Friday, July 13, 2012

Land of Laughing Waters

Alfie's a great hiking buddy.  One of our most interesting recent adventures was last weekend, visiting Ha Ha Tonka State Park .  Grandpa Bob was here visiting from California, and it was a great excuse to take off and do some exploring! The park features the ruins of an amazing, grand old mansion commanding a breathtaking view of the countryside below.  I loved wandering around and imagining what this place must've been like in its heyday a century ago.

Sure, it's a grand mansion, but where are the dog beds?

Looking down on what was once a grand ballroom. 

A circle drive at the rear, big enough to accommodate horse-drawn carriages.

 Looking up at the "castle" ruins from the gorge beneath, near the springs.

 I defy you to say "Ha Ha Tonka" three times without laughing!  Fittingly, the name actually means "Laughing Waters" in a Native American dialect, and refers to the natural springs there.  

The sign said "no swimming" said nothing about wading!

There are several trails to explore in the park, and we sort of combined the most interesting parts of a few different ones.  There were steep inclines --the toughest climb was made easier by a series of over 300 steps, linked by boardwalks such as this.

The native karst limestone gave rise to many interesting features such as sinkholes, a natural bridge...

...and this interesting balanced rock formation.

We all loved the caves.  You weren't allowed to go in, but we didn't have to in order to appreciate the refreshing current of 55-degree air wafting out.

Air conditioning!

You might appreciate a cool cave, too, if you were doing all this hiking in this kind of weather!  Take a minute and look at that thermometer...which was in the shade, by the way!  We took a bunch of water, and let me tell you, not a drop was wasted.  Alfie was the only one to have his own water bottle, though, lucky dog!  Don't worry, we took regular rest/re-hydration breaks, and no one got heat exhaustion...although, a stop at Sonic afterward sure felt good!

Alfie was a bit of a show-off, as usual.  Tim had climbed up a couple of big boulders and was standing at the top...I was on the middle one and could see Alfie on the ground below, wanting to get up. I was thinking of giving him a boost, or showing him that he could follow Tim by using the smaller boulders to climb up on the big one.  Nothing doing! In one giant spring, Alfie had gone from the ground below, to the top boulder with Tim. 

Here's how it's done, folks! 

Well, hello up there...!  I guess Alfie has superpowers.

Take time to enjoy the journey...and all the smells along the way!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Silly Pics to Share...and Signing Dog?

Summertime...and Alfie's been keeping us laughing, as usual.  He strikes this pose every morning while I'm getting ready, leaning all squished up in the corner between our bedroom and bathroom.  It gives me a crick in my neck just looking at him!  But it seems to satisfy his need to be totally relaxed and keep an eye on me at all times.

Alfie's lying with his head and neck leaning against the doorframe all crunched up
This is my signature pose, "Dog with Broken Neck."
For advanced doga experts only!

Alfie also knows how to keep cool on a summer day...okay, he doesn't really wear hats, but this impromptu outfit made me laugh!!

Close shot of Alfie's head wearing my giant straw gardening hat, which is covering all but his snout
Whose crazy idea was this?!

Of course any blog readers who know Alfie's personality at all, know that he's happiest when active and learning.  Sadly, I haven't had time to work on his favorite activity, tracking, this summer.  (Although I still plan to, eventually!)  But I'm always on the alert for new things to try with him.  When I found this book on teaching dogs a special type of sign language, I thought...why not?

Alfie's nosing a book titled Dogs Can Sign, Too
Hmm...looks interesting.

Honestly, as I read through it, I went back and forth between thinking, "Wow -- what a great tool for communicating with your dog!" and "Seriously?!"  But I'm always game to try new things, so I started Alfie in on the "signing" lessons.  The book has a definite system laid out, using each of the paws, and the head, to refer to different types of things (depending on the type of motion).  I'm not doing it exactly according to the lesson plan for a few different reasons.  But Alfie quickly learned that his left front paw means "Food," and his right front paw means "Toy."

One fun result of this endeavor is that it gives Alfie yet another way to communicate.  Granted, he already had ways of letting me know when he wanted to play with a toy, or of asking for a treat.  But last night, as we were watching a movie, he came up and laid his head in my lap.  Thinking he might want to cuddle, I invited him to jump in my lap.  But nope, he didn't want that!  Backing up, he shook his head and panted, giving me a little "gruff."  So I ignored him, but soon his head was back in my lap.  I knew he wanted something, I just didn't know what!  So I looked down and asked him, "What do you want?"  He gave me an exaggerated wave with his front left paw -- the "Food" sign -- and then looked pointedly at my glass of ice water!  

