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Monday, March 31, 2014

Good Days, Bad Days - and Wild Cats

Although we humans have good days and bad days, sometimes for no discernible reason, I tend to assume that a dog's perspective doesn't change much from one day to the next. I tend to expect that a dog will respond in the same way to training or potentially scary things every single day.

Shyla is a dog who makes it very obvious that she has a complex inner world that isn't always the same. Some days, she surprises me with her confidence. Other days, she surprises me with her fearfulness when I can't see anything to be afraid of.

Today was one of those days. I tend to show photos of her when she looks confident and happy. I think you'll agree with me that neither of those adjectives describes her in the next photo.
As I watched her continue to act fearful, I tried our time-honored method of playing training games to build her confidence. The games helped as you can see from her posture in the next photo (ignoring the fact that she was "hiding").
Then, we hiked for a little while, and she climbed onto her favorite boulder. Shyla looked scared again almost right away. That is not the posture of a confident dog.
I started contemplating what she perceived as scary. We did see a dog who has scared her in the past near the start of this morning's hike. However, Shyla has never remained scared for so long after seeing that relatively benign dog. It was also very windy today. Perhaps the combination of seeing that dog and the gale-force wind put Shyla over her threshold ("trigger stacking").

I also wondered about whether Shyla might be smelling scary wildlife. I later discovered that a bobcat had spent ten minutes in front of a nearby trail camera.
He did a complete body washing right in front of the camera (I'm going to make a video of it - it's incredible to see). Then, he must have sensed a prey animal because he used his stalking gait to depart.
As I thought about it, I doubted that the scent of a bobcat would scare Shyla that much.

I also know that a mountain lion has been in our neck of the woods very recently although I don't know whether he's still in the area. Perhaps Shyla smelled him? She is, without a doubt, scared of the scent of mountain lions.
As I mentally listed all the possible causes of Shyla's fearful behavior, I realized that I have "bad days" for reasons that can't be seen by outsiders. I have migraines, shoulder pain, spine pain, and things that are weighing on my mind. All of these things can make me behave differently than usual.

Why shouldn't dogs have similar inner things that cause them to act differently from usual? Perhaps Shyla had a migraine. Oh man - I hope not!

She did have fun on our morning hike, especially when she was playing in the snow or galloping at full speed. I captured a photo close to the end of our hike after she'd been playing in the forest that shows the "normal" Shyla.
Although she did bounce back, I think that it's important that I remember that she'll have good days and bad days, just like I do. Dogs are living creatures with complex inner lives - and it's worth remembering that, especially when your best friend is a dog who is prone to fearfulness.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Deciding to be Happy

The look on Shyla's face in this photo sums up how I felt as I started this day.
Being a person who loves to seize the day can be a very bad thing when trying to gradually return to my favorite sport after surgery. I did a million times too much snowbiking in my first few days back. This morning, my shoulder was so sore that Shyla and I were relegated to hiking. It's nobody's fault but my own. Live - and hope that you learn.

In addition, today my head is buzzing as if the brief hiatus of migraines is about to end. Needless to say, my mood was not good this morning.

I have certain "go-to" things that I do when I need to lift my spirits. I hate squandering one of my precious days on this Earth feeling sorry for myself. I've known how precious each day is since I was young, having seen my mother die at about the age that I am now. And I know that she would have given anything for more days on this Earth. That's how my "no squandering days" ethic started.

To lift my spirits at the start of our little hike this morning, I played fetch with Shyla. That game never ceases to make me smile! Her enthusiasm can make me burst out laughing! She would retrieve all day if I let her.
The sun came out, ever so briefly, during our hike. Shyla seemed to remember that barking like a lunatic makes me laugh.
I don't know what I'd do without her. She is such a loving and sweet soul who has become a part of my heart.

I remember feeling guilty about having Shyla join our family after K died. But then I realized that K would have wanted me to be happy. Moreover, I knew that having a furry friend to play with every day would help me immeasurably. We still had handsome and sweet R but his heart belongs to the Runner - and R seemed to miss having a furry partner too.

