by Steven Kotler | on October 25th, 2010 | in Features, Small Furry Blog, Training
Every now and again, I’m reminded of what an incredible and improbable relationship we have with dogs.
Partially, I’m talking about our cross-species friendship, the likes of which exists (as far as we can tell) nowhere else on the planet. Mountain lions and coyotes are both predators that inhabit the terrain around my house, but they don’t team up and have play dates. They don’t sleep in the same dens or share their meals. And neither do any other groups of social carnivores except humans and dogs.
But what makes this relationship all the more improbable is that we were not originally hard-wired for the experience. The best example I can offer of this is from something that happens occasionally when I’m out hiking my dogs through the backcountry. During those hikes, I often like to stop and sit down and close my eyes and listen. I like how nature sounds. The chirp of the birds. The buzz of the insects. My dogs running around to inspect this hole or that. And that low hum—some distant echo off the canyon walls that always seems to be there.
A few days back, I was sitting and listening, ears open, eyes closed, when my dog Bella, a pit-bull/healer mix, came running up to me. She’s been around me long enough that, when I sitting with my eyes closed, I never worry about her crashing into me
And this day was no different. Bella did what she often does—stopped directly in front of me to lick my face a few times. Normally, after this happens, she trots away. But the other day, she lingered with her mouth right beside my ear. She had been running, so after she stopped licking me she started panting: hot, hard animal pants that boomed in my ear.
While she was licking my face, there was almost no reaction. Sure, I got that slight bit of pleasure I always get from a dog licking my face, but that wasn’t much more than a light buzz in my nervous system. But when she panted in my ear, my entire body freaked out. My stomach dropped—as if I had gone over the first hill on a roller-coaster—and then my body jolted—like a bolt of electricity had shot through me.
Even before I realized it, I had jumped to my feet and taken up a wide-eyed, aggressive stance and the entire reaction was completely automatic.
What was actually happening was I was getting a chance to watch my amygdala at work. Here’s what I mean: The human senses take in about 400 billion different bits of information every second. The very first place this information travels is the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain governing primal emotions such as fear and rage.
Among the oldest portions of the human brain, the amygdala is old enough that certain reactions have become hardwired instinct. For example, when we see a dark, twisty shape in the grass, we will automatically jump backwards before our brain has time to realize we’ve seen a stick not a snake. This get-me-the-hell-out-of-here response shows up around heights, snakes, spiders, and—yes—the throaty pant of a live animal in one’s ear.
Certainly, we co-evolved to live with dogs. Certainly we have been cohabitating with them for somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 years, but for millions of years before that the hot pant of an animal in our ear meant nothing good. And the memory of that is still buried deep in our brain.
So when something happens, like my dear friend and constant companion Bella triggering a fight-or-flight response, I am again reminded of how improbable is our cross-species friendship. How long and hard both my forbearers and Bella’s forbearers had to work to make that connection. And how much responsibility I still have to cherish it.
Steven Kotler is the author of A Small Furry Prayer.
by Grayson Schaffer | on October 20th, 2010 | in Features, good eats
Keep an eye out for a new high-end dog food brand. Nulo (nutrition + love) uses whole meats like lamb, beef, salmon, and chicken bulked with brown rice. Danger and Cooper tell me it’s good food and their coats have definitely been shinier lately. Just don’t go to the store expecting to find Nulo on shelves. The Austin, Texas-based company is taking another shot at the online-only model that made the ill-fated sock puppet of Pets.com the poster child of the Internet bust. It’s actually a great concept. Unlike a lot of pet food that can spend up to a year on shelves, this stuff comes fresh to your door every month. Shipping is free on the first bag, and a 32-pound sack will run you about $60. Definitely worth a try.
