Lessons Learned

It’s a new year and we’ve had a dismally disappointing winter here at mushbaby HQ. As it stands, we have no snow but a lot of ice on the ground thanks to a few days of rain followed by a deep, deep freeze. Last year around this time I was so frustrated with the lack of snow (skiing) that I bought a fat tire bike I call the Tantrum Bike (which gives you an idea of how frustrated I was), and this year we can hardly even bike because… so much ice. Even trying to go around the ice is fraught with peril:

That’s not really what brought me back to the blog, though. This time of year, FB memories graces me with a plethora of puppy Toast pictures which makes me feel a lot of feelings. A friend not too long ago said of me something like “mushbaby really likes to be competent in everything she does” and seeing these pictures are a huge reminder of one of my biggest incompetencies and sources of shame and embarrassment. I love that dog so much, but I also failed him so badly. I raised him like Squash and expected him to be like Squash – who is a much, much softer dog with no serious fallout from my mistakes. I wasn’t able to see what I was doing at the time, and wasn’t able to adapt until I had created problems in my household too big for me to fix.

He’s in a great home now and thriving with someone who understands him better than I ever could have. Seeing updates is bittersweet, it’s wonderful to see him happy and an opportunity to be grateful for the enormous lessons I learned from him. But depending on my headspace it can also be a painful reminder of my incompetence.

I aspire to focus on the positives but my brain doesn’t always let me. In retrospect I learned so much, things that have helped me become a better dog owner in general, taught me what kinds of dogs suit me best, and allowed me to be much better at my job. No one is a better teacher than experience, after all. I’d like to think that if I had a second chance I would do better, with some time and clarity and not making the same kinds of mistakes bringing Aspen into our household (who although he is also a softer dog, not as soft as Squash).

Anyway, this has just been on my mind lately and I guess I just needed to get it out so it stopped eating me alive. But also… it’s easy to tell yourself and others that failure is how we learn, those who have succeeded have failed more than the rest of us have even tried, and so on. And intellectually it all makes sense but if you’re not feeling it, please know you’re not alone. At least one other person gets it, and struggles with feeling it too.


Posted in Dog Talk, Not Mushing, Toast | Leave a comment

The Heart of the Matter

Don’t Panic, Think

The Science Dog

In mid-July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an alert to veterinarians and pet owners regarding reports of increased incidence of a heart disease called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This disorder is characterized by weakening of the heart muscle, which leads to a decreased ability of the heart to pump, and if untreated, to cardiac failure. The reported cases occurred in breeds that are not considered to be genetically predisposed to this disorder.

Further, a significant number of the dogs were found to have reduced levels of circulating taurine in their blood and have responded positively to taurine supplementation. It is speculated that these cases are related to the consumption of foods that negatively affect taurine status, leading to taurine-deficiency DCM. Foods containing high levels of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes were identified by the FDA as potential risk factors. These ingredients are found commonly in…

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A Tale of Two “ON BY”s

This space has been pretty quiet for a while. When last we met, I was still wrapping my head around having Aspen living with us and all my feelings about that. I’m happy to say he’s fitting in here like a hand in a glove and I couldn’t be happier with him. The dogs are all getting along great and if you want to see some of their shenanigans we are on Instagram @alaskanbulldogs.

It was a challenging winter for running dogs. Most of of the time there wasn’t enough snow to skijor but too much snow for my scooter or hybrid bike. When I finally gave in and got a fat tire bike, we got a thaw-refreeze cycle that turned all the trails into ice, then just as the trails were icing out we got a late-season blizzard.

But, except for a little high water, things have calmed down for the most part and we’re able to get out more. What I wanted to share today is a breakdown of two ON BYs, one a success and one a spectacular failure.

First up, the success (because it came first). What went right here is that I noticed the deer at the same time Squash did, but before Aspen did; I managed to get the command out before Squash had committed to trying to chase and before Aspen really fully realized what was going on. So we had some momentum to carry us. (Which quickly turned into excitedly blowing off steam for a minute.)

Second, what went wrong. In this instance, I did not notice the squirrel or get the command out until after both dogs had seen it and reacted. Because I gave the command once they were both fully committed to trying to chase, they probably didn’t even hear me.


This is a good reminder for me that because of the way I have trained ON BY, it works best for my dogs to hear the command preemptively and I have to be really alert for distractions. Obviously I’m not always going to see everything, but for my purposes I’m ok with an occasional misstep.

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Living in the Liminal Space

Well, it’s been awhile. It’s been a year of ups and downs and changes and feelings and adapting, and while I haven’t been much in the writing mood I think it’s time for an update.

