Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Since being at Lab Valley, I've been trying to find time to explore. In particular, I want to figure out where our large secretive mammals spend their time.
Exploring involves riding my mountain bike on rarely traveled trails. Some of them are a fair distance away. As I ride, my eyes are constantly scanning for signs of bears or mountain lions. Back near our old home, I found that mountain lions often used routes that went near bear marking trees. So, finding a bear marking tree is a double win!
I found one trail not shown on any maps. It paralleled a small intermittent spring. It was steep so I had to push my bike up parts of it. As I arrived near the top of the trail, I started to see trees that bears had marked in the past. They had broken limbs, broken off tops, and scratch marks on them. Then, as I walked, I spotted a very heavily marked tree with bear fur stuck to its bark. Nearby, there were scrapes made by bobcats and mountain lions.
I went back the next day to plant a camera. Then, I waited with anticipation. I thought that there was a chance that I wouldn't see any bears there until next spring because fall is usually not a hot time for marking trees. I was wrong. Within 2 days, my cam recorded video of a bear marking the tree and a mountain lion sniffing next to it!
The bear has a cool blaze on his chest - it's sort of like an upside down triangle. We should be able to identify him in the future if this tree is a favorite of his! It's a short video.
The mama moose and her calf visited the wallow again by daylight. You'll see that the young calf had learned about the quicksand-like consistency of the wallow and was less upset about it this time.
Mama moose was still sinking way into the mud but her calf was being really careful to avoid falling too far into it.
They are such a cute pair. Check out the video if you have time.
Monday, September 28, 2020
We had visitors over a few times, and my jaw almost hit the ground upon seeing how relaxed Hachi was. One time, he fell asleep within about 10' of a stranger while on the deck. Another time, he was friendly toward a person who Hachi was very afraid of when he was younger.
I think that a lot of play is a big part of it. He and Shyla get to play together every day now.
The Runner and I also have play sessions with Hachi. We have continued his "play therapy" which involves at least one play session with a human every day. When we first started staying at our new place, he wasn't interested in playing with us humans. The reason was undoubtedly that he was nervous in the new house. Now he wants to play which is wonderful.
Whatever the reasons for his blossoming, I am so overjoyed about Hachi. On several occasions this week, I exclaimed that he seemed like a normal dog. Imagine that! Wow.
Now is the time to remind myself that rehabilitating a dog like Hachi is a roller coaster ride. I'm sure that the ride will continue but, for now, I am so happy for him and about him.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
When R was a young adult dog, his intensity ratcheted up. We'd gotten him from a breeder who said that he was one of the "lower drive" puppies in the litter. We frequently joked that we'd really love to meet the puppies who were higher intensity than the over-the-top R.
He was insane about running. He and the Runner would head out for a run every morning. R would bark like a lunatic prior to each run. With each very loud bark, he'd jump into the air. Then, when they hit the trail, R would grab the leash in his mouth to tug along his human. My very first trail cam captured his antics regularly.
I'll admit that I found R to be hard to "control" during his younger years. He'd forget all of his training when he got excited about something. He'd bark and bark and bark, not slowing down when I tried to get him to calm down. He could drag me to where ever he wanted to go. In training class, his "loose leash walking" was great but it fell apart when R lost his mind with happiness.
But, I kept trying to strengthen his training. Occasionally, he'd stand still exactly when I wanted him to! He's standing with Angel K in this photo.
The amazing part was watching his enthusiasm for life turn him into such a charming dog when he was mature. People recognized his outgoing personality from a long distance away. He'd make eye contact and wag - and most people would not be able to resist him.
Happy Black Dog Sunday. We miss you, R.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
Shyla loves Labrador Valley. Her life is filled with happy frolicking with her little brother. I am so happy that Shyla is young enough to truly enjoy this place.
We always knew that the time after R's death would be very hard for Shyla. I'm glad that she's having so much fun with Hachi which partially offsets her stress.
On an "interesting" note, it appears that Shyla is now the "leader" in our pack. Hachi is deferential to her, and he even let her have an elk leg to herself when they found it in the forest. We didn't really expect that Shyla would play this role - it doesn't fit her anxious personality. Who knows how long it will last? We don't. We simply observe and try to keep everyone safe.
Happy Queen Shyla Saturday!
