And Just Like That…

Something very auspicious happened this week that got lost in the hustle and bustle of adapting to a new routine with a new puppy. Maisy has been using her leg normally for several weeks and was cleared for mushing at the end of December. So I finally got tired of waiting for the weather to cooperate, accepted that I may not get on my skis at all this year, and loaded the scooter and my MPs into the car to go out for a run.

So there we are, the first time all three of us have been together since September. Just like that, no trumpets blaring or hearty applause; just the three of us working and playing together like old times. It seems like so long ago we were last out together, and at the same time it seems like time went really fast. Maisy was so happy to be there, her usual driven to run self, and I was super happy with how she was using the leg. My secret fear was that she would do great while she was running, but then come up lame later that day or the next day; I’m happy to report, though, that the only after effect was that she was really tired from being out of condition (despite going for a really short and slow run).

We took the next day off, then went out yesterday again. There were deer EVERYWHERE, and along with a patch of ice they generously provided us with our first blooper of 2015 (although I’d like to point out that I managed to bail off the scooter without falling and so now I feel invincible).

Here’s a better representation of our run yesterday, and some successful ON BYs. This trail is not pavement, it’s a woodland/dirt trail with a tiny bit of snow cover. The conditions aren’t ideal for the scooter but it is plenty capable and it’s this or nothing right now – I know it looks like a lot of snow, but there really is at most an inch or two even in the deepest places. Not nearly enough to ski.

And on the Toast front, I’ve started introducing him to the scooter. Obviously he’s comfortable with it, which is nice. After he’s come to see it as a normal feature of the backyard, the next step will be to walk it around back there a bit while he’s outside.

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The big dogs are definitely out of condition despite my efforts to keep them walking and hiking. I just can’t replicate the work involved in actually pulling. Over the next several days we are supposed to get a bit of a warm up, so hopefully the trails will clear off a bit more so I don’t have to worry about too much ice and snow. I have a feeling we won’t get much skijoring this winter at all, but that’s ok. Slowly working up our conditioning on the scooter won’t be the worst thing in the world for Maisy.

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Introducing!

Sorry for the silence lately, it’s been a quiet late fall and so-far winter around here. Maisy’s recovery and rehabilitation went great, she is using the leg normally and clear for normal activity. But I was down sick for several weeks and the weather is NOT cooperating in our corner of the world – either bitterly cold, or too much snow and ice to scooter but not enough to skijor. So she hasn’t actually been mushing since her surgery although we are both eager to get her out there. We are in the midst of a mini-thaw, though, so I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll get out over the next several days and find some clear trails for scootering.

Having said all that, the last week HAS been a busy one. I’m excited to announce the arrival of our newest Mush Puppy! I wasn’t actively thinking of adding a new dog at this point, but every once in awhile a really amazing opportunity just blossoms in front of you and you know if you don’t embrace it you’ll regret it forever. And so, meet Toast!

Sometimes opportunity is also adorable.

Sometimes opportunity is also adorable.

Toast is a 10 week old Belgian Malinois who should grow to be a great addition to our little team. My oh-so-tentative plan for the future is that when matures, he will run lead with Maisy and then Squash can run behind in wheel where I think he will be more suited and comfortable. But who knows? Nothing is set in stone with such a wee baby, everything will be what it is.

He’s only been home about 5 days, and so far we’ve mostly been getting him comfortable with the big dogs. He was a little intimidated at first, but he’s definitely come around. He walked yesterday with Squash and today with Maisy, just introducing him to walking in front of me when he’s wearing a harness (his natural inclination right now is to stay right by me, which I’ll continue to encourage on a collar).

DCIM103GOPRO

DCIM103GOPRO

One thing I’d like to point out is that while I expect Maisy the uber-lead dog to stay out in front of a puppy, Squash is also staying out in front beautifully. It’s a bittersweet sign of maturity.

We’re a long, long way from running a 3-dog team, but it’s never too early to start working on the fundamentals (Gee/Haw, Leave It/On By, etc) while he’s learning all the other things a puppy needs to learn. He’s got a great background and had a great start, so I’m sure he’s going to shine.

coat

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Pulling, Light

Maisy’s doing great, just about 5 weeks out from her surgery and allowed to do some pulling on leash as long as she isn’t “explosive.” We’re still doing multiple relatively short walks a day, up to about 20 minutes at this point and a number of strengthening exercise as well as cavalettis.