In those first months with Shyla, it was emotionally bumpy. However, I knew that forming a bond with her was the biggest thing that I could do to find happiness again.
Building a loving bond with Shyla was the best decision I could have made - both for helping me find my footing without K and for my long-term happiness. Shyla helped me today just like she's helped me so many days since I met her.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cloudy Springtime

I'm sure it's not lost on you that photography has become a passion of mine. One of the biggest things I've learned as an outdoor photographer is that the "light" makes the photo. I spend lots of time searching for the best light. It moves in space and time over the course of a year.

Yesterday afternoon, a cloud bank hovered over the mountains, blocking the sunset light. Actually, for photos of R, this type of filtered light might be the best. In this photo, he may be contemplating the fact that he's biting his lip in a goofy way.
In the next photo, he's sitting in the spot where the last rays of the sunset usually hit at this time of year. He was staring toward the spot where I'd seen the first chipmunk of the year hours earlier. I wonder if R could smell the chipmunk! What a good dog, staying despite such an enticing scent.
Some mornings, like today, there is no "good light" for photography so I make the best of what the world gives me. Shyla's eye was the "best" this morning! I adore seeing the world and me reflected in her eye on a dim day.
Just after I took the photo of her eye, I saw that the clouds were lighting up with rainbow colors as the sun became stronger behind them. I wished upon the rainbow for Springtime.
And I got it!!!!! This is the first wild crocus, called a "Pasqueflower", that I've seen this year. It was a little bedraggled from the recent winter weather but it looked perfect to me.
Happy Springtime to my Northern Hemisphere friends. Even if it's snowing where you are right now, there will be flowers before too long.
These are indoor Daffodils. It's too cold for any outdoor ones to even sprout yet.
They make me smile everyday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fly Like an Eagle

Shyla looked ready for the weekend during our sunrise snowbike ride today!
Her energy lull didn't last for long. She was on her feet scanning the forest soon thereafter. She was anxious to run again! The old song "Fly like an Eagle" flits through my mind as I watch Shyla in the forest. She's an incredible athlete in her absolute prime at two years old.
Shyla is thrilled that we are snowbiking together again. She sang with joy this morning.
It's amazing how Springtime has arrived on south-facing meadows but nowhere else in our forest. We rode through a sunny meadow near the end of our ride, and I spotted this gem! It's the first "spring color" of the year! It's not actually a blossom. Rather it's a tiny plant that has a symbiotic relationship with a yellow-gold fungus that covers its leaves, making it look like a flower. Regardless, I was thrilled to see our very first true sign of Spring.
The next photo was taken in another sunny meadow. A Golden Eagle was scavenging from a cow elk that was killed by a mountain lion. The Eagle certainly is majestic!
Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Back to snowbiking!

Shyla and I have returned to snowbiking in the mornings after a seven week hiatus while I recovered from shoulder surgery. We are both thrilled!
I'd hoped to be back to biking by Spring, and it happened! Springtime in the mountains is crazy. Fresh snow falls regularly through May interspersed with warm and sunny weather. There was a dusting this morning.

However, when the sun broke through, it was so warm that the snow melted very fast.
It has been such an odd time in my life - being floored almost daily by migraines has forced me to trim back my daily goals. Even on days when I don't have normal migraine symptoms, it feels like my head is buzzing, ready to launch into a migraine at the slightest provocation. Throughout this past month, I haven't kept up with any serious dog training. Indeed, I feel proud that I've managed to keep up with exercising the Duo (although the Runner has covered for me a number of times).

