From Huckleberries to Lighthouses: off leash wanderings

Warrior Rock lighthouse
It’s no secret that our newest little monster, Dory, has been both a delight and a challenge. Trying to keep up with a smart dog, it turns out, is a full time job.

Over the last year, I’ve been missing hiking, outdoor time in general, and spending more time with my husband, friends and animals. Turns out, I’m abysmal at the 8-5 grind. I’ve spent the last two weeks mostly Portland-bound due to weather (hello, ice storms?!), just unwinding and resettling as I transition to a new job in the near future.  

Turns out, sometimes unexpected weather is a blessing. Since I haven’t been able to get to the Gorge, I’ve been exploring little places close to Portland, places in all the time I’ve lived here I have somehow overlooked. Close to home stuff translates to some nice local hikes in Powell Butte (complete with coyotes and deer in the snow), Thousand Acres and our local biking paths. 

Most recently, I took some time on a drizzly Friday afternoon to explore Warrior Rock on Sauvie Island

first view of Warrior Rock, flood tide and rain
It isn’t a fancy hike, especially on a soggy, cold, viewless day, but honestly there is something about walking in the woods that is always therapeutic for me, especially when I am alone. I love being able to set my own pace, to be alone in my thoughts, to just wander and be. And dogs bridge that little gap somewhere between loneliness and human companionship. 

This was one of those walks where the exercise was good- a little over seven miles in 2.5 hours (gotta keep warm in the rain somehow!) and Warrior Rock was totally charming. One of those little oddities that you don’t think exists.  It also was a nice reminder of how far our little Dory had come in her training. 

Even in the rain, Portland manages to be charming

In the theme of catching up:

Our first summer backpack (one of only two this year, sob) was a strict reminder to me not to be too casual with a new dog. It takes time to dial them in.

Pepper, while a monster in many ways when we first got her, never had to be trained on recall. She parks herself behind your right foot and hikes that way. Itty bitty Velcro monster. I don’t know how, as I never taught her this, it’s just where she ended up. I’ve had friends take her on hikes and freak that they have lost her, only to find she’s hanging out just out of eyesight by their right ankle. She’s always been a funny little mongrel. 

Pepper is HOT if she is deigning to flop in the mud

She also learned to SWIM this summer (shock, surprise, wonders-never-cease, world-is-ending kind of stuff):

Apparently she will do ANYTHING, even swim, for cheese

Shenzi and Dory, crack-heading out in different ways at Thousand Acres

Yobo, also never had to be trained on recall. Maybe pug and pug-mixes are just pure Velcro.

Rocky was a train-wreck most of his life in most ways, but on trail was a super dog. Although horrifyingly dog aggressive (yeah, I have fun stories with that), I could put him in a “Stay” off trail, and he wouldn’t break it so long as someone didn’t get right up in his face.

Dory, on the other hand, has explorer tendencies.

On our first backpack she seemed so….good (initially) leash, until camp. Then BAM! “That other side of the lake looks really interesting, thanks for bringing me, have a nice time setting up camp, see ya!” Which leaves a very aggravated me, hoofing around a lakeside through fields of huckleberries and deadfall, hunting for my wandering Border collie mix.

Somehow, in the morning, I thought things would be different. Nope. Cue me, coffee in hand, trying to find Dory again. 

Serenity before the "Finding Dory" morning coffee incident

Lucky for us, on trail, she is decent. However, due to a wandering eye and intense prey drive, we have a long way to go before she gets dialed in to our standards. I despise little as much as poor dog ownership/stewardship/manners on the trail (or in general really); turns out, at Olallie, I was that person. {sigh}

Andy and Pepper both watching to see what she does now

On a funny note, about smart dogs: while tethered in camp, Dory was watching me pick huckleberries (loads of them, nom, nom, nom) and taught herself how to pull them off the bushes and eat them, like some kind of dog-bear. It was endlessly entertaining to watch and almost redeemed the wandering fiasco incident. 

