A blog about my life with dogs.......

Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer here we come!

Captain, after his bath drying his handsome fur in the wind and sun
      Wow! Spring is flying into summer fast and my planner looks like the aftermath of a tornado! Scribbles of plans, appointments, work schedules on every day! Busy, is a good way to be. Next week I will meet with the Raptor Center in the hopes that I might snag a job there(that I am TECHNICALLY maybe not 100% qualified for since I'm not a trained vet tech,so cross your fingers for me!), or maybe just a volunteer spot. Either the job or volunteering would get my foot in the door working with wild animals. At first thought to most folks, animals are animals, but wild animals and domestic animals are very different. Cows, horses, sheep, dogs, cats, pet rabbits, are all domesticated animals. All these previously listed animals I have worked with in some form. Wild animals on the other hand, like snakes, skunks, eagles, hawks, deer, and moles, are very different indeed. As a friend put it, volunteering at the animal shelter you see sweet faces that bond with you and you want to take them home. A turkey vulture is awesome, but you will never feel the urge to cuddle it or bring it home. So true!

     Last Sunday Bugsy and I ran our 5k. We didn't walk a single step of the race. We ran! Bugsy did amazing! I was fully prepared to avoid all runners and dogs from a good distance should his herding drive urge him to treat the other participants like sheep. Just as we practiced on all of our training days before, Bugsy ran by my side or slightly ahead, never once exhibiting herding behavior inappropriately. I am one proud red tri-colored Australian Shepard from an animal shelter lover!

In the last week of our training Bugsy and I jogged by many compliments.
"Beautiful dog!" One power walker said as he strode by.
"What a good boy." Another walker said.
"Did you see that pretty dog?" A biker called out to her companion.
Good thing Bugsy can't understand all English! With all these compliments he might get a big head!(hardy har har.) On our very last training day a couple of women stretching in the same shade I was stretching in asked me if I always run with my dog. "Sure." I replied. "We have been training together for 2 months and run our first race tomorrow!" As the conversation continued I made sure to mention that  Bugsy, whose behavior was being constantly complimented on(they struck up conversation after we jogged by and I had Bugsy jump over some obstacles and then balance on a horizontal post.), was adopted from the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter.
"Really?" One of the woman said unbelieving. "THAT dog came from a shelter!?"
I beamed with pride and told of Bugsy's transformation from a smelly unkempt dog who was barely leash trained to this wonderful running companion at my side. 
Good boy, Bugsy!

     This week Bugsy and I are increasing our training by trail running on the slopes and through the forest of the Wickiup Hill Learning Area. After rewarding myself for my 5k success with new trail running shoes we had our first pass at the trails yesterday with much success. I was amazed at my own ability to keep moving at a jogging pace up the hills over and over again. Bugsy loved it. I think we both enjoyed the change of scenery from the pavement and fields of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail to the forest foliage and shade of the Wickiup Hill Learning Area. Instead of cranking up the tunes like I had been on the last few runs at the nature trail, I opted out. Instead I listened to the birds and the rustle of wildlife in the greenery around us. The birds and wildlife are plentiful there and so are the mosquito, which I have found I cannot out run.

    Speaking of itching, guess who got poison ivy?!?! Yup, you guessed it! I did! On a hike with Bugsy and Comet through Wickiup 2 weeks ago we found that trail maintenance was well over due (at many of the  parks this year signs are posted apologizing for this and asking for patience. Infrequent maintenance caused by budget cuts, vote for trail maintenance people! and save me from poison ivy!). Luckily I had just recently looked up poison ivy to remind myself of just how it looks in order to be prepared to avoid it. I was smart to have done that, because that evil plant was creeping all over the trails. I found myself jumping and hopping around like a child pretending the ground was lava. I began avoiding contact with my dogs when I saw them rustle through the ivy leaves as I zig-zagged a path to my own safety. Eventually, we made it passed the worst of the problem and in the open meadow we continued on until a familiar sound of movement through dry leaves stopped us in our place. 4 feet away from me, to the west, was a creature moving above ground and scampering about the dry leaves. The animal was below a coverage of greenery. I struggled to identify this creature as I wondered why an animal would stay here so close to 2 dogs and a human. At this point I did realize that between me and this creature was a distance of four feet scattered with poison ivy. Holding tight to my leashes, I held my ground unable to deny my curiosity. I waited.

