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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye to 2015

It was crystalline cold this morning as Shyla and I headed out the door. The temperature hovered around zero but the wind was calm. Not a sound greeted us, aside from the squeaking of my fat bike tires on the cold snow, as we left our clearing. As always, I scanned for moose, although I saw none today. If anything, 2015 was the Year of the Moose for us.
Note the calf's eye peeking from below his mom's chin

This morning, clouds hovered on the eastern horizon so the sunlight flickered on and off just after sunrise. There was a moment of strong sun just after sunrise.

Just after that fleeting instant of sun, the clouds started moving westward up a valley toward us. At first, almost everything was obscured by them.

Then, much more of the landscape suddenly appeared. I loved watching the low clouds to the right on the horizon that were following the contours of the eastern hills.

Around the same time, I caught a glimpse of the sun as we rode through an aspen grove with ice encrusted branches.

It was a beautiful winter morning to say goodbye to 2015. For our pack, it was a good year, except for a few notable bad phases. However, I've learned that bad phases are part of life. They make the good phases even better!
We are ever grateful for our wonderful dogs who bring us smiles daily and for the incredible place we call home. I know how lucky we are.

And I am grateful for all my friends in Blogville. Thanks for visiting us and sticking with us through the good and the bad.  Have a safe and happy day, and I'll see you in 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Fun and Games at Sunrise

At the instant of sunrise - the light is so red!

10 minutes after sunrise - the sun rays take on a golden hue

I adore sunrise play with Shyla! It makes the winter so beautiful.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Joyful Training

I think that most dogs have a wealth of joy inside them, even the ones who go through rough patches in their lives, like Shyla did early in her life.

I've been modeling my recent training after Susan Garrett's tenets of training. She uses the word "joy" more often in a training book than anyone else. She urges us all to inject more joy into our dogs' lives and to be a source of joy for our dogs. As hard as it might be for a traditional trainer to imagine, Susan Garrett urges us to make our dog training joyful.

Garrett talks about play almost as much as she talks about the mechanics of training. The idea is that through play, a person can become a fountain of joy for a dog. However, the dog must earn access to that play through their behavior.
For example, if your dog will sit and wait patiently when you ask them to like in the photo above, then you will playing a rousing game of fetch or tug with them to reward them.

I think that all the playing that I've done with Shyla over the past several months has made our bond much stronger. Each day during our snow bike ride, we stop several times for short training sessions. I start by getting Shyla excited about training with a few rousing training games that she loves.

Then I get "serious" and ask her for certain behaviors that help me to keep control over her when she's off-leash. For example, we are currently working on her stopping and sitting in mid-fetch if I call out "sit". If she is successful, she gets an incredible play session afterwards that makes her more likely to continue to listen to me in the future.

I think that a wonderful side effect to this kind of training is that it makes me happier. I love playing with Shyla. "Injecting joy into her life" actually injects joy into my life too. The more we do this kind of training, the better my frame of mind for interacting with Shyla, even when she does things that I don't like. I tend to see her mistakes as being my training mistakes rather than her being "bad".
This self-motivated phase of learning more about animal training has been incredibly fun so far. And I haven't even mentioned our training in "nosework" yet. I'm doing that with both dogs, and it's so fun. More about that later!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Silver Linings

Shyla has no idea how lucky she is that she can run all that she wants and doesn't get sore.

She can even retrieve, something that R couldn't ever do because of his elbow dysplasia. Shyla is very lucky.

R's elbow has become very sore again. He limps almost every day, when he gets up from naps. He's only 8 years old so it's not normal for him to limp. Last year at about this time, we decided to put off elbow surgery for R for at least a year. He's had two "clean-outs" in the past, and this surgery will reconstruct the joint.

He's had a blast over the year, running with the Runner and playing with his sister. When I looked through all the photos from 2015, I knew that we'd made the right decision last year. R had a great year.

It was so good that we even started to think that we might be able to put off surgery for another year.