Friday, September 25, 2020
The bears emphatically mark a tree that leans across a trail every year. It appears to be in the "path of destruction" by the bulldozers widening it into a road by destroying all the trees. It is breaking my heart. I have attempted to get them to spare some trees with no success.
Tiny the Black Bear is one of the main bears who marks it. You'll see his trademark "sitting style" of tree marking throughout the video. It's fun to observe how each bear has his own style of putting their scent on the tree. One young bear only sniffs, perhaps out of deference to the older and bigger bears.
Sorry to be late with this. Our internet goes down randomly. It's a price for living rurally but it's worth it.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Labrador Valley keeps awing me. One morning, I started out with some photographs of the creek. The autumn colors are glorious right now. I did nothing to "enhance" them in this photo. The colors are straight out of the camera.
As I stood by my tripod with Shyla lying next to me, I heard something from upstream. A bull moose was walking down the driveway like he was the king of the valley. When he saw us, he stopped in his tracks. I grabbed my tripod and Shyla's collar, and we climbed up the steep hill behind us. It's moose rut time, and bull moose are very unpredictable. Fortunately, this guy was very polite. He waited for us to settle down up on the hillside, and then he walked on the driveway below us.
He continued right past the house and into the meadow. Seeing him in the beautiful meadow was such a treat.
That was not all of the wildlife for that day. We also saw hawks and an owl. And, our first mountain lion sauntered through the valley, recorded by my trail cam. I'll share that footage before too long.It is such a special time of year. It's as if Mother Nature is having one last huge party before winter hits. I am so thankful that we are living here, soaking up all the beauty.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Back at our old place, a mama moose is raising a calf. The two of them have roamed far and wide and have visited a deep wallow on a few occasions.
I found this wallow about a year ago, and I thought that both moose and bear would soak in the mud. So far, I've been wrong. The mud is created by a spring that bubbles up, and moose sink at least a foot into the mud. It looks scary.
I have a friend who stepped into mud like this, and he broke his leg while spending many hours extricating himself from the mud.
The moose can pull their legs out and regularly visit to eat the greens in the area and drink the water. But they don't lie in it like they do with other wallows. I think that it might swallow them whole!
This is the first of several visits to the wallow by the calf and his mom. You'll see that the calf gets a bit upset after stepping in the mud for the first time. It's a short video of them.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Some of you have asked that I recount Hachi's history. Hachi's mom was a stray on city streets in Texas. She gave birth to a litter of puppies in that city's streets, and Hachi was one of them. We don't know exactly how they were rescued but they landed in a shelter with a high kill rate in Texas. As often happens, a Colorado rescue said that they'd take the whole family. By the time Hachi was 6 weeks old, the puppies were in a foster home in Colorado.
Around that time, we decided to look for a puppy. Our motivation was to give Shyla a sibling who she could bond with while R was still alive. You may remember that Shyla was incredibly fearful as a young dog. R was her rock, and we thought that losing him could send her into a tailspin. Hence, we adopted Hachi when he was said to be eight weeks old.
We immediately recognized how fearful he was but we thought that we could help him, especially since we met him when he was so very young. I'll leap ahead in the story to say that we were not able to help him on our own. So, we took him to a behavioral vet when he was about 6 months old. When that vet first met him, she brought up the option of behavioral euthanasia - because, as she put it, some dogs will never be happy living in human society. Being afraid all the time, as Hachi was at that point, doesn't make for a happy life.
I started "The Hachi Chronicle" to share our journey after our first visit to the behavioral vet. At that time, I had no idea how it would turn out but I wanted to be up-front about what we were going through. To say that I was stressed out would be a vast understatement. I was terrified that Hachi might hurt one of our other dogs, and I knew that I'd never trust him again if he did. Fortunately, a dog-savvy friend and our vet helped us put a management plan in place to protect our other dogs. Basically, it involved separating Hachi from the others, while they all lived in one house. It has worked, and it's become natural to us although I now foresee that it may not be needed in the future.
Writing out this story is good for me because it makes me realize how far Hachi has come. He's been on behavioral meds and we've done extensive behavior modification training with him since he was 6 months old (he's almost two now). We work with him every day, and progress seems glacial at times. But, when you add up minuscule daily progress over 1.5 years (~550 days!), it turns into big progress.
Back then, I never thought that I'd see him as happy as he is now. I also wouldn't have predicted that he and Shyla would have such a strong bond.