First, we lost Pip in July, shortly after my last post about him. I miss him. He was just a really good, easy, sweet old soul.

Second, Maisy tore her second cruciate ligament and had surgery to repair it at the end of June. So her summer was spent recovering and rehabbing (she’s fully recovered and back to normal now).

Third, I was contacted about the possibility of taking Squash’s littermate brother, Aspen, who was being retired from Hillside Huskies, a small recreational racing kennel where he had been living since he was a puppy.


Baby Aspen (photo by Amanda)

I had a lot of feelings about this, many contradictory. When I was first contacted, Pip was still with us. I very much did not want to add stress or disruption to his life, and I really didn’t know how much time he had left. He’d already outlived all the predictions and I was hoping he’d continue to pummel the odds even though it wasn’t likely. And frankly, it felt wrong to be thinking about the next dog already.

BUT, it’s no secret that Squash is just about the perfect dog for me and I’ve often joked that if someone were breeding them on purpose, I’d have Alaskan Bulldogs forever. By all accounts, Aspen’s personality was very much like Squash’s with one important addition – he was a great mushing dog with good drive for the sport, and already trained to boot. So it seemed like an opportunity too ludicrous to pass up.

BUT, Maisy. Maisy, who adores puppies but is very selective about whether she wants to be friends with strange adult dogs or throw down with them. Maisy who does seem to have mellowed over the years, but…

It is kind of a blur in my memory, but as I recall it went like this: First I said no. Then I said yes. Then I said no, this doesn’t feel right. Then, after Pip was gone, I did some soul searching and said yes again with a promise that I wasn’t going to flip flop anymore IF Maisy got along with him. I was committed.

And so, I found myself for the second time driving to Ohio to pick up an Alaskan Bulldog. This time I had Squash and Maisy in tow and I was fully prepared to leave Aspen-less if my girl didn’t like him. But, she did. Or at least, she didn’t immediately NOT like him. She barely even acknowledged him, really, which for her is a win. So the next day we all piled into the minivan and came back to Minnesota together.

aspen copy


He’s been a delight.  He’s an amazing joring dog and we’ve been doing a lot of bikejoring both alone and with Squash or Maisy, although I haven’t been brave enough to try all three together yet. He and Maisy run beautifully together, and he has the size and strength to force a work ethic on Squash. He’s sweet as can be and fitting in great with the other dogs. I’m pretty sure he and Squash share a brain. He’s still overexcited about the cats and learning to tone himself down with them, but he’s not dangerous or predatory towards them. He’s a good fit for me, I really like him and I’m very happy that he’s come to be part of our little family.




Still, I can feel myself holding back a little bit emotionally. I know part of it is losing Pip and gaining Aspen so close to one another. It’s just a lot to process and it’s been hard to let myself be fully happy about the latter on the heels of the former. But if I’m honest I think part of it that I’m afraid to let myself get too attached. I haven’t been fully confident in my ability to successfully integrate a new dog into my existing household; that part of me took a pretty big hit after Toast left (who is doing great in his new home btw). Some days it seems easy, and some days it seems like a lot. Like so much. Like something I’m going to fail at again.

So here I’ve been sitting in the in-between space with change and uncertainty, the twins at the boundaries. Love them or hate them, they’re going to usher you across that threshold from what things were like before to what things can and will be from now on… if you let them. I’m going with a few butterflies in my stomach, but I’m trying real hard to trust that we’ll all make it into the next space together.


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Coming into the End Zone



After Pip had his spleen removed and we got the pathology report back, I promised him that he would never have to take a bath again. It seemed like a reasonable promise since the prognosis was about as bad as it gets; the metastasis rate for hemangiosarcoma is described as “approaching 100%.” The only thing we didn’t know was how long we had, but by most estimates somewhere around two to three months. Once the initial disappointment and hurricane of grief had passed, we tried to use our remaining time well. For the most part, we did a good job and have had a real good time.




Soon those two to three months had passed. Then four. We celebrated his birthday, and a few weeks later it was five months since his surgery. Right now we’re sitting at six months. So much more time than we ever expected, and though I knew it was dangerous I’ve slowly allowed a tiny part of myself to believe maybe we had dodged a bullet. That my dog  was one of the lucky ones who allowed that “approaching” to sneak in ahead of the “100%.” And since we’d been taking him down to the river a lot, I thought maybe I was going to have to break that promise about the bath.

Then earlier this week he had a real bad day. We repeated some blood work and x-rays, and it was the worst news… evidence of metastasis to his liver, and he’s anemic. (HSA is essentially a tumor of blood vessels, so they can rupture and bleed; the anemia suggests that’s what happened although he didn’t lose a critical amount of blood.)