Alas, we were wrong. We humans both feel that it's time to take action. We don't like seeing his persistent limp and lack of weighting of his bad limb during standing. That means it hurts.
So, we've restarted the process of finding him a surgeon. The kind of surgery that he needs is very new and not many vets have experience doing it. The vet who we had chosen last year hasn't done many (or perhaps any) of these surgeries over the past year. We'd prefer someone with fresher skills.

There is good news... I've been scared to say it out loud but I believe that my damaged nerve is healing on its own. After starting treatment with a cold laser, the pain radiating from my neck gradually morphed into pins and needles. Some doctors say that's a sign of nerve healing. Even better news is that the pins and needles are now becoming less intense. If I can avoid surgery, which I am now betting that I can, I can help take care of R after his surgery.

Sometimes clouds have silver linings.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Snow Play in the Sunshine

After a string of cloudy days, we finally had a bluebird day. It was bone-chillingly cold but gorgeous. Shyla played like a puppy and showed off her amazing athleticism.

And she was very cute too! We've been doing a lot of clicker training, and that has put her in the mood to make up all sorts of new tricks. In this photo, she was "taking a bow" while crawling forward with her front paws. I gave her lots of encouragement and a treat jackpot. I think it's a fun trick that she created! You can tell how happy she was because her tail is off to the side in mid-wag.
Shyla also tried out backward crawling on me. I thought that was another very amusing trick so I gave her lots of treats, hoping to encourage her to try it again in the future. One of my favorite things about positive training is that Shyla is truly my partner in training. She can be creative and be rewarded for it! And, I find that she repeats funny self-made tricks that I reinforce with rewards.
We had tons of fun in the sun today!!! I hope your Sunday was good too.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A White Christmas

Yesterday morning, like a Christmas gift, we received 5 minutes of sunshine, starting at sunrise. After that, it was cloudy all day. Shyla and I made the most of our 5 minutes of sunshine!

Just as the sun rose enough to be blocked by the clouds, Shyla was holding her favorite Christmas gift. It's a small Wubba that I can carry in my pocket. She already had a blue one but purple is my favorite color!
After the sun was blocked by snow clouds, I rode my beloved Meriwether fat bike up to Hug Hill with Shyla. As we arrived on the peak, Shyla was slightly ahead of me. She stopped on the peak and stared down from the top. It turned out that Shyla was watching a mother-youngster pair of deer very close to us. I was astounded at Shyla's great self-control and at how much the deer trusted her.

I asked Shyla to do a "down-stay" next to my bike so that I could photograph them.
This was mom, looking very healthy. I wasn't using a telephoto lens but the deer pair stayed close enough for me to take some fun images!

And this was her offspring. The youngster was eating a dried out Monument Plant (also known as "green gentian").
After a few photos, I rewarded Shyla hugely for her good behavior so close to deer, and then we were on our way. Seeing those deer so close was a wonderful Christmas gift for me!

We ended up getting fresh snow over the course of Christmas Day. This was the scene as we started our ride this morning at 6°F!

We've both adapted well to the cold. Neither Shyla nor I was ever very cold during our fat bike ride today. Shyla wore the red neckwarmer simply to brighten up a gray day!

I hope that all of you are staying warm and having a relaxing weekend. We are!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

One December day a few months after I met Shyla, it snowed as the sun rose in the eastern sky, making a beautiful sight with sunlit Shyla in the middle.

On the same boulder, at sunrise today... We had the sunlight but no snow. I am so happy that I opened my heart up again after K's death and grew an incredible love for Shyla.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Our Canine Teachers

We had no clouds this morning, so we could enjoy the incredible sunrise light that makes this time of year shine.

This winter, I've noticed a change in Shyla. She used to frequently gaze off into the forest when I took her photo. Now her eyes are often on me. It feels nice, like an even stronger connection than we've had before.

On this date four years ago, we had one of our worst days, when Angel K was diagnosed with bone cancer. That singular memory has changed how I see this time of year and our lives together. Over the following seven months that she lived, K became my guide to how to live life with abandon and love. I now remember her and her last journey with a smile. She changed me forever.
All our dogs, including Angel K, have taught us similar lessons over and over again. They've been inspiring teachers and helped mold who we are today.

