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Monday, September 14, 2015

A Celebration Hike

Three years ago, Shyla arrived in my life very late in the summer. I hadn't gone hiking high in the mountains all summer due to K's illness and death. Then, Shyla arrived as an absolutely terrified little dog. We spent a few weeks working with a trainer before I admitted to the trainer that I desperately wanted to go hiking up in the alpine zone with Shyla but I was scared that Shyla couldn't handle trails that had other people on them. Shyla was truly terrified of strangers.

My trainer worked on a few "tricks" to help Shyla with the specific issue of passing people on a narrow trail and then encouraged me to give it a try. Our plan was that I would turn around if the challenge ever seemed to overwhelm Shyla too much.

It was a tough but very fun day, on the exact same trails as Shyla and I hiked last week to celebrate her Gotcha Day. Three years ago, whenever I could, I moved Shyla off to the side of the trail with a good buffer zone to let other hikers pass. But, sometimes the mountainside was too steep for that, and Shyla and I had to fumble along as I tried to help her avoid a "total meltdown" as people passed very close by us.

Three years ago, the most memorable part (aside from the fun we had at the top with no one else around) happened about where Shyla is standing in the second photo. Two hikers were both using hiking poles, and they were hiking downhill as if they were in a race. They didn't seem to register that we existed or that I really needed them to pause so I could get Shyla ready for them to pass.

As they almost ran directly at us, Shyla freaked out and pulled me downhill off the trail because she was so afraid of their fast-moving hiking poles. We ended up perched about 10 yards below the trail on the crumbling rocky mountain, where I finally got Shyla to stop her downhill escape. After the hikers were out of sight, I crawled back up to the trail with Shyla in tow.

We did make it to the top, and I took a photo of 9 month old Shyla looking confident!!!!

Her Gotcha Day hike this year was SO different. She now wants to meet almost everyone. Shyla is so gentle with people that one hiker admitted to me that she's generally afraid of dogs, but she wanted to meet my sweet little chocolate dog. As I watched Shyla gently interact with her and other hikers, I shocked myself by wondering if Shyla might be capable of being a therapy dog someday. She still has some fears to conquer before we can consider that possibility but she has the sweet love of people that is needed.

Enough of the retrospective... Needless to say, we had an amazing time up high in the mountains last week, celebrating three years together!
We hiked up to treeline fast and then slowed down to enjoy the novel alpine environment. Shyla acted as if she can smell everything west of the Continental Divide as her nose kept swiveling toward the west!
She seemed to love posing for me on boulders and then zooming to me when I called her over to be leashed.

Near the top, there's a cirque with an alpine lake in it. Of course, swimming was on the agenda! It's a snowfed lake, as you can see from looking at the far shore where a snow field was melting into the lake. It's very cold but Shyla loves it.
After her swimming, she soaked up the sunshine. I love how proud and tall she looked!

The ground between the boulders is a soft and spongy tundra. In summer, it's green with mostly yellow flowers sprinkled throughout it. As you can see, the tundra turns gold and red in autumn. In fact, the first snow up in our high mountains will probably fall soon.
But I hope that we get to go up there again before there's too much snow!
Happy Gotcha Day, Shyla. Three years ago, I didn't have an inkling of the dog who you'd grow up to be. Your courage truly awes me.
Your love and trust are the greatest gifts I can imagine.


  1. Wow! You can really see the difference in her from the first photo! She is doing so well and you've done such a great job with her! That looks like an excellent way to celebrate a gotcha day, too!

  2. Happy Gotcha Day, have come such a long and wonderful way!!!!

  3. Happy Gotcha Day, Sweet Shyla!!! You have helped your special girl SOOOOO much!!! Her fear of those hikers with the poles is what we experience here with poor Lightning. We finally have him where he will sit and wait for them to pass (that is when we see the bikers approaching). But oh what a wreck he can become when a biker startles both of us with no warning:( But some progress is better than none. Slow and steady.

    Awesome photos of your celebration day.

  4. Happy 3rd Gotcha Day Shyla.
    xo Cinnamon

  5. Happy Gotcha Day Shyla!!
    Were so proud of you!!
    And yes,, you do look proud!

  6. And KB, you have earned every bit of her love and trust. You get as much credit as Shyla. Without your gentle guidance, she would be a very frightened girl. Kudos to both of you.

  7. Happy Gotcha Day Shyla, you've come a long ways baby.

    Aroo to you,

  8. Love, care, patience, and waiting, all in huge amounts, over the years, and look at her now, Standing tall, so proud, as you can be too. Trust from each to the other, the best.

  9. When I was raising Bart and Gizmo together I was a huge Cesar Millan fan. (His philosophy helped out a lot with the boys). Cesar always says that the "fearful dog" is the hardest to correct - that it takes the longest time to work through. It sure seems like you've succeeded!!

    Did I tell you that a chocolate lab therapy dog came to my office the other day? She is a seizure dog and can tell her human, between 15 minutes and 2 hours before she'll have a seizure. Of course she reminds me of Shyla!!

  10. Happy Gotcha Day, Shyla! We are so very proud of you and your mom!

  11. It has been fun to watch the past 3 years how you have helped her. She is amazing, thanks to your hard work and love.

  12. Happy GOTCHA Shyla, you've come a long way baby!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  13. Good job Shyla! Moms got your back. You came a long way
    Lily & Edward

  14. What a difference a day makes! Happy Gotcha Day Shyla!!!

  15. Happy Gotcha Day Shyla! Congrats to you and your Lady for all the hard work to transform you into such a confident gal!

  16. Happy Gotcha Day Shyla! We can't believe it has been three years already.

  17. I could relate a lot to that early hiking story, I independently developed the same strategy with Gatsby to handle other people on our walks. Glad to know I was doing the right thing - I didn't know if it was the right step, but I began doing it because it worked! I'm lucky, though, that this was in an urban area so when she pulled me off the path, it wasn't down a cliffside! My goodness, I can imagine the resilience it takes to take an unpredictable dog through those conditions.


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