegated to a "heel" next to my bike to make sure that she didn't chase any of the beautiful animals. Someday, she'll be as reliable as R, who simply doesn't chase wildlife - after all these years of training. For his whole life, he's gotten a jackpot of treats when he turns away from tempting wildlife and comes to us. We're doing the same with Shyla but the routine is not as ingrained for her yet. I have to keep her nearby so the lure of the wildlife doesn't overwhelm her good sense.

As I rode with Shyla by my side, I spotted a splash of color in the forest, a rarity these days. It was a lingering wild geranium leaf that was spotlighted by the sunshine.
I love the colors of the forest and they become more precious as the forest colors are muted during winter.

I know one thing for sure - winter sunsets are the best! Tonight, the sky lit up in bright orange while the dogs and I hiked. The entire world was embued with that gorgeous hue.
Because I couldn't bear to start hiking home until the sunset was over, the dogs and I ended up hiking home through a moonlit meadow. A wonderful ending to the day...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shyla's Socialization Report

This morning, Shyla and I were out on the trails as the sun rose. When the sun first peeks over the eastern hills, it renders the world and Shyla a dusky red.
I have no doubt that Shyla has come to love our daily routine. One morning recently, I couldn't find Shyla when it was time start our sunrise bike ride. Finally, I heard a rustle from down in the darkness by the basement door, which is our exit route every morning. Shyla was sitting there, staring at the door, waiting for the moment when we could go out into the cold air. Yup, she loves our morning mountain bike ride!

I've written a lot recently about how much progress Shyla has made with her fears. Many of them are now almost invisible, as she delights in things that used to scare her, like meeting new people. But, as we all know, it's very hard to completely leave the past behind, and that's true for Shyla too.
She's met many new people in the past few weeks with great joy and excitement. But, every now and then, something about a certain person reawakens her fears. In the past week, it's happened twice. One nice gentleman with a white beard spooked Shyla when we met him on a trail (he did nothing to provoke it). Similarly, in town, a little girl with dark hair walking directly toward Shyla while staring at her caused Shyla to back away and cower.

Both of these incidents surprised me, because I'd started to think that no one scared Shyla anymore. However, the amazing thing is that Shyla desperately wants to meet people, even when she's scared of them. So, in the case of the nice bearded guy, he and I chatted while ignoring Shyla. Shyla gradually sneaked closer and closer to him, and finally belly-crawled the last few feet to meet him without any encouragement from me or the guy. I find it remarkable that Shyla has such conflicting drives inside of her - serious fear of certain people but an incredible drive to meet the people who scare her.

The mind of Shyla is not simple to understand...
I predict that, eventually, Shyla won't be afraid of any adults. I'm less certain about small children. I think I'll have to supervise those interactions extremely carefully for a long time to prevent Shyla's fears from festering.

In any case, the "Shyla Socialization Report" continues to be good. She has made stunning progress in the past couple of months, and I have no reason to believe that it won't continue. She meets 99% of people with nothing but happiness.
The journey continues, as always does throughout the lifetime of a dog. I'm thrilled with how far Shyla has come since those scary days when I first met her. She's exceeded my expectations in every way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Warm Interlude

This weekend was another gift from Mother Nature. It was sunny, super warm (50°F!), and not windy. Shyla and I went for long wandering mountain bike rides.

We jumped out of bed early enough for a sunrise ride on one day, and Shyla was convinced that something fascinating was in the air. She maintained her self-control despite the scents!
No matter where we were, she was reaching for the sky with her nose.
Every year, I go through an emotionally rough patch at the autumn-winter transition, feeling the passing of time and worrying about the future. I'm not sure why it's focused on this time of year - except perhaps that this was the time of year when my mother was losing her battle with cancer many years ago.

I'm the kind of person who becomes even more determined to find my nirvana out in the mountains during the rougher times. So, I spend lots of time outside, soaking up the beauty, basking in the sunshine, and delighting in watching my dogs gallop around happily.

For now, autumn is barely hanging on just like this leaf. Soon, the leaf will fall, and snow will cover our world, just like every year since well before my time on this Earth.
I think that the withered, yet still beautiful, leaf symbolizes the transition of this time of year. There's still beauty all around us but we have to seek it out and allow our hearts to revel in it.