Happy to be unexplosively pulling.

Happy to be unexplosively pulling.

She’s a little tight in her hamstrings yet, but otherwise has very good flexibility and range of motion in the leg. Just need to continue to build up strength, normal gaiting, and endurance as we get closer to getting her back in front of the scooter (or skis, depending on when we get snow this year).

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Big White Mood Ring

So, Squash and I had a pretty mediocre run today. And It was pretty much all my fault.

As I was taking the scooter out of the car, I dropped it. The scooter is fine, it would take a lot more than dropping it a foot to damage that sucker. But I did break the handlebar mount for the GoPro.

I just should have let it go. I don’t take pictures and video every time we go out, anyway… but today was the first time we’d been out since our encounter with the giant vacuum cleaner/leaf blower. I’ve been curious to see how much of that drive carried over and wanted to document it. So I figured out a way to salvage the mount, but it meant I had to raise the handlebars a little. And when I did THAT, a little piece of… well, let’s just say that I experienced a minor but exceedingly annoying equipment snafu that ascended to aggravating over the next 30 minutes it took to get everything back and adjusted and ready to actually go on our run. 30 minutes that elapsed between Squash’s pre-run walk, that he was bored and didn’t really have anything to do but listen to me be annoyed and mutter angrily and swear at the scooter.

When we were ready to go, I felt good and cheery again but Squash was clearly off from the very start. He normally waits really well in his line out (though his line could stand to be tighter) but twice in a row he followed me back to the scooter, yawning and shaking off, and mugged for attention. Two more times that I tried stopping to “reset” and restart he did the exact same thing. And while he had some good stretches of pulling, he also had long stretches where he was really just disconnected. He wasn’t stopping, he was just tuned out, lagging, and unengaged.

It took me a while to stop thinking “what is up with Squash today?” and realize what was going on. Really, what I had done, because even though I hadn’t been muttering or swearing AT him, I was doing it NEAR him. Essentially, I created a hostile work environment and then expected him to turn his back on what a few minutes before had been my grumpy, foul-mouthed doppleganger and concentrate. Would you want to turn your back on someone who might transform back into a grumpy, foul-mouthed version of themselves at any moment and concentrate on your work? Me either.

So we pushed through a couple of laps with a LOT of happy cheerleading. He did get closer to his normal, jolly self by the end. And afterwards, in an attempt to sweep away any remaining negativity, we went for an especially long post-run walk and played “run around and squeak the ball” in the backyard for awhile when we got home. Now he’s happily chewing on a bully stick.

He’s a resilient boy, I’m not worried this will sour him on scootering for life or anything. It would take a lot more than this to damage him. But it was a very good lesson for me on a few levels: 1. Negativity really DOES travel down the leash (line); people don’t say that just for giggles, 2. Don’t be a jerk and then expect your dog to perform as if nothing had happened, and 3. Be open to the lesson; if things aren’t going as planned, you need to be open to the idea that it might be your fault. And also, after all of that what video I DID get was pretty much unusable, which is probably a big old meta-lesson.

We’ll try again another day and it might be a good day or a bad day. There is always joy in the good days and usually a lesson in the bad days that teaches me how to do better next time, so none of it is time wasted.

Posted in Bloopers, Equipment, Scootering, Squash | 1 Comment

Pip is Shy

I don’t post that much about Pip here, but he is a beloved member of the Mush Puppy family and today I feel compelled to make a plea on behalf of his sanity. See, Pip is shy. And for some reason, it is very often very difficult for John and Jane Q Alldogsloveme to accept that some dogs experience Stranger Danger.

His very happiest place on this planet is our dog park. It’s one of my very happiest places, too. It’s not the “typical” dog park, it’s about 5 acres of wooded river bottom on the Mississippi River. Here’s how it looked today:

fallpark

I’m sure that part of the reason why he loves it so much is that it’s a veritable sensory wonderland for a dog and a great place for a nice hike; the physical and mental stimulation is a heady combination. But I’m convinced that part of the reason he loves it so much is that he is in complete control of whether he interacts with strangers or not. And most of the time, he chooses not.