     Eventually a gray creature moved its way through the underbrush and over a pile of decaying leaves before ducking back underneath those leaves likely to scavenge some bit of food or hunt for insect prey. It was a mole. Perhaps because the west wind was at its back it paid us no mind even as, when it's body became momentarily visible, Comet barked and lunged near to it, pulling me into the patch of poison ivy. A single leaf grazed my ankle. I, being highly allergic to that nasty plant, immediately hiked out of the park, and drove home to shower. I quarantined the dogs to the yard until I could properly wash them and put all hiking clothing as well as collars and leashes into the wash. Still, I developed  a rash. But, with minimal exposure and a round of prednisone the rash is already subsiding and with diligent avoidance of itching did not spread much beyond my ankle.For this I am thankful.

    Besides our runs Bugsy joins Comet and I on a daily walk that is a distance of about 2(+?) miles. We walk past the neighborhood and further into the country where we pass by a skunk den and sometimes its resident. We practice our obedience on the road. I ask for a sit or a down when we see a deer staring at us 100 feet ahead on the road. Comet will oblige me, but as soon as he is released he gives in with a loud bark and a lunge toward where the deer had been. Bugsy has more self control, but still becomes excited. We walk, then "Sit" I say and we pause to watch the pair of geese and their goslings move away from us. From one pond to the next they waddle on the banks of the ponds' connecting stream. The adult geese watch us closely. The dogs watch the geese closely as well.

     When the pavement turns to gravel we turn around to avoid getting gravel in my shoes. We stroll by the purple flowers growing up tall in the grassy ditches. The dogs stop to smell each of the smashed down grass paths made by skunks or raccoons that come out in the night. The last leg of our walk we cross a bridge that hovers over a stream where minnows swim and the dry grasses around it sometimes are occupied by snakes sunning themselves. If I am lucky I see the snake before curious Comet scares it away. After this we move beyond the picturesque farm complete with white wooden fences bordering the green pastures where 4 large calves feed. If the calves are in one of the pastures near the road they come up to the edge of the fence to greet us and we stop to watch them watch us. The dogs put their noses in the air. I take notice of how quickly the cows are fattening up and hope to meet the farmer near the rode one of these days to ask him if any of that beef  or beef bones might be up for sale(for me and the for dogs as well). How funny it might be to eat an animal I have greeted countless mornings in these green pastures bordering fruit trees.

    Captain never makes it so far as the farm or the skunk den. Instead his big adventures come in the form of sniffing the wildlife paths made in the tall grass in the ditches near home. He sniffs and sniffs and covers himself in dew. I then give him a quick check over for ticks before we move onto the next path. Undoubtedly these paths are the highways for snakes, skunks and racoons the later 2 of which likely come into neighborhood yards at night to scavenge through left out trash or compost piles.

     Believe it or not, at night I have a little "spare time" in which I am reading a great book I have got to recommend to you! If you haven't already read "In the shadow of Man" By Jane Goodall ,I am only at chapter 6 and already I think you all should read it! I'm having a lot of fun reading it. The part in the book when Jane starts leaving bananas around camp to attract the brave wild chimpanzees made my brain go "Hey look! Training! Positive reinforcement!" Training and positive reinforcement are everywhere.  Has anyone noticed how I have been rewarding (positive reinforcement!) myself when I meet my running goals and adding incentives like music, new shoes or new locations to my running? I'm training myself!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Busiest time of the year!