We watch with amazement as he tries out things that used to terrify him. Going into water is one. Until recently, he was afraid of shallow puddles on our old driveway. Now he is choosing to go in the creek up to his shoulders! The key, like for so many other things with Hachi, is to put zero pressure on him to do more than he chooses. He sets the pace of trying new things.
I think that the move to Labrador Valley is helping Hachi make another huge step forward in leaving some of his fears behind. His rehab is a work in progress but I feel more confident about his happiness every single day.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
I thought that I couldn't write anything today. You see, it's been a rough week. I've been having trouble sleeping because of memories of the event of R's death. It was so sudden. He was barking for joy that dinner was being served. Then, he collapsed and died within 5 minutes. During those five minutes, we held him, sang to him, and told him that we loved him. We handled it as best we could, trying to make it peaceful and not scary for him. But, the trauma of the sudden loss has been hard for me to shake.
As I put together this post, I started to remember the day that I took the serious photo of R that is shown above. The memory of laughing with the Labraduo hit me. Then, I looked through my photo library to see the other photos from that day. Indeed, we had a blast. None of the photos are masterpieces but they made me smile again, remembering how much happiness this big-hearted dog brought to our lives.
Even when R was completely blind, he loved playing the game where he balanced a treat on his nose and launched it into the air. He never caught them anymore but he didn't care. You can see that Shyla has the proper form to snarf her treats out of the air while R's treats tumbled to the ground. After each one of these treat launches, I'd sprint in to find the treats on the ground for R and then handfeed them to him. Then, both dogs would bark wildly with happiness, and I'd burst out laughing at how silly we were.
We will miss you forever, Black Dog. The memory of that fun day almost a year ago has indeed made it a Happy Black Dog Sunday.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
This is where we go when we want a quick and beautiful evening hike. The bears like it near there too. One evening, we had a couple of friends and their dog over to visit. We hiked to this spot to gaze at the mountains as we chatted. All of a sudden, I noticed a chokecherry bush that was jerking back and forth like it was alive. I took a few steps to see it better, and there was a bear eating chokecherries, less than 30 yards from us. I pointed him out to everyone, and then we silently departed, not wanting to stress out the bear. His presence made us all smile.
Shyla almost always smiles when she's in the shadows of our mountains.
Friday, September 18, 2020
A few spots in Labrador Valley are starting to glow with autumn colors. I pulled out my tripod to try to capture the beauty of golden leaves along the creek. The air was still very smoky, which cast a reddish hue over everything.
Before too long, we will see that same scene with full autumn colors. I think that it will be glorious.
The pups love the start of autumn because it is cool enough for them to run their hearts out. They take frequent breaks in the creek, splashing from shore to shore. They know how to live!
Is it starting to look like fall where you live?
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Twenty-four hours at Labrador Valley brings lots of excitement! At the end of a quiet hike last evening, we saw a bear on the trail between us and our house. He looked big and beautiful. Of course, Hachi got upset about him (understandable) and barked. The bear walked up the hillside above the creek and settled in to let us pass. So that he'd know that we meant no harm, I talked to him in a calm voice as we hiked on the trail below him. Here was his silhouette as he watched us.
As soon as we'd passed him, he returned to the trail that we'd been on, continuing on his path down the valley. We continued up the valley to our house. That felt like peaceful coexistence.
The next morning, the smoke was back. The sun rose dim and pink in the east.
It was cold because the sun was so obscured by the smoke but I sat on the deck for breakfast anyway. I was glad that I did because a big dude came through the meadow!
He heard my camera shutter and looked up toward the deck. I felt safe so far above him. Look at how different his left and right antlers are. Odd.
Then, he went up our driveway, past the old cabin, on his way to higher ground. We didn't see him again after that.
I am so thankful to live in a place where nature has been preserved by many caring people before us. It means that the bear, moose, American martens, hawks, owls, and many more animals have a peaceful place to live.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
One of the best parts of Labrador Valley for me is the bears. I have seen so many already! I think that our chokecherries brought in quite a number of hungry bears but that there are a few who call this place home for the majority of the year.
I spotted this one while sitting on the deck. I've learned to always have a camera with a long lens next to me. She was foraging for chokecherries.
I think that she's a youngster. Her ears look big relative to his head, which usually means she's a small bear.