by Grayson Schaffer | on September 27th, 2010 | in Features, Media, Small Furry Blog
So you think you’ve got big dog problems? Check out the small dog problems Steven Kotler, author of A Small Furry Prayer, which hits bookshelves this month, deals with on a daily basis. Kotler, who also wrote West of Jesus, and his wife, fellow author Joy Nicholson, moved from Los Angeles to Chimayo, New Mexico, a few years back to start Rancho de Chihuahua (www.ranchodechihuahua.org) as a sanctuary for small dogs. Amazingly, they’ve managed to preserve both their sanity and their relationship. The book is a sidelong look at the world of dog rescue as told by a novice—Kotler—who fell into animal activism by falling in love with an activist. If you’ve ever thought the world dog rescuers live in is probably a kooky place, Kotler and the bazaar culture of northern New Mexico don’t disappoint. When you put 30 chihuahuas and their L.A.-transplant rescuers in the black-tar heroin capital of America, crazy things are bound to happen. When I asked Kotler whether all of the stories—from the coyote that wanted to play with his pack to the altruistic lesbian dogs—he responded: Not only are these stories all true, but there are a dozen others that are even crazier. I didn’t include those because nobody would have believed them.
Read an excerpt of the book in Outside’s October issue and then buy it
by Alicia Carr | on August 31st, 2010 | in Features, Training
This week, Mike Stewart takes us on a short hike with trail dogs Indian, Deke, Opus, and Drake. Follow along.
by Steven Kotler | on August 24th, 2010 | in Features, Small Furry Blog
Welcome to a Small, Furry Blog. I thought I’d begin by making a somewhat brief introduction. For starters, there are a few other dog blogs on the Outside website and those are filled with sagacious, hard-earned advice about how to train and care for your dog. This advice comes from folks who really know what they’re talking about.
This is definitely not that blog.
In fact, whatever wisdom I might have on subject canid is ad hoc at best and probably better ignored.
The reasons for this are two-fold. First, the dogs in my care are not your average dogs. Alongside my wife, Joy Nicholson, I co-run the Rancho de Chihuahua dog sanctuary—a dog sanctuary for special needs dogs.
Our pack size varies, but usually we have around 25 dogs in our care. Those dogs fall into three categories. We do hospice care for the aged, giving elderly dogs a place to die in peace. We also do long term rehabilitation for severely abused, terribly ill and mentally and physically handicapped dogs. These are dogs that usually need a year or two of work before they’re eligible for adoption. Most of these do eventually find new homes, but a few end up loving too crazy for adoption. Rescuers call these dogs “lifers,” and we have about eight of those right now. Finally, we also take on a couple young fosters at a time. These are usually healthy puppies with mild traumas. We nurse them back to health in a month or two and then find them homes.
Our dogs have great lives—that much for certain. My wife has something of an international reputation for her ability to heal dogs. It’s not unusual for us to receive a dog from a vet with a warning that the dog has a month to live at best, but much of the time that month stretches into two, three, four…usually years. If you ask my wife the secret to her technique she’ll say “I just let the dogs be dogs and love them for it.”
What does that really mean? Well, we don’t cage any of our dogs. We don’t separate them from one another or from us. Outside of “No Fighting” our sanctuary has almost no rules. This is done intentionally. We go out of our way to cultivate an environment as close to the hunter-gather environment that dogs evolved to live in. This means large packs of dogs, a few humans, and a completely different rule structure—and that’s the real reason you might not want to take my advice.
Our goal—what we’ve discovered to be the very best way to promote healing and happiness— is loving cooperation. I want to find the best way to cooperate with the dog, and the best way for them to cooperate with me. This means I bend to their will the vast majority of the time.
Let me give you one example. We have a few feral dogs here—some have been here for years—none have I yet to touch. I co-exist in the same space with these ferals. I feed them and care for them and mostly stay out of their way. Why should you ignore this advice? Simple. Most people don’t want to be around a dog they can’t touch.
Another version of this is how we do our adoptions. If you want one of our dogs, you come over, sit down at a table on the back porch and then we open the door to the house and let the dogs pour out. The point of this is not to let the human do the choosing. We let our dogs choose. And if they don’t like the potential adopter, well they don’t go home with the potential adopter.
Essentially, if I were to sum it up in a sentence, we try to look at every situation from the dog’s perspective and then we try to cooperate with their vision. Of course, since we lack a verbal common language, this can get pretty messy at times.