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, Happy Christmas Eve. I hope that all of you are warm and content.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

A 2015 Favorite - Lunar Eclipse in September

At sunrise today, with thin clouds muting the sun

Shyla could help pull Santa's Sleigh!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Snowy and Sunny - at the same time!

It snowed while it the sun shined through the clouds this morning, making for very odd light.

I wanted to get a good "seasonal" photo for Shyla, with a Christmas toy. We had fun trying to get the photo, with lots of retrieving in the snow. Shyla desperately wanted to settle in and destuff the toy - but I didn't let her!

During the course of our fat bike ride, we stopped at the local K's Rock, the place where I took the photo of K that was the banner for this blog for a long time (it's in the upper right sidebar). Here's Shyla in the same spot.
While were were at K's Rock, a coyote started yipping nearby. Coyotes have thrived around here in the past although their population is down now. I did capture a fun photo of a pair of coyotes with a trail camera recently. They have gorgeous coats at this time of year.
Despite my love of all wildlife, including coyotes, coyotes have been a huge source of worry for me because all of our previous dogs have wanted to chase them. Rural folks know that chasing a coyote can be lethal to a domestic dog because the coyote might be luring the dog into a pack ambush. Shyla is our first dog who has almost zero interest in chasing coyotes.

This morning, the full extent of Shyla's reaction to the nearby yipping coyote was that she turned her head toward it but looked bored.
I wonder if her general wariness of unknown dogs extends to coyotes. That's the only explanation I have for her lack of interest in coyotes. I don't have to say a word to prevent Shyla from chasing - she doesn't have any interest in doing so.

Thanks for reading. I know it's a busy time of year and so I especially appreciate your great comments!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Happy Solstice!

Shyla and I were out at "sunrise" this morning, although clouds meant that we didn't actually see the sun until a good bit later than the advertised sunrise time. When it finally appeared, the sun made a beautiful sight.
Today is the Solstice, the day when the sun is furthest south in the sky, making our day very short. It's a time of year that can be tough due to short days and long dark nights. However, for me, the Solstice means hope because it is the start of the march toward spring. The days will get longer, imperceptibly at first, and lead us into the season of bounty.

Shyla and I played, with my heart a little lighter, knowing that we have turned the corner toward spring.
For some reason, Shyla has been on high alert in our forest recently. In the photo above, you can see that she was scanning to the side while retrieving. Usually, she's 100% focused on fetching.

In the photo below, you can see that her eyes were like saucers as she stared at something I didn't see. I'm not sure what has her tension level higher than usual. Perhaps the moose are hiding in the dark corners of the forest near us.
Despite the invisible scent that had Shyla's attention a lot of the time, we had fun in the forest. We are so lucky to have such quiet open space behind our house. Every person has certain things that they need to be happy, and wild and empty land next to my home is high on my list!

Happy Winter Solstice!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Snarly, Snuggly, and Starry Sunday

I love how ferocious our pups can look when playing. There was no true snarl here.

After fake snarling and fake snapping at each other during play-fighting, our Duo goes to sleep together. I just love this habit.

Finally, the "starry" part of this Sunday. This photo was from our first campsite in Utah in November. It's a "happy place" I go to in my mind when everyday life is overwhelming. The camera was pointed generally toward the south so you don't see the more conventional circles of stars going around the North Star. Instead, you see the streaks the stars made as they moved from left to right across the sky for an hour and a quarter.
Back to "snarling" for a moment - Shyla has become a repeated victim of bullying by certain dogs who live near us. They snarl and terrify her whenever they see her (but none have ever hurt her physically). It almost seems like Shyla's sensitivity attracts bullies. It's upsetting to me but Shyla does bounce back pretty quickly. Have any of you ever experienced this with a relatively meek and sensitive dog like Shyla?

I hope that everyone is having a peaceful weekend.