We do have some chokecherries left but the supplies are dwindling. After looking closely at some bushes, we think that bears eat them by grabbing a whole cone of cherries in their mouth and stripping the chokecherries off the stem. That's a fast way of eating them but it means that they eat lots of cherry pits! You should see their scat - bright red (from the cherries) and filled with pits.
The bears here seem to be curious about my trail cams. In the majority of videos, they are monkeying with the cameras, pointing them off into the bushes rather than at a trail or tree. It's gotten hilarious to me - it's as if the bears don't want video taken of themselves so they change the camera's aim!
Check out the compilation of video clips that I've gotten so far in our valley. I think that the smallish bear who you'll see in the snow is a regular here. It'll be fun to watch her grow up!
Monday, September 14, 2020
We had another group over for a visit, and I think that it proved to be too much for Hachi. A big part of him wants to meet people and new dogs but then he gets scared. His fearful outbursts can scare everyone around him, which can start a spiral. All that we can do is keep on learning. When more than 2 people come to the house, Hachi needs way more space than we tend to think that he needs. We'll get it right next time.
Hachi bounces back fast after each stress (like visitors). He danced with his sister after one!
All in all, Hachi had a great week. He has a lot of joy in his life, and he brings us lots of joy. Happiness all around.
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Our Black Dog had a heart that knew no bounds. He had serious surgery on his elbow his first birthday. As a puppy, we'd noticed him limping, and imaging showed that he'd been born with elbow dysplasia.
His breeder offered us a "new puppy" if we returned R to her. We didn't even consider that option for an instant. It was not an option - R was ours and we were his.
During the month leading up to his elbow surgery, he was not allowed to run at all. As an 11 month old puppy, getting no exercise was impossibly hard on R and on us. Finally, when he had not improved at all during his rest, the vet said that it was okay to let him romp in the time leading up to his surgery.
With permission to let him run, we went out the front door, and unhitched his leash. Then, he flabbergasted us when he took a flying leap off of the landing onto the ground that was about 8' down. His flying trajectory reminded me of a dock-diving dog. He landed in the grass and did joyful laps around the house. He was irrepressible.
That surgery did give him some relief from his pain, for at least a year or so. He never hesitated to go out and have a wildly good time even when his elbow was hurting. We knew that we should try to limit his boisterous play to save his elbow for later in life but neither of us had the heart to do it.
R's happy face appears in my mind's eye every single day. His face had a bit less mischief in it later in life but his purely hopeful and happy eye(s) never changed.
Happy Black Dog Sunday. Just looking at R's face makes me smile, and he would want us all to smile in his memory.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Shyla is finding happiness in Labrador Valley. The complete change in routine and setting since our Black Dog's death has helped her. Because our patterns have changed, the absence of her brother is probably less jarring to her.
I keep talking about play for our dogs because I think that it is so key to their happiness. Just outside our door, they can play with abandon - which helps them so much!
Shyla is as enthusiastic about playing as Hachi is. Their bond is growing through play.
One issue that has caused all of us distress is Shyla's separation anxiety. We are learning to adapt our habits to her need to be right next to one of us at certain times of the day (at the times when she used to be with our Black Dog). For example, in the evening, we have her in an ex pen between our chairs while Hachi is free. Shyla is calm because she's next to us, and Hachi is calm because he is free to move around.
Just before walks, we are now trying out having each of us have a dog on leash while we get ready. They are both quiet and calmer if they are right next to us.
And then they go outside to do this!
Friday, September 11, 2020
Thursday, September 10, 2020
This valley is making our pups so much happier. They can sprint through the grass and snow. We scan the world for wildlife before we let them play. Keeping the wildlife and the pups safe is our guiding principle.
They love the snow, and there will be plenty of it this winter. They are best friends. We may even be able to let them be together indoors after life calms down a bit.
Even in winter weather, amazing birds line the creek. This poor little one was cold due to this very early winter weather. I hope that he's okay.
This new home has filled us with gratitude.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
As I sit here watching a snowstorm outside, it's fun to watch a video of a bear doing a typically summer activity.
You might remember One-Eyed Jack, a bear who visited an elk carcass in June. He had a spa evening recently, rubbing his back on a tree and taking a bath. He is looking fabulous. He's fat and ready for winter. What a year for him! He mated with a bear sow who is a great mom (Mohawk) and he found plenty to eat. I'm happy for him.
Check out the video if you have time. It's short but relaxing.