The better news is that there is evidence that his body is repairing the anemia by producing new red blood cells. And by the next morning, he was acting like himself again. He’s eating well, jolly and excited about the things he normally gets jolly and excited about, chewing his bones, coming to work with me and working the crowd for snacks at lunchtime, yelling at Squash when he gets out of line. (Maisy isn’t really in a position to get out of line right now, having torn her other cruciate ligament last week and surgery a few days ago, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.) All we’re really seeing right now is that he doesn’t have much stamina; he gets tired more easily and sleeps a lot more.



So now I know for sure what I really knew in my heart knew before; that he’s not part of the “approaching.” And I’m sad, really sad, although part of me realizes that in reality nothing has really changed… we just have that final piece of certainty plugged into the equation and a more specific time cap. We’re down to a few weeks, mostly likely a month at most, and I don’t want him to go. But at least we’ve had so, so much more time than we ever expected. Really good quality time, and I’m so grateful for it. He can’t really hike or birdwatch at the park with me anymore, but he can still chew sticks in the backyard while I read and there are some boat launches nearby where I park close enough that he can wade around in the water and eat grass on the riverbank… the things that make him happiest.




If the rules were relaxed before, we’ve gone positively feral at this point… chicken with breakfast, a spoonful of whipped cream at lunch, roasts in the slow cooker specifically for him, bites of Kit Kats. He goes where he wants, when he wants.

And absolutely no baths.



Posted in Health, Not Mushing, Pip | 1 Comment

Roadkill Willpower Depletion

Now that I broke the seal, we’ve been doing more bikejoring than scootering this spring. Aside from some stretches of rain and a few random heat waves, the weather has been pretty cooperative.



Yesterday we had a couple of encounters with a turtle that had been run over (RIP, turtle and SLOW DOWN, state park drivers! The speed limit is already only 20mph here.). The first video is on the way out and the second video is on the way back.



Pretty different!  One thing this makes me ponder is the concept of “willpower depletion” as it relates to my training and expectations of the dogs. You can read more about it here, but the basic idea is that we all have a limited amount of willpower to dole out during the day and as it gets used up, it gets harder and harder to exert self-control in tempting situations. It’s not settled science by any means, and you can find just as many articles that refute as support it.

The danger lies in either using it as an excuse rather than an explanation or ascribing it too much power and lowering your expectations as a result. There are lots of things that were different about these two encounters to explain the difference, chief among them that none of us knew it was there on the first pass but we all knew it was there on the second pass – and a Squash never, never forgets.  Also, the first time we went by we came around a corner off a dirt trail to the road and had a very short distance to even see and register what it was. The second time, we had a long straight stretch of road ahead of us where it was visible.

So I suspect that on that second pass he’d mostly just had an awful lot of time to see it, realize/remember what it was, think about much he wanted it, and commit to a plan.  With maybe just a little pinch of being a little tired and bored and willpower depleted.

Why what’s really going on here even matters to me is that there can be a fine balance between training challenges that are just that, challenges, vs those that are unfairly setting a dog up for failure. One of my great weaknesses when training my dogs is that I too often err on the side of the latter and in my efforts to avoid making things unrealistically difficult, I make them too easy. In this case, that might look like taking another route to avoid the turtle on the second pass and missing out on the opportunity to “win” the standoff. I’m not a master dog trainer, and my dogs and I are far from perfect, but I do like to try to learn from things like this.

In other news… Pip continues to do well, which is both surprising and welcome. He’s already outlasted his prognosis and while the old man is slowing down a bit, we’re still having a good time together.



Squash is taking a beginner’s disc (frisbee) class and that’s going ok. He does not have much natural interest or drive for toys so it’s been a learning experience to try to build that up in him.  I’ll try to get some pictures or video up at some point.

I hope everyone’s spring and summer are going well, and although we’re heading into summer and the weather might start limiting us, I’ll try to update a  bit more often.

Posted in Bikejoring, Training | Leave a comment

Accurate Live Reading by Gifted Bikejorer

Either I can control the future or predict it, because after presciently discussing traditionally being scared of having to bail off a bicycle in a recent post, I had to bail off the bicycle.

I was stopped, straddling the bike, on some soft-ish ground for a brief sniff break when the dogs successfully calculated the exact vector needed to apply force in order to make the wheels slip out sideways. Probably purely out of scooter-bailing reflex, I nearly simultaneously let go of the handlebars and stepped over the crossbar. I like to think it all looked very badass to the casual observer, like a perfectly choreographed and executed movie stunt. Sadly, no pictures or video; you’ll just have to use your imagination.

So, THAT was no big deal. As deals usually turn out to be.


Posted in Bikejoring | Leave a comment