Who are you, and what have you done with my Mush Puppies?

I started this blog primary to capture the beginning and growth of a brand new experience in my life and, to a lesser extent, as a place for friends and family (and Squash fans) to stay updated on what exactly it is we do when we trundle off to the state park. Every once in awhile I go back and reread the whole thing from beginning to end and am amused or touched by some small detail I’d long since consciously forgotten, and I’m very glad I’ve been writing it. Over time, I’ve also come to sincerely hope that in addition to sharing our high points, some other budding novice can take some comfort in our inevitable low points and imperfections and know they aren’t alone. Which is part of the reason why I include a fair amount of self-deprecating humor and bloopers.

Today is a different day, however. Today is a day for shameless bragging. Because some days are frustrating days. Some days this sport, as much as I love it, feels less like something I do and more like something I try to do, practicing commands over and over and wondering at what point does practice end and me and my dogs do better than practicing and something else begins. And other days… well, those other days are amazing. On those days, everything clicks and there isn’t even a word for how beautiful this sport is and how connected you feel to your dogs. And today was one of those days. When we drove into the park, there was a flock of turkeys hanging around my favorite trail, so I knew that there would be plenty of opportunities for training challenges today. I just didn’t realize how well my Mush Puppies would rise to meet them.

Because of the heat wave we had, my work schedule, and Squash’s physical therapy and chiropractor appointments, we’ve had to sneak in short runs here and there where we can for the last several weeks. So I’ve been keeping things short and using the time to polish our directional commands. At the park where we scooter and skijor there are two areas of lovely U-shaped parking lots lined up one after the other off their respective roads that are perfect for gee-haw practice, and after a short warm up that’s what I was really working today. Until we took a haw and ran smack into a wee herd of deer hanging around one of the lots that thanks to some lush vegetation I didn’t see until we took the turn and practically ran them over.

I stopped the dogs and let the deer ran off. The dogs actually held a wait fairly well with quite a bit of fidgeting but no pulling or scooter-dragging, and when we started out again they did this:

Let me break down why this makes my heart happy. First, the dogs take off straight when the deer ran off to the left. Second, I just love to see that beautiful boy run. Third, they really wanted to cut into the next two parking lots (because parking lots are where deer are, right? WE SAW SOME DEER IN A PARKING LOT ONCE!) but they went right ON BY.

And then on the way back to the car, this happened (the real meat of it starts at about 1 minute, but I cracked myself up singing about the turkeys and didn’t want to edit it out):

So, OVER pretty much didn’t happen but they held position, the car was going slowly, and far more exciting triumphs followed so I’m not going to cry over it. Because turkeys! In the road! Right up there! And they held that wait so beautifully with a snug tug but no lunging or attempted scooter-dragging. AND THEN THEY WENT ON BY. It’s very hard to see in the video, but right at the end there were two dogs across the main road that the owner clearly wanted to keep from meeting other dogs… AND THEY WHOA’D.

And then this happened:

I had a brief conversation with the owner of the other dogs to make sure we stayed out of each other’s way, during which the Mush Puppies held a great wait again. Then, after some initial temptation, they successfully turned GEE to go ON BY, only to come face to face with a bicyclist. When they awesomely moved OVER and WAITED again. Shortly after THAT, which I edited out of the video, we came face to face with a woman walking her dog and once again they moved OVER and WAITED.

Now. This is all stuff they are supposed to do. So on some level it should be no big deal, right? But the truth is that as a mush baby coming cold to this sport with a tiny, motley team of dogs who also started completely green… we are all learning this stuff together as we go. Slowly, but surely. Some days are triumph days while some days are blooper days, and I fully intend to grab onto the triumph days with two hands. As time goes on, those days are getting more common and that makes me happy and so proud of these dogs. Because that feeling of working with them as a team, of achieving those triumph days together, is something that carves out a quiet, peaceful warm retreat for my heart and mind that I can visit whenever I like.

Don’t worry, though. I’m sure we’ll still have plenty of blooper days.

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