JD Allinder

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Snow Day (again)!

In Posts on February 22, 2010 at 7:52 pm

We are enjoying some seriously kooky weather in southeast Michigan. Yesterday it was clear and calm with a steady temperature in the low 40s. Jane and I took an awesome eight-mile, off-leash hike along the Huron River, and I ended up stripping down to just a polo shirt and t-shirt (and I still sweated through both layers). It was a wonderful day – Jane and I felt really in tune – and we both got deliciously filthy from head to tail. During our walk, we took a three-mile detour along and around Ann Arbor’s Fleming Creek, known home to Michigan’s only venomous (and protected) snake, the Missasagua rattlesnake, and ran into a pack of nine dogs and four humans. This 13-member pack was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in the wild. The dogs and their people functioned as a single, hierarchical unit. I was really stunned. So was Jane. She’s certainly run into larger groups of dogs than that at the dog park, but those encounters are essentially with random, disconnected participants. This was entirely different. This pack was a well-oiled machine, and Jane had no option other than to offer herself up for critique. She was pretty unsure until I called her to me. Then she remembered I was her back-up and she started strutting and snorting, which made me so proud. My little girl is developing confidence.

When we arrived back at our starting point, we ran into guerilla hiker eco-activist Marty and his two dogs, Bella and Roxy. I’ve seen Marty around for ten years or so, and he’s always telling me about new hiking places. He shares my love of nature and my sense of entitlement to full access to it. While we were chatting, our dogs were milling about and Jane uncovered and started munching on poop or guts or something just as vile. I told her calmly but very firmly, “No. Nothing in the mouth,” and she immediately made eye contact with me, opened her mouth, and let whatever it was fall to the ground. Marty said something to the effect of, “I wish I’d trained my dogs as well as you have to not graze on garbage.” I couldn’t believe Jane and I were being recognized for obedience – especially in regards to our biggest challenge.

Anyway, yesterday’s spring-like intermission evolved into a light snowfall after dark, and by this morning it was a full-blown whiteout. I’m guessing we got eight to ten inches – maybe even a foot. Jane and I got out in the midst of the downpour – the best time ever for walking – and spent a couple of hours running through the streets and parks. We ended up at Highland Cemetery in Ypsilanti Township where the snow seemed especially deep. Jane ran and ran full force and I trudged along, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead. There is nothing like walking (or running) in deep snow. The workout is magnified tenfold.

Sweet, sweet Jane…

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My Dog, Myself

In Posts on February 19, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I’ve been feeling under the weather the past couple of days. I was especially sluggish yesterday, and I only felt up for walking Jane on lead around the neighborhood. We walked at a decent clip for about an hour and a half, but that’s barely a warm up for a three-year-old hound. I promised her I’d make it up to her today, so this afternoon we went to LeFurge Woods in Superior Township, about five miles from home. LeFurge is 325 acres of protected woods, wetlands, and prairies, and Jane and I have carved out about a 1.5 square mile hiking route that spills over into private and cooperative farmland. We’re very respectful, and so far no one’s gotten after us. A couple of farmers wave to us, and I make sure Jane stays away from the free ranging chickens.

The sun was relatively high overhead today, and it felt even more like spring than the day before last week’s big dump. The sky was crystal clear, and I traded in my ski hat for sunglasses. It was beautiful, if a tad bittersweet, as the inevitability of the coming thaw always makes me sad. This is the time of year when I pine for an Arctic experience that I’ve never had yet somehow feel in my bones, much like Jane feels the call of the wild, I guess. My longing for the cold is primal. It’s in my DNA, and it springs from instinct, the part of me that can’t be tamed despite 4,000 years of civilizing.

Turns out Jane was the sluggish one today. Though she’s becoming better all the time off leash, she sometimes has days where she seems unenthusiastic – bored even – by our walk, and this can be frustrating for me. I know everyday can’t be Christmas, but I always feel satisfied on the days that she’s especially excited and engaged. There were a lot of new smells today uncovered by the melting snow, and I’m sure that’s what made her lag behind. I was really up for a speed walk, but Jane had other plans. I had to stop every few hundred feet and call her to me. Argh.