Now, Alfie doesn't normally like ice.  I've tried giving him some before, and it's just ended up all over the floor.  But it has been hot lately, so I gave him a cube of ice out of my the risk of totally spoiling him (yeah, I know, too late for that!)

Sure enough, that was exactly what he wanted.  He crunched it up happily, licking up every last piece.  Then he returned, sat politely, and signed even bigger than before, "FOOD!" -- all the while looking at my glass of ice, silly smile all over his face!  So, yeah, the little rascal talked me out of five cubes of ice...then curled up in a happy little heap at my feet for the rest of the movie!

PS -- Stay of Alfie signing is coming soon!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Well, Hello There!

This is Alfie's not-so-subtle communication method:  The Look.  It's his way of telling me that I've been at the computer long enough...and wouldn't it be a great time to go outside? ball?...go tracking? some obedience work?

Alfie's face is peeking out from under the table as he gazes up with an intense, focused look
With great patience and persistence, your human can be trained
to do amazing things!

Friday, May 4, 2012

We Interrupt Your Regular Alfie Programming...

...for a shameless plug of Alfie's predecessor, Dakota, featured in this great news story!   We raised him as a guide dog for GDTX, but later he was career changed for diabetic alert work and we were able to do his basic scent training before he went to work with his new partner, Ben.  He'll always have a unique place in our hearts (yes -- have to admit, I cried to see him again!), yet we're glad to be able to share him.  Dakota and Ben seem to be made for each other!

I'll leave you with a cute Alfie picture so he doesn't feel too left out...

It's my blog, after all!...
Well, I guess it IS nice to be related to somedoggy famous.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

You Know You Have a Retriever When...

...sitting down watching TV for an hour in the evening, you wind up with a haul like this at your feet!

Alfie lying stretched out on the rug in front of the TV in front of his collection:  4 pair of shoes, and 3 socks
Behold the King of Fetching!

This just seems to be something Alfie does when he's bored (guess he doesn't share our taste in movies)...and trying really hard to get your attention.  Last night I was all wrapped up in the show when I noticed his scruffy little face, depositing a shoe ever-so-delicately on my chair.  So I tell him thanks and give him an ear scratch, still engrossed in the show...then the next thing you know, he's disappeared again.  A few minutes later, he's baaaack...this time giving Tim the other shoe of the pair!  Then, he gives Charissa a sock...and on and on.  I do think that last night's 4 matched pairs of shoes, and a pair and a half of socks, is his current record! He ended up being funnier than our movie, I think!

Of course this is only a thinly-disguised variation on one of his favorite games, "I've-got-your-stuff-catch-me-if-you-can!"  (A game we strongly discourage, by the way.) Since we'd rather have him bring stuff to us than run away with it, we always act really excited about his "gifts"... and if you know Alfie at all you know he's a total attention sponge.

Although...note to self:  Make sure the closets are closed before you start the movie next time!

Friday, April 20, 2012

White Coat Syndrome?

Yesterday was Alfie's annual checkup.  He was due for a couple of booster shots as well as routine tests to make sure he didn't have parasites (he didn't, yay!) 

Alfie's always done fine at the vet.  He's well-behaved -- a little apprehensive (licking his nose more than usual, etc.), but nothing too severe.  But yesterday afternoon was different.  Since we live right on the edge of town, our vet is a country vet who sees all kinds of emergencies as well as handling more routine stuff.  Yesterday as we walked in, I realized they must be slammed with emergencies. They were very full, all the techs were busy, and it was much more chaotic than usual.  In addition to all kinds of crazy animal noise from the various exam rooms, there was even some kind of angry family squabble that you could hear going on (yikes!)  Alfie crouched down to half his normal height and pressed into me, panting and obviously anxious.  I've always heard that you should try not to be extra-reassuring to anxious dogs, as they'll feel their worry is justified.  So I tried to "act normal," but I couldn't help noticing Alfie just wasn't himself.  

Alfie lying on the green grass, a curious look on his face
 Well, I ask you:  do you like going to the doctor?!