For some reason, many people view other people’s dogs at a dog park as public property. And for some reason, many people take it very, very personally if a dog wants nothing to do with them. Please, J&JQ ADLM, try to keep in mind that there are really only two things you need to remember about Pip and dogs like him:

1. If he wants attention from you, he will approach you.
2. If he doesn’t approach you, leave him alone.

That’s it. That really is it, there’s nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a reflection on your value as a human being or a dog owner/trainer/whatever you do with dogs. I’ve seen him instantly take a shine to people I thought he would be scared of but side-eye and chuff at people who seem pretty innocuous and/or have good dog manners. I have been taking this dog to the dog park for nine years, and I still have no idea what his criteria are for judging strangers, and frankly I don’t care. I don’t like to socialize with everyone I meet, and I don’t expect him to, either.

It doesn’t matter if he’s a rescue, if he was abused, what kind of training I’ve done, what kind of training you think I should do, if ALLDOGSLOVEYOU, if you have some super secret trick up your sleeve, if you’re a good person, if you’re a bad person, if you have treats, if you have a toy, or if you know another dog just like him. Whatever perceived slight my dog has burdened your soul with is in your head. Your self-esteem should not hinge on whether or not my dog likes you. It’s not about your feelings, it’s about HIS.

This is his face that the few people in this world he adores get:

IF

And this is the face of suspicion. In this case, it was a camera timer. But this is probably the face you’re going to get even if ALLDOGSLOVEYOU. Sorry, not sorry.

IF

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. And it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me for letting him be himself. And I am too old and jaded to care about your feelings more than I care about my own dog’s feelings. So for the love of god, if you recognize yourself here please leave shy dogs alone. There are plenty of not-shy dogs in the world for you to pet.

Posted in Not Mushing, Pip | 9 Comments

So, This Stuff Happened

Squash wants to kill the vacuum cleaner.

He’s not afraid of it, quite the contrary; I’m pretty sure he sees it as a giant squeaky toy that makes even more obnoxiously exciting noises than actual squeaky toys. He can literally grab it out of my hands and run away with it if he breaks his stay while I am vacuuming, so at some point I decided this wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on and just started putting him outside when I vacuum.

Later, it will become more clear how this is relevant to a post about how Squash and I went scootering again today.

I stuck with my nice long pre-run warm up walk, towards the end of which this happened:

Ready to rock and roll.

Ready to rock and roll.

which made me hopeful that this meant he had temporarily gotten goofing off out of his system and was ready to get down to work. We started out a little shaky but today was definitely a huge improvement over last time:

We weren’t gangbusters right out of the gate, but I am happy with a couple of things: Although the line could be tighter, I’m pleased with how nicely he waits while lined out at the start. Also, I’m also much happier with my line management to get him around that first curve out onto the main road from the parking lot. And he got down to business more quickly.

We were moving pretty well and I was in fact juuust starting to think “wow, this is going well!” when off in the distance appeared some park rangers driving a truck towing a giant leaf blower. It was really ingenious, they were using it to clear the parking lots off the main road of leaves by just blasting them back into the surrounding woods.

Also, it sounded a little bit like a gigantic vacuum cleaner. This sound, this most beloved of sounds, apparently traveled through Squash’s ears straight to the dial in his brain marked “drive” and turned it up to 11. Because THIS happened:

For two full laps around the loop. You read that correctly: Two. Full. Laps. Mostly at an all-out gallop. My boy took me for a ride, and it was glorious. And I am so incredibly impressed by and proud of how he’s stepped up into this new role. And no, the giant vacuum won’t always be there but I honestly don’t think he needs it to be; it was just a serendipitous kick-start and I think he’s got the chops to keep it going.

And then this happened.

Don’t worry, I didn’t fall. Long ago, I learned to both recognize when things are about to go so spectacularly wrong that a crash is inevitable and to safely bail off the scooter before it actually happens.

So we got up, brushed off, and restarted. And then after another half a lap THIS happened:

And he lost his damn mind. When it was in the parking lots, it was just beautiful background music to his ears but now… now this glorious noisy contraption was RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM and he really showed me what he had, which was actually slightly terrifying but I just let him chase it because he deserved it and we had to go that way to get back to where we were parked, anyway.

And then we went for a nice post-run cool down walk, got in the car, and went home. But I don’t have any pictures of that.

Posted in Scootering, Squash, Training | Leave a comment

Achievement Unlocked: Full Loop

Squash and I have been taking baby steps towards scootering together without Maisy while she recovers. My immediate goal was to make one full loop with him around the road we’ve been training on without stopping. A year ago I would have thought this an impossible dream.