At one point, after having only been out for about half an hour, Jane scuttled off into the brush and wouldn’t come out. As I called to her, I could feel my temper rising. When she finally emerged, she was munching on a mouthful of contraband. I was so angry. I threw the leash I was carrying to the ground. I stomped and fumed. I yelled. In short, I completely lost it. I’ve been getting more and more frustrated lately over this habit of Jane’s – the only bad habit of hers that I’ve not been able to break. I give her the command “nothing in the mouth” dozens of times (hundreds?) each day, and she still takes every opportunity she gets – off leash or on – to eat everything she comes upon, especially poop (deer, rabbit, goose, etc.) and rotting carcasses. If I catch her in the act and give the command, she opens her mouth and drops her treasure on the ground. Five seconds later, though, she’s at it again. Nothing I do convinces her it’s not worth it, and it’s become increasingly challenging for me to manage my emotions when correcting her because she’s proven that she understands my expectation, knows the verbal command, and fully comprehends the concept of cause and effect. Today I reached my limit. I flipped out. After my explosion, I sat under a tree and took ten minutes or so to recover. Jane sat watching wearing her “I’m sorry” face. I finally got up, shook myself off, and we resumed our walk.

When we got in the woods, I started praying, asking for guidance in figuring out how to control this unseemly behavior of Jane’s. Immediately I saw the light: the only thing that I can control is my own out-of-control behavior. The irony of the situation was as clear as the sky. In my attempt to control my dog I had lost control of myself. I’ve been asking Jane to do something that I’m not capable of. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up and let her eat poop. It does mean, though, that my training objective is now twofold.

The Quiet Before the Storm?

In Posts on February 9, 2010 at 12:31 am

Winter’s my favorite season, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than an intense one – the colder and snowier the better. This year’s has been a dud. We’ve had zero snow days, and I’ve only had to wear long johns twice. Twice! On a good year, I’ll wear them daily for several weeks. There’s still a chance that Old Man Winter can redeem himself by showing up better-late-than-never and lingering into the spring (fingers crossed), but at this point that feels pretty unlikely.

Today was a picture perfect spring day. Jane and I took our routine post-lunchtime walk at Saginaw Forest in Ann Arbor. The sky was uncharacteristically cloudless, and the sun was a little brighter than it has been, a little bit higher in the sky. The mean temperature was in the upper 20s – which, thankfully, kept the mud frozen – but the intensity of the sun and the absence of wind made it feel more like April than February. The black squirrels were out in full force – I think they’re so cool – and the song birds were having a field day. (In general, I’ve noticed a relatively large number of robins this year, which indicates that food is more plentiful in the region than in winters past.) People were actually in the woods, too, which is rare for this time of year. We saw a couple walking hand-in-hand, two cross country runners, and a guy with a clipboard taking notes (a student?). We also ran into a young woman named Susan and her Irish setter, Henry.

Jane loved Henry. She sang for him and wrestled him to the ground and chewed on his ears. It was neat meeting Henry, because I was thinking just a couple of days ago that I haven’t seen an Irish setter in ages. They seem to have fallen out of popularity, and it’s a shame because they’re such handsome dogs. I’m a big fan of Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red trilogy, which I mentioned to Susan (whose hair is the same color as Henry’s, by the way) and she and her husband have read and enjoyed the books, too. Henry is two years old, and he was adopted from an Irish setter rescue somewhere in western Michigan. (I forgot the name of the town.) Henry was a perfect playmate for Jane. Their energy levels were pretty even, and he liked to play like a real dog with Jane. (She loves rough play, which, for experimental reasons that I’ll maybe expound on another day, I don’t engage in.)

After we said goodbye to Henry, we walked several miles on our own. Jane remained off-leash and listened beautifully to my vocal and whistle commands. She’s becoming such a great companion on the trail. Just in the past few weeks I’ve noticed an increase in her attention to and interest in me. I think she finally trusts me.

Jane engaged me in a game of stick while we walked. I threw, she retrieved and chewed, we played tug-of-war – all while walking. She derived insane amounts of enjoyment from this and was exceptionally vocal about her delight.

Just when it was time to leave, we ran into the endearingly-eccentric-though-well-to-do older woman with golden retrievers Becky and Jody. (We met her and her dogs in the woods near Radrick Farms in October.) She had a friend with her, and her friend had a retriever, too, named Indy. The dogs were all very sweet and affectionate, but Jane wasn’t too interested in them. I think they’re too dignified and well-mannered for my little rascal.

On our way home we heard on NPR that a winter storm is moving into southeast Michigan tomorrow. The snow should begin in the afternoon and continue for about 24 hours. They’re calling for 10 to 12 inches. I’m very excited, and I so hope the predictions prove correct.