Monday, September 7, 2020
Hachi absolutely loves Labrador Valley. At our old place, he rarely gets off-leash time with his sister due to the many neighbors, some of whom don't like dogs. Here, even our driveway is fair game for running. It's about a half mile long and parallels a creek. Hachi has started going in the creek, and he even crossed it a couple of days ago! Maybe the fear of water is fading.
In the early afternoon, we take the two pups for a romp along the driveway and in the creek.
And sometimes we visit the meadow too.
We've had a surprising number of visitors to the valley this week, all invited by us so we could be ready to help Hachi deal with meeting non-pack members. When it was two visitors or fewer, we brought him out on leash. (For larger groups, we had him snooze in the bedroom). He did well when he interacted with these strangers. He was fine as long as they were 10' or further away and did not look at him.
He repeatedly did this odd behavior that he's done for his entire life when people are sitting around in a group. He'd creep toward the strangers, looking like he wanted to be petted. They'd look at him, and he'd burst into aggressive-sounding barking - like he'd scared himself by getting too close. Then, he'd be fine when we backed him up. I think that we need to hold him in a position where he can't get "too close" and stop him when he starts creeping forward. He's so close to being okay with strangers that it's tempting to let him try approaching them - but we need to prevent him from scaring himself like that.
He's happiest with them out in the meadow. He can keep his distance, and he'll even come up and snuzzle their hands from behind. We coach them not to look at him, and all is good.
Now we must go enjoy the last day of summer. The temperature is going to plunge to 15°F tonight, and we will get 15" of snow! Holy moly - it's hard to imagine because it's 60° now. We spent yesterday getting ready for the snowstorm. At our old home, we harvested as many veggies as we could, and we put a heater in the greenhouse. We will see how the world, including the precious hummingbirds, survives this surprise blast of winter.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
Our Black Dog lived every day of his life with utter joy. As a small puppy, we took him to socialization classes. He would start rejoicing when we got within a few miles of where his class was. His barks and joyful yips were so cute when he was a tiny puppy even in a small space like a car.
At class, he played with abandon. He got along with every puppy in his class, and he was deft at defusing tensions when another puppy got growly. R seemed to believe that there was never ever anything to worry about in life. He'd leap into the pile of other puppies without any hesitation, simply assuming that they were all friendly. I'm sure that our Black Tornado was a little scary to more sensitive puppies but he couldn't be anyone but himself - a wildly happy labrador.
I didn't even own a camera until R was around four years old so I don't have many photos from his youngest years. Somehow, I do have photos of R at his first birthday party. We had to celebrate early because, believe it or not, R had his first elbow surgery on his first birthday (he had congenital elbow dysplasia). So, a week before his birthday, we cooked up steak for the three dogs, served with a candle of course!
Being the sweet-natured dog that he was, our Black Dog was happy to share his steak with the other dogs, Samson and K.
We miss him but every Sunday is a Happy Black Dog Sunday.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Shyla loves Labrador Valley. She is a water dog who will play in the water as much as you let her.
However, when she gets outside with Hachi, it seems as if the joy overwhelms her. She leaps in the creek, retrieves sticks, and does her happy gallop.
Even for Shyla, life is a wild mix of sadness and happiness. I hope that the happiness wins.
Friday, September 4, 2020
On a ridge near a favorite trail of Shyla's and mine, mountain lions pass by scent scrapes amazingly regularly. Usually, one passes through, and then he's gone for a few weeks.
Recently, one lion seemed to return repeatedly, and it was almost always during daylight. Shyla alerted me that he'd been there as I mountain biked along the trail. When a lion has scent marked there, Shyla sniffs the area extensively, lingering there for longer than usual. That tells me to check the cam.
On the last occasion that she did that, I was astounded by the daylight visits by a mountain lion. My guess is that he made a kill somewhere in the area, and so he stuck around for about a week. Each time he moved between the spot where he snoozed during the day and the spot where he'd cached the carcass, he stopped to check the scent posts. It seems as if he sometimes skips scent marking if he doesn't smell that any other mountain lions have been there.
As you watch this video, imagine a human trail about 10-20 yards to the side of the route that the lion is using. That's where Shyla and I ride, and that's why I feel a moment of worry when I see a mountain lion has been there during daylight.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Yet, I have these deep pangs of sadness even while soaking up such beauty. I miss our Black Dog.
I am thankful for the beauty of our world and for all the years of happiness with our Black Dog.