But, a few things came together this week for us. One, he has matured considerably over the summer and fall. We’ve been in a foundations agility class and have really clicked with each other as a team. I’m pretty sure that, at almost 4, he’s the oldest dog in a class full of dogs younger than 2; it’s amazing the difference I see in him compared to where he was when HE was the youngest dog in a class.

Then, I got some very good advice from Squash’s first mom at Hoof and Howl Sled Dogs:

1. Shorten his line. You can see in the pictures from our previous outing that I left his (red) line attached to the main (black) line.

DCIM103GOPRO

I think this was partly because of habit and that it just never really occurred to me that I didn’t need it, I’m just used to hooking them up that way. And I think partly I was a little afraid the main line by itself would be too short… but it really wasn’t.

DCIM103GOPRO

2. Be generous with the brakes, the restraint and a touch of frustration can build drive. In retrospect, it makes sense that some oppositional force would kick in – on walks he is happy to pull against leash pressure. I definitely need to work on my braking skills, it’s tricker for me than it seems like it should be to keep a constant pressure on, but I’m getting there.

Then, I also tossed in a little bit longer pre- and post-run walks. I had noticed on hikes and canicross recently that he seemed to be fairly nosy, distracted and scattered at the beginning and then settle in to some serious out-front pulling later, so I thought it might help get his mind in a good place to get some sniffs and pees out of the way before we got down to business as well as using it as a reward for a job well done. And it never hurts to have a longer warm-up and cool down.

That plant isn't going to sniff itself, you know.

That plant isn’t going to sniff itself, you know.

So overall, putting these measures in place made a huge difference. There were a few close calls where he lagged a hair and a few where I had to kick the scooter, and I had to do a lot of cheerleading (not audible since the current handlebar mount blocks the microphone) – but we didn’t have to stop once!

As evidence, I am including the full video here, but I wouldn’t blame you for not watching all four minutes of it. Just keeping myself accountable.

I’d like to repeat this a few times before I get too cocky, but then the next goal will be to straighten out the zig-zagging and keep him actually in front for the whole loop. Then after that, keep him actually pulling for the whole loop.

Maisy, meanwhile, has been doing stretches and going on walks. She’s cleared to wear her harness on walks which makes her SO happy, although she still has to be on a very short leash so she won’t try to do anything crazy.

Plus, the hair on her butt is growing back.

Plus, the hair on her butt is growing back.

So for now, Maisy is recovering, Squash is growing, and I’m learning more about training. All is well in Mush Puppy land.

Posted in Maisy, Scootering, Squash, Training | Leave a comment

Maisy Update: Overachiever Edition

Maisy had her first post-op (and, as it turns out, probably her last) appointment with a physical therapist this morning. She’s doing very, very well; the PT said where she is now in her recovery (almost 3 weeks) is typical of most dogs at about 5-6 weeks. The range of motion in her knee is completely normal, although she has some discomfort at full flexion and full extension caused by tightness in her quadriceps and hamstrings. She is walking pretty normally on the leg and bearing weight. She has only lost a very small amount of muscle mass on that leg (about 3 cm compared to the other side).

So, this all means that we can do all of her rehab at home. She won’t need any underwater treadmill/hydrotherapy work at all. She is still on-leash only, but her walks can be increased, she can do stairs as long as she doesn’t charge up them, we’ll be working on some stretches, and as the weeks go on we’ll be introducing her to some other exercises (cavaletti, fitness peanut). The main focuses will be stretching out those tight muscles and rebuilding her muscle mass while the bone continues to heal.

I’ve been so impressed with her ability to adapt to her new routine and restrictions and what has really been a smooth and easy recovery so far. Just more proof that she is a really amazing little dog.

But her caretaker, Solo, is still taking his job seriously.

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I literally took this just now while writing this post.

I literally took this just now while writing this post.

Posted in Health, Maisy | Leave a comment

Success, Measured in Minutes

Earlier this year, Maisy tweaked her back and was out for a bit. You may remember how I decided to take Squash out for a scooter run alone. It was kind of a cluster.

So when Maisy tore her ACL, among all the other things to worry about was the worry about what I was going to do to exercise Squash while her activity is restricted. In the short term we took a few trips to the North Shore to do some hiking and did a LOT of canicross while working hard on polishing up his commands, especially ON BY (which plenty of getting-ready-for-winter squirrels have been happy to provide practice for).