But truthfully, that’s the real fun. And sometimes those feral dogs do come around. And when you’ve been living with a dog for two years before they finally walk over and decide to give your hand a lick—well that one lick, let’s just say it’s astronomically more than worth the wait.
by Grayson Schaffer | on August 12th, 2010 | in Features, Media
We’re headed to Vail August 21 &22 for our next Adventure- and Gun-Dog Seminar, based out of the Tivoli Lodge. Sponsors are undwriting most of the costs for this event, so it’s only 25 bucks. Round up your doggies and get to Vail! Call Cathy Stewart at (662) 234-5788 to sign up.
by Grayson Schaffer | on July 12th, 2010 | in Features, Training
Here, Mike shows you the right way to introduce your dog to watercraft in four easy steps. Remember, you and your dog should wear a life jacket. Ruff makes some nice ones for dogs.
by Aspen Ski Patrol | on July 1st, 2010 | in Features, Training
My name is Ali Wade. I am a ski patroller in Aspen, Colorado, and I handle an avalanche search and rescue dog. Jane is a black Labrador and is almost five years old. She was certified as a “basic search and rescue dog” at 18 months and has since obtained intermediate and advanced certifications for avalanche search and rescue.
Jane is the first dog I’ve trained. I learned the different techniques and excersizes through other handlers around the country as well as from a bi-annual seminar hosted by Wasatch Backcountry Rescue out of Alta, Utah.
As a handler of a working dog, I find it important and quite to challenge my dog on a routine basis. Simple things like stepping over or up onto an object or more advanced problems like finding a hidden object and having to problem solve around an obstacle to retrieve the object are a few ideas.
Make sure you use one command and stick with it…. such as “over” or “find-it,” and reward your dog thouroughly. I was told that the sillier you make yourself look, sound and feel while you are praising your dog the more they will appreciate it. (I prefer praise and pats because my lab is a food nut and cannot think about anything at all when she smells food… but feel free to use food as a reward.)
Start easy and work your way up. Start by getting your dog to jump up onto a park bench with an “up” command, but be careful she doesn’t get a paw caught in the slats. Then as your dog recognizes the command and is happy to do it for the reward, find something higher to get her onto—a retaining wall, a large rock… Use your imagination and have fun with this.
This is a picture of Jane and I getting the frisbee off the roof, where I accidentally threw it. I know it seems kind of silly, and it really was a lot of fun. Given that Colorado only has snow for about 7 months out of the year, Jane and I cannot practice in the snow everyday, so these are the kind of things that I do to keep her mind sharp.
A little side note: She would not do this without her work harness on. It was as if she knew that she would be safer with the harness on and became immediately mindful once she was in uniform.
Please be careful with your dogs and yourselves and don’t try anything too crazy…
—Ali And Jane
by Walker Parks | on June 29th, 2010 | in Features, Who's Cutest?
This week, we welcome our latest contributors, the Aspen Ski Patrol and their team of rescue dogs. Patrol’s Ali Wade will keep us updated on the training and daily lives of their outstanding pack.
Reina, chocolate Lab
Sara, border bollie (black and white… BIG ears)
Abel, big golden retriever
Kaya, the smallest black Lab
Jane, medium black Lab (and the prettiest)
Dante, big-headed black Lab
Gus, black, white, and brown Australian shepard
Booker, brown and white Aussie
Caleb The BIGGEST black lab
Lhotse german shepard
by Grayson Schaffer | on June 16th, 2010 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
Stream crossings are often where your dog’s obedience will go off the rails. Usually what happens is you set foot in a creek and your dog bolts to the other side. If you’re lucky, you’re not in his way. We prefer to train for stream crossings so they happen in an orderly manner and you never get knocked down. To perfect a stream crossing, all you need is a rock-solid heel, where your dog knows that even though the terrain has changed, the rules haven’t.
by Grayson Schaffer | on June 7th, 2010 | in Features, Media
Mike and I spent the weekend doing Adventure Dog demonstrations at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. Here’s the daily round-up of the games, courtesy of Serac Adventure Films. —Grayson
by Walker Parks | on June 1st, 2010 | in Features, Swag the Dog
Ruby and Angus have been on the road a lot this winter, traveling back and forth between Santa Fe and Taos. But when you’re covered in mud and shedding enough to knit a new dog, it’s good manners to bring your own bed. Which one to pack depends—camping? staying at the dogsitter’s? sleeping in the car? Banished outside for scarfing up three bags of blue corn chips (never mind…).