     Spring is butting up against summer! Rain and chill meeting muggy days with temperatures in the 80's. Today Bugsy and I ran further than ever before, and it almost made me puke.(no pain no gain, right?) The air was thick and the sun beat down on us. My new pact to myself, GET UP EARLIER! I woke up this morning, looked at the clock which said 7:45 and in my sleepy haze counted back from the time I thought I fell asleep. I deduced that I still had 20 more minutes before I achieved 8 full  hours of sleep and went back to bed.....for almost 2 more hours! whoops.

     I've been up late reading a book given to me by an awesome lady friend whom has just accepted a position at the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in Texas. I am so proud of/jealous of her! (seriously though, WAY TO GO RAYCHEL!!)She is an inspiration. The book I am so glued to is "Kicked, Bitten and Scratched: Life Lessons at the World's Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers" By Amy Sutherland. If you enjoy not just dogs but all sorts of animals and if animal training is of interest to you this book will fill you with an intense realization of what opportunities there are for animals trainers and what it takes to be a good one.

     It's hard to believe I have any time to spend reading at all. I am taking steps to begin college courses next fall, applying for volunteer positions with animals, taking two physical fitness classes now and hoping to add another 5k to my schedule, still working full time at the group home, planting in the garden, running daily with Bugsy and hiking every other day with Comet in the pull harness. Also, next week I will excitedly return to Camp Bow Wow to take a position as a "Camp Counselor". As a camp employee I will work with groups of dogs. I will monitor play, as well as do a far share of poop scooping, cleaning and feeding.

     Comet and I have been hitting the trails as time allows. I attach his leash from his pull harness to the waist belt on my back pack and I hike hands free. Comets eagerness does not fade as we climb hills in the rain and neither does mine. As a matter of fact, if it is raining I'm harnessing him up and heading out because the rain seems to reduce the amount of ticks we bring home. When we are done hiking and arrive back at the car I work on Comets agility and encourage him to walk the wooden beams that outline the parking area with me(Bugsy and I also do this after our run). I remember in obedience class, both as a pup and later as a young adult, Comet saw the nearly 5ft high beam with ramps on each side and ran up then across it with ease and pleasure. At the park these wooden beams, only about 1.5 feet off the ground must bore him because he continually jumps off to sniff things. We are working on it. I can't help but think a trip to Penicon Ridge where the trails are not so well kept up and often we must navigate large fallen trees or leap over water ways might peak both our interests instead of these low flat beams.

     Every day Captain surprises me by becoming more and more MY dog. He is continually opening up more and more.Wonderful on day one, 2 weeks ago, and even more so today. Dropping toys for me to throw instead of bringing them to me and circling around, tugging if I grab for the toy and not ever wanting to give it up. During our first games of fetch I kept 3 soft squishy balls in my hands because he wasn't bringing anything back to give up to me. Lately he brings toys to me and drops them near my hands. (of course, always the trainer, I am rewarding this behavior and ignoring the unwanted behavior) He sleeps, belly up, right next to me in bed if I let him. Or he sleeps on my feet and when not welcomed into the bed he makes himself at home on the dog bed, not usually the small one I bought just for him, but instead the matching one 3 times the size that is meant for the big boys. His joyous nature, somewhat reserved when he arrived is now peaking out more and more as he wrestles Comet, attacks a cat toy or launches himself 2 feet into the air to land on the bay window sill and watches the world outside. Each day I adore him and am glad I chose him for so many reasons.

     Captain is a lazy bones and for this I am glad because if I had adopted a Jack Russel Terrier (I thought about it!) I would be exercising that dog to no end. My dear Captain, if taken on a walk to long will become so slow or just lay down that I have more than once now carried him home. This pleases him just fine. Busy, Busy me is pleased as well because when I leave him to run with Bugsy or hike with Comet he is as eager to take the piece of pig ear I offer him and nap my absence away as he is to greet me when I come back. Balance is being achieved with him in my home.
Here is Comet on a break from our hike (in his pull harness).