As the days and weeks went on I realized that he was getting more and more serious about getting and staying out in front. The cherry on top was during a recent hike when he found and dragged me down a side trail.

In which I clutch the line and lean back.

In which I clutch the line and lean back.

And suddenly it seemed more possible that we could make this me and him scootering thing work. And today, I went for it. I kept my expectations modest, which was good because we didn’t start out that great.

BUT, one thing I have noticed on walks and hikes recently is that he tends to start out a little scattered but get more focused as time goes on, so I hung in there and things improved.

As it turned out, he really needed to poop there when he jigged off to the side. After that business was taken care of, things got even better despite me having to help him line out.

I’m only going to keep these videos so long, but he was pulling for minutes at a time! Definitely we have a long way to go, because there were plenty of these kinds of shenanigans:

Pull? Oh yea, lolz.

Pull? Oh yea, lolz.

Fascinating

Fascinating

I mostly just like how pretty his trot looks here.

I mostly just like how pretty his trot looks here.

"Taking my state-mandated sniff break."

“Taking my state-mandated sniff break.”

I dig it; he’s a lot like me in that at this stage he seems to need to work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little and that’s still how I work best. But I’m beginning to see the short-term goal of making one continuous lap around that circular road as achievable. I’m actually incredibly proud of how he did today, considering how much we’ve struggled with attention and focus in the past. Baby Squashies is growing up.

Oh, and the deer did not disappoint today.

Maisy, meanwhile, is doing well. Her stitches are out and she is walking really well. She’s clear to go on short leash walks (just 2-3 blocks once or twice a day at this point) and will have her first rehab appointment in a few days. This gives you an idea of how well she is using her leg; I have to walk her with that head harness because she wants to PULL PULL PULL without it and that is not allowed yet.

Also, our cat Solo has seemingly taken it upon himself to keep her company and watch over her during her convalescence.

Just a few days after surgery... poor bruised leg.

Just a few days after surgery… poor bruised leg.

This is where they killed me with cute.

This is where they killed me with cute.

He only hangs out with her on days that end in Y.

He only hangs out with her on days that end in Y.

So that’s where we stand. All things considered, we’re doing pretty well here. I’ll keep updating throughout Maisy’s recovery and Squash’s solo adventures. Hopefully before we know it, we’ll all be back together again.

Posted in Maisy, Scootering, Squash, Successes | Leave a comment

Slowly but Surely

Well it’s only 4 days out from surgery, but I feel like this morning Maisy turned a corner.

She had been toe-touching a little bit with the leg on Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday (yesterday) morning she woke up and she was back to carrying her leg. After a minor freak out I saw that her hock (not knee) was a little swollen. I think she had slept curled up too much, it was floppy fluid accumulation rather than firm tissue swelling. A little massage, a couple hours in a light compression bandage, and it was much much better. This morning she will take 3-4 tentative steps at a time on the leg before toe touching or picking it up again. Her mood is much jollier, and she’s sleeping in more normal positions. She and the other dogs are still separated by baby gates so they won’t try to roughhouse, and she is taken outside separately on a leash so she won’t run. But she is more engaged and interested in what’s going on, sniffing around more outside, normal Maisy stuff. She’s still sleeping a lot, but who can blame her?

We got a little outside time yesterday which seemed to perk up her spirits quite a bit. She loves sunbathing outside, and we had an unusually warm fall day yesterday.

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We also started doing some gentle passive range of motion exercises with the leg yesterday, which she is not a huge fan of. I’m glad in the written instructions we took home it specifies that this will be “hard at first and get easier” because that is exactly what is happening. She’s so tolerant and such a champ, though.

Our cat Solo has apparently taken on the role of self-appointedbodyguard; he’s always loved the dogs but he is really sticking close to her over the past few days. (In the pictures where she’s on the couch, never fear: I lifted her up there.)

bguard

bguard2

bguard3

All in all things are going quite well. If all goes as planned she will have her sutures out in about a week and a half, and then she can start seeing the physical therapist. She’ll be restricted to on-leash only for about 8 weeks before getting some freedom, although she can go on gradually longer walks and do the underwater treadmill throughout that time. So far she’s been a model patient and I’m sure she’ll continue to do great. She’s just such an amazing little dog.

Posted in Health, Maisy | Leave a comment