Lake Wintergreen

Ojo Gets the Hang of It

Two days ago, Ojo was still splashing himself in the face, and couldn’t hold a mixedly-metaphorical candle to Comet’s swimming ability. By today, he couldn’t quite beat Comet to the stick, but he was able to keep up with him enough on the way back to get a hold of it.

I got really, really close to a great shot here, but I didn’t quite get it. It took some careful cropping and post-processing to get the photo this good, so I’m not fully happy with it.

Still, it’s a decent picture of a really beautiful local bird, a Cedar Waxwing. He was likely hawking for insects over the stream on the other side of the path and fled to the woods when we came crashing through.

When I first saw him, I despaired that I’d be able to get a picture, since the camera was in the bag over my shoulder. Waxwings are a bit skittish, so I decided just to enjoy him. However, he stayed for a few seconds, then a few more, and then I was suddenly fumbling for the camera, trying to get it zoomed all the way in and focused before he disappeared.

I got three exposures before he flitted away, and this one was the best.

Of course, there’s the requisite sit-stay with distractions. Ojo and Comet are taking to it like normal Goldens. Jax, however, is so driven and focused that he actually halts his own natural panting so he can listen more carefully for the first, barest hint of a release word.

They all halt panting when they’re trying to hear a little better. I have dozens of pictures, though, of Jax doing it and relatively few of the other dogs.

It’s one of the things about him that reminds me most of Gus.

Sign up with your email address to receive an e-mail notification when there is a new entry in the Journal.

* indicates required

Going Swimmingly

On every walk, we practice “stay” at least once. Learning to honor the command in different environments helps dogs generalize the skill for more situations and helps deepen the habit of obedience in the face of serious temptation.

I’ve found that this kind of stay can be self-reinforcing if they’re released in an exciting way. When you first build the skill, you do it with one dog at a time and reward him for gradually longer periods of holding position.

Once he has the hang of it, you can try it in the “wild” and set up all three to stay together. Then, you say “ready......OK!” and praise effusively when they all run to you. It’s so exciting that it reinforces itself.

If you’re careful (or set to quick shooting mode and hold the button down), you can catch them in the instant they break.

Today was another opportunity for Ojo to practice his swimming. If I throw a stick really far, the other two will dash out and chase it. Ojo, however, is still splashing himself in the face instead of making efficient forward progress.

He’s already a good bit better than he was the previous time, but he’s not quite there yet.

At the shake, however, Ojo is already a master.

Two minutes later, something clicked for Ojo and he stopped splashing so much. As Comet came back with the stick, Ojo (center) swam out and joined the pursuit with Jax.

Comet is still the untouchable king of the water. Whether from experience or from something structural, his waterspeed is noticeably faster than Ojo’s and Jax’s. Still, both younger dogs put in a valiant effort here.

With a little more practice, though, Jax and Ojo may still offer a serious challenge. They’ll have plenty of opportunities, culminating in our vacation with Kate and her family at the end of August.

Sign up with your email address to receive an e-mail notification when there is a new entry in the Journal.

* indicates required

Reflecting on Jax

It’s been just over a year since we got Jax. It was March 21, 2009, a Saturday, that we went up to Maine and came back with him. He wasn’t a planned dog, and I didn’t think I was ready for another pup with Gus’s death so recent and fresh, but he fell in our lap that day, and now I sincerely feel like he’s always been our dog. After writing that, I realized I said something remarkably similar about Comet in 2008.

He’s every bit the hardcore athlete we hoped for, and he gives Comet a real run for his money. He’s slightly dampened Comet’s enthusiasm for being chased, since he catches him much more quickly than when Jax was a puppy. Still, each would rather be right around the other in the house or even out in the woods.

It may feel like we’ve spent a lifetime with Jax, but I remember with great clarity the little hell puppy he was when we first brought him home. What I don’t remember so clearly are the times when he put on a cute sleepy face like this. I assume I took this picture during a very, very rare bout of brief exhaustion brought on by a long walk and a play session with Comet.

This is the dog who will always stick in my memory, the fiery, white-blazed guy who seems to be made of springs and mischief, forever bounding about, ears akimbo, with a glint of focus and a hint of insanity in his eyes.

Sign up with your email address to receive an e-mail notification when there is a new entry in the Journal.

* indicates required

Temperate September

September in Connecticut brings temperatures that preclude human swimming, but it’s at this time that we see the return on our investment in all-weather dogs.

September is fetch-time, when overheating isn’t as much of a danger, sticks fall willy-nilly on the grass, and even the fishermen aren’t quite as common on the lakeshores.

September, coincidentally, is also the month in which Jax began to offer Comet some serious competition in the game.

Currently, though, Comet’s more experienced and wily in the game of mid-water keep-away that inevitably results when they both get to the stick. He’s also just a bit faster in the water. Some pups might be turned off of a game they rarely win, but Jax’s drive is a little extreme, so he never seems to tire of chasing a blazing Comet.

Sign up with your email address to receive an e-mail notification when there is a new entry in the Journal.

* indicates required

Uttering Joyous Leaves

My good friend Jill recently matched up some great field photos of her dogs with some Whitman poetry, and ever since I saw that, Whitman lines have come flying out of my memory and have stuck to my impressions of the dogs when they’re outside.

Andy and I recently found a new trail loop at a favorite old park, incidentally one Jill herself showed me years ago, and the dogs had great fun running through the leaves of grass in a field off the trail.

As Andy romped with them in the tall grass, I was reminded of Whitman’s live-oak and its joyous leaves, the contrast he draws between a solitary tree’s joy and a human’s need for love and companionship.

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous
     leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think
     of myself;
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves,
     standing alone there, without its friend, its lover
     near—for I knew I could not;
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of
     leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight
     in my room;
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them;)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me
     think of manly love;
—For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there
     in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend,
     a lover, near, I know very well I could not.

As of yesterday, Andy and I decided that Jax is starting to look like a grownup dog. He’s got a serious game face, and his ears are no longer wildly disproportionate to the rest of his head. We suddenly see the adult dog for more than brief glimpses.

Puppyhood is so, so brief, and it’s briefer still when you miss the extra eight weeks we missed this time around. Still, it’s fun to see the full-grown friend emerging from the youthful pup.

Sign up with your email address to receive an e-mail notification when there is a new entry in the Journal.

* indicates required