Unfortunately, the busy office meant that our appointment was delayed, and Alfie's anxiety had time to "develop."  When we finally got into an exam room and the tech took his temperature, she looked at me with some alarm.  "Well, how long has he been sick?  Has he been eating okay?" she wanted to know, adding, "His temperature is three and a half degrees over normal!"  I assured her that he'd been fine, and his appetite certainly wasn't suffering...but tried to explain that Alfie seemed to be reacting to the stressful environment.  She agreed, but pointed out that in her experience that usually didn't raise their temperature more than a degree or so!  They finally asked me if I'd be willing to wait a while with him, and see if he improved...obviously, they didn't want to give him any shots if he really was sick!

I know Alfie, and I knew he wasn't sick, just stressed out!  I wasn't sure how long it would take him to recover, though.  But I decided to wait and see if he improved.  We went to the very end room, closed the door, and settled in.  Slowly, things quieted down out front.  I sure wished I'd brought my own book to read...with a sigh, I grabbed their stack of reading material.  By the time I'd gotten through Cat Fancy, Alfie was lying on the floor, his chin on my foot.  By the time I finished Dog Fancy, learning more than I ever wanted to know about everything from Otterhounds to Obesity, Alfie was lying on his side (head still on my foot...of course!)  As the clinic got quieter and quieter, I worked through a nasty assortment of graphic material on heartworms and hookworms.  Bleah!  At long last, our tech returned, and the verdict was...his temp had dropped three degrees!!  Even I was surprised.  They were able to finish his checkup and give him his shots.

Happily, everything else was routine.  The vet praised Alfie's manners, as well as his "beautiful ears, teeth, and coat"  (hooray!)  He was also happy with his weight and fitness.  So, all in all, a good checkup!  

Alfie's sitting up on his haunches, looking up into the camera and reaching both front paws in the air
                          Two paws up for a good report card!

It just seemed crazy to me, though, that Alfie could have such a marked physical reaction to his surroundings.  Has anyone else ever had this experience?  I'd be interested in your comments, if so!  I think next year I will try to schedule his appointment first thing in the morning, and see if the clinic is quieter.  I could also try taking him there when he doesn't have a checkup, giving him treats and positive reinforcement, to help desensitize him a bit.  Still, if it's another crazy day like yesterday, he might just have his fears confirmed!

In the meantime, all is back to normal.  Some of you will remember that last year in the spring, I started working with Alfie on trailing/tracking, with the possibility in mind of eventually working with him to find lost pets.  Several things have come up that have made the "lost pet" venture impractical...but, if anything, I've gotten more interested in tracking!  I've been doing some research into local classes that teach "formal," or AKC tracking, and am now exploring that option.  It turns out that, although labradoodles are considered "mixed breed" dogs by the AKC, they can still participate in competitive tracking as part of the Canine Partners program.  I think this would be a great goal for us to work for!  And, Alfie's always game for a new challenge.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day at the Park

Easter weekend was the perfect time for the family to go to a new park...we've been to Doling park before, actually, but it's been closed for renovations since last summer.  We loved the beautiful new landscaping, tranquil pond, and scenic walkways.  We  enjoyed the flocks of ducks and geese.  Alfie didn't even attempt to chase them...though, if he'd been off leash, I'm sure it would've been a different story!  Loved this neat cave (below), and a plaque explaining the history of the site.

Alfie sitting at the mouth of a dark cave, overgrown with moss and ferns

As usual, Alfie attracted lots of attention.  In general -- whoever sees Alfie loves him, and he loves them right back.  A good arrangement.  It's interesting how Alfie interacts with people in public; he is good at scaling his enthusiasm up or down to fit the individual.  (At home, he's much more excitable!)  When we meet people who seem confident and dog-experienced, he's definitely a little bouncier, a little more excited.  With young children, he puts his head down to their level and controls himself, not wagging too hard (maybe he doesn't want to scare them away!)  With senior citizens, he will stand quite still and careful.  What a good boy!

People always are curious to know what kind of dog he is.  I heard a new one at the park this time:  a little boy pointed at Alfie and, looking up to his dad, asked, "Hey, what kind of dog is that?  A Doberman?"  
picture of Doberman on the left, all sleek and short-haired and shiny, with prick ears; picture of Alfie on the right; he does have the same basic build I guess, but his woolly coat and floppy ears hide it pretty well!

Hmm...maybe if he changed his fur?

Have a good week, everyone!