So we had them test the best travel dog beds out there. Their methods don’t lie: Like a bed? Curl up on it. No like? Ignore it. Once they were done trashing them, we tested them to see which cleaned up best and came up with a few clear winners. —Elizabeth Hightower
Ruby, packed and ready with her Mud River suitcase and Mud River Cache Cushion. Think of them as her checked and her carry-on luggage.
Ruby ready to bivvy with the Harry Barker Hemp Bedroll and the Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad
1) The Frisco, $80.00
Mud River Dog Products, mudriverdogproducts.com
Folded 30”L x 6”W x 22”H; Unfolded 44”L x 30”W x 3”H
Here’s how cool they are at Arkansas-based Mud River: They bring other people’s dogs to work. When we talked with Morgan at this gentlemen’s hunting outfitter (Motto: “Dirty Trucks, Lonely Wives, Happy Dogs”), she’d brought a former employee’s pup to the office. She sent the monster Frisco, which has inspired Mud River’s hunters to proclaim: “If I’da wanted to bring a suitcase, I’da brought my wife!” Nonetheless, this seemed like the best option for geriatric Angus: three inches of thick EVA foam, heavy waxed canvas cover, and the size of a climbing crash pad. He was not interested. In fact, no dog set foot on the Frisco in three months of exposure. Our 8-year-old friend, Finn, however, made quick use of the pad. Motto: You’ve got to have smarter dogs to use this one.
2) The Cache Cushion, $30
Mud River Dog Products, mudriverdogproducts.com
29″ L x 37″W
A really handsome portable number, backed in waxed canvas. Pros: With velcro straps, it rolls up tight, with quality construction and a snappy color scheme of loden fleece trimmed in safety orange. Cons: Not for a 90-pound lab. If Angus thought the Frisco was “tooooo hard,” this one was “tooo small and toooo thin.” We passed it on to Danger and Cooper, our K9 rescue friends, for their travel crates. Also, keep this in mind for all travel dog beds: Hair really likes fleece. The Cache Cushion cleans up nicely in the wash, but until then, it’s a hair party waiting to happen.
3) Mount Bachelor Pad, $59.95 medium, $74.95 large
Medium (38” l x 29” w, 1” loft); Large (48” x 36”, 1” loft)
Faced in recycled fleece, filled with thermal padding, and backed in PVC-free, waterproof recycled polycloth, the Bachelor Pad is the only one of these to block ground moisture. Throw it in the mud, hose it off, drip it dry, and then roll it up tight with its velcro straps. By far the best for camping and any wet pursuits, and the dogs seemed to dig it. Downside? Check out the hair.
2) Hemp Stripe Bedroll, $48.00-84.00
Harry Barker, harrybarker.com
Extra Small (25″ l x 19″ w); Small (31″ x 21″); Medium (37″ x 24″); Large (43″ x 29″)
Ruby Likes! Major style points for this one—it comes in five different colors of haute-hippie stripes—plus it’s got the most loft. Everything is eco, from the azo-free dyes to the recycled fiberfill padding; the hemp is plenty rugged, and dog hair brushes right off. It’s also the easiest to roll up, with an attached hemp strap and Fastco buckle, as opposed to Velcro straps. We were dubious that this one would dry well, since it’s a bit thicker than the rest. But it was wash and wear. The bedroll also comes in five colors of recycled fleece, from $14.99 to $29.99. Match the color to your dog hair, or go with our recommendation and spring for the durable hemp.
For camping, wet work, river trips or active use, the Mount Bachelor Pad is the bed to beat, and a doggie fave. Visiting friends, road-tripping, heading to the ski house? Pack the Hemp Stripe Bedroll, the comfiest of the bunch. Hunting? You’ll need Mud River, if only for the bomber quality and safety orange chic.
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 17th, 2010 | in Features
On Saturday, I introduced Danger and Cooper to the curious world of hunt tests. Like other extremely specialized pursuits, hunt tests have their own peculiar language and cast of characters. I do my best to translate. . . Roll the clip!
by Walker Parks | on April 12th, 2010 | in Features
Ride your bike on any major road in my hometown, Jackson, Wyoming, and there’s a chance you’ll ride past a row of stopped cars and dozens of wide-eyed, camera-toting tourists, gawking at moose, elk and bison. Animals are literally everywhere in this little northwestern corner of the state.