OMG, happy place

Regarding the Olallie lake area- it was a perfect, low-key, reintroduction to backpacking for the (sadly) two weekend warriors that Andy and I were becoming at the time. Hours at the desk had taken over, and we both really needed the outdoor time. The plateau surrounding Olallie Lake is probably at its best in the fall- an explosion of color and blue sky and huckleberries- as it is largely viewless, heavy on forests and meadows and tiny, alpine lakes. Reminiscent, in many ways, of Indian Heaven. As a lover of the high alpine, these areas are more mood based for me than places I actively seek out, especially in the height of summer. Somehow, though, I fell in love with this area and would love to go back for future backpacks. 

Red Lake from camp
Fast forward five months, and we have major improvement. Albeit, it’s taken tons of training to get her here, from multiple classes at the Humane Society, private training and active, daily work/reinforcement on Andy and I’s part…however, I was able to hike mostly off leash with Dory across seven miles. I can actively call her off birds and possums and nutria and other dogs. I can recall her and keep her at my side or within six feet of me. Squirrels are another matter we are continuing to work on and, I suspect, may never fully proof. I will never trust her with cats.

That said, we adore her. Here’s to many hikes in 2017. Big and small. 
Taking in the view at Top Lake


Mary said...

I'd love to know what worked with keeping her near you. My puppy is pretty good at recall, but won't really stay close after she comes back. I don't want to be that person either.

Manda said...

Ooooh. VERY LONG answer, Mary. :)

1) You have a husky puppy/teenager. :) So...patience? LOL. (The world needs more people like you). Dory was estimated to be anywhere from 18 months to 2.5 years when we got her, so out of the *worst* of it. She was clearly badly mishandled, so we had that to surmount (and are still working with it, plus her intense breed tendencies), but I would say:

2) TONS of repetition and low expectations. We try VERY hard to only do positive reinforcement with her simply because she CHECKS OUT COMPLETELY at the first sign of negativity or scolding. Oh, she'll cower/"get it" but it does zero to teach her what you want. She's just...gone. So we have to know when we are frustrated/having a bad day and stop trying to get a point across if we recognize she's losing it. She's extraordinarily sensitive, and she's our first dog that is THIS tough. Nothing short of time and getting to know each other has made much of an improvement. Until she trust us, zippo happens.

3) Working with trainers. They have been invaluable with Dory's body language, especially the subtitles of it. She's quiet but hyper- it's odd. HIGH prey drive (killed numerous squirrels/chipmunks/mice) so it takes a LOT to call her off of it and to get her to focus on us. If she is under-exercised/under-stimulated mentally, we are in for rougher day with her.

We started with the command "leave it" simply by the indoor window. Took MONTHS to see progress (I had to use real meat to just get her attention holding it on her nose the first month)- now, I can run with her as long as something isn't bolting directly across her path.

We recently started tons and tons of training (1-2 hours/day in broken up periods <= keep in mind, exercise sessions count too) to get her to pay more attention. This is between impulse games in the house and training games with 1) Leave It 2) Wait 3) Watch/Look at Me and any number of other commands to teach her brain to stop what it wants to do and instead check in with one of us. It's working, but the impulse drive to wander/prey drive is similar to those of huskies, so it's going to take tons of time to proof.

It has helped having a partner on trail. When I'm by myself it's much more difficult and the whole hike is essentially me doing dog training, which can be annoying. Hang in there, cuz she's a puppy and beautiful but gosh almighty they can be obnoxious. is a great dog training tool/book that I can't recommend enough. It was a breakthrough tool for Pepper (monster) that has translated since to every dog I have had. Lots of people recommended it to me- until it worked, I wasn't a believer. :)

Like I said...LONG.

Justin Witt said...

Awesome post, as always. You guys rock! Now if you'd like to try and advise me on how to keep Aya close and under control,... that I could use! We're headed from Toronto across Canada to Alaska right now and she's fifteen months old and totally willing/able to just take off on her own, anywhere, anytime. May end up having to resort to one of those kid leashes.

We should be coming down the Pacific coast in September. Hope to be able to see you and meet Andy then. Drop me a line when you get a chance!