However, I play very easy training games with Shyla almost daily during our morning outings - and it helps both of us immensely because it's so fun. She's become very good at the "balance a treat on your nose" trick. And, she now can flick the treat into the air and catch it about 80% of the time! (The next challenge is for me to be able to photograph her catching it!).
So, we started on a new trick, which I've mentioned before - balancing things on her head. I use nothing but positive reinforcement, which makes training very fun. She now looks focused and confident even when she has something balanced on her head.
To my surprise, she's added her own twist to the trick. "Trick improvisation" is common in dogs trained using positive reinforcement (and no punishment) because they know that they never get "in trouble" for doing a trick wrong. So, today, Shyla tried to flick the toy off her head and catch it in her mouth. Her improvisation made me laugh in surprise - I'd never done anything to suggest this trick to her.
I decided to encourage her new idea - it seems like it could be a very fun trick. She tried about 10 times but hasn't yet managed to catch the toy. She always looked surprised that she'd hadn't caught it.
We'll keep trying that new trick. I love that she has the confidence to make up her own tricks. That's why positive training is so good for dogs - especially sensitive/fearful dogs like Shyla. It helps build confidence that extends to everyday life as well.

When I am finally feeling back to my normal health, I plan to spend some time on training with R. He is so eager to learn new things. However, I mostly spend afternoons and evenings with him (his morning outings are with the Runner). Later in the day is my worst time in terms of migraines. Consequently, his training will have to wait.
I sure do hope that I feel better consistently very soon - I don't want to miss out on anything this summer! I am preparing myself for the fact that it will probably take a little while to dig myself out of this hole so "patience" is my mantra.
I know that summer will be here in the blink of an eye because the birds around our house are singing and calling from the treetops every morning. Ah, the thought of a healthy summer is so enticing!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bark with all your soul!

During our last day of morning hiking before snow biking returns to our lives, Shyla and I played some training games. This is an old trick... although sticking out her tongue is a new touch.
This is a new trick - bark on cue. Shyla throws her whole soul into it.
And looks a bit crazed after each bark.
When she gets going, she adores barking.
But she often sneaks a peek at me in the midst of it, perhaps to see if I am still happy about it.
A great part of teaching a dog to bark on cue is that it makes it easier to teach them to stop barking when you ask them to. It really works, at least within the training session. We're still working on generalizing it to the rest of life.

And, to finish, a piece of good news. R is starting to run off leash just a little bit!
That makes all of us very happy!

P.S. I managed to get my hands on one of those migraine headbands, and I'll start using it tonight. I'm not expecting miracles but maybe it will help. I'm in the midst of about a million tests to figure out if anything sinister underlies all of these migraines.

Monday, March 24, 2014

'Tis the Season: Snow and Bobcats

The weather forecast said it would be Spring today but the world looked like winter when we awakened. We hiked in the clouds with light snow falling. I was a tiny bit disappointed, having hoped for a sunny hike, but a good game of fetch always makes both me and Shyla happy.
Then, we practiced her new trick of balancing things on her head. I think she has the idea. She knew not to swivel her head to look at whatever was off to the side. Instead, she just swiveled her eyes, keeping her toy balanced on her head.

I loved the look!
With the weather being gloomy, I thought that checking some trail cameras would be fun. At one site, very close to our house, bobcats visited at least twice per day. It looked to me like two different bobcats who were leaving marks for each other. The one who marked during the day was the larger one, perhaps a male. I suspect that we have bobcat courtship underway in our neck of the woods.

The smaller bobcat had scraped this spot with her paws. This bigger bobcat rubbed his neck in the spot.
 Then, he sniffed the stump where the smaller bobcat had rubbed her butt.
Finally, he scraped with his hind paws, and departed with his mouth wide open. I wonder if he was giving a cat call!
Another site that sits about a mile away also had tons of bobcat activity. Mostly, they were marking the ground down where the bobcat was in this first photo.
But this guy was fascinated with the camera. He checked it out.
And then he strutted away.
I must say that Shyla was fascinated with the scents at both camera sites. Neither is a sensitive or isolated site so I don't worry about taking her to them. I don't think her scent will upset the delicate mating season communications that are underway.

When we arrived home from our hike, Shyla conquered a long-standing fear and got a special treat - yogurt! She has always been afraid to clean out our large yogurt containers because she has to put her snout deep in the container to lick out the bottom. Today, she did it!!!
And she wore her badge of honor on her nose!