I don’t like road running, especially in a place where tourists’ eyes seem to never be on the road. Lucky for me, Jackson has a prolific number of off-leash trail systems where my dog, Santos, can sprint up a hillside and then dive bomb into a river. He’s a very happy dog.
Santos is my trail running partner, my ill-advised pace setter, and my inspiration to run. He’s almost the perfect little training buddy, until we run into a moose that is, which brings up today’s lesson: How to Run in Moose Country.
Santos was nine months old when he met his first moose. We were running in town when he took off into someone’s yard. It wasn’t a squirrel he was after. The tables turned quickly and soon that baby moose was chasing my brand new mutt, kicking its double-jointed legs at him. He survived, unscathed, but he squealed like a frightened pig all the way home. Perfect!, I thought. He’s scared of moose. And he was, for exactly one year and three months.
Then last week, my now two-year-old pup recovered from his post-traumatic stress and decided to enact revenge on the giant, four-legged, antlered creatures. Santos and I were training on Jackson’s most popular dog-friendly trail, Cache Creek, which also happens to be one of the favorite hangouts of moose and elk. It’s generally not an issue. They tend to ignore dogs and munch on foliage by the river. Dogs, on the whole, bored by the moose and elk’s seemingly constant presence, ignore them, too. Santos, however, not only noticed the largest male moose I’ve ever seen but chased after it in ecstasy while simultaneously suffering from a rare case of instantaneous deafness. Funny how that happens.
I was appalled and embarrassed. It was barely spring. This moose was using up calorie-deficit reserves! Does Santos not understand the importance of the moose preserving energy in the winter? Does he have no empathy for wildlife? Is my dog heartless?
Santos and I had a long discussion and we decided that I will still allow him to train with me as long as he follows a more stringent set of rules: 1: Disobey me once and he’s back on the leash. 2: Come back immediately when I call him and he gets a giant treat. 3: Don’t run to me if a moose starts chasing him. I will be in or behind a tree.
–Christina Erb, christinaerb.com
by Grayson Schaffer | on April 8th, 2010 | in Features, Training
by Grayson Schaffer | on March 23rd, 2010 | in Features, Time Wasters
Not exactly a training tip for this week, but we had a lot of fun figuring out how to strap a camera onto Cooper without having it bounce around.
by Grayson Schaffer | on March 15th, 2010 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
by Grayson Schaffer | on March 9th, 2010 | in Features, Video Clips
Danger contributes some nice camerawork to our ski outing on Friday.
by Grayson Schaffer | on March 2nd, 2010 | in Features, Training, Video Clips
Last week, Danger and I got to hang out with the Telluride ski patrol and learn a few tricks. One that didn’t go as well as planned was Danger’s attempt to ride the chair lift. . .
by Grayson Schaffer | on February 18th, 2010 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Here, I’ll use Cooper to demonstrate the stepping stones to a remote sit. Stopping a dog on the whistle is as important for skiing as it is for retrieving. Stopping your dog is the first step toward handling him—sending him left, right, and back like a football receiver.
by Grayson Schaffer | on February 10th, 2010 | in Features, Training
All dogs have the ability to swim underwater, but not all will. Here, we get Danger used to putting his head under in a controlled environment. All you need is a bucket and some jerky.
by Grayson Schaffer | on February 9th, 2010 | in Features, Training
This one is borrowed from horse trainers. Making right-angle inside turns forces your dog to watch your legs and make sure he’s in position to avoid getting stepped on. It’s kind of like a dance step. Practice often and your pup is bound to become a good partner.
by Grayson Schaffer | on February 8th, 2010 | in Features
Generally, digging dogs are a nuissance but I thought we should teach Danger to dig on command in case he ever needs to dig me out of an avalanche or help me burrow in for the night. How to do it: Bury some jerky in the snow or soft dirt. Show him where it is. Click him for digging down to it. Simple stuff. Just remember to click the actual paw stroke. I found that Danger would look at me and take one swipe at the dirt to test whether that’s what he was being clicked for. Fun stuff.
by Grayson Schaffer | on January 26th, 2010 | in Features, The Wildrose Way, Training
Every dog’s got to know his name. That’s how your pup is going to know when it’s really his turn to heel, retrieve, or get on the couch.