Monday, January 18, 2010

Your Face Will Stick That Way

My friend Ben and I went for a quick walk in the woods today, and I decided to dedicate an entry entirely to the silly faces and antics caused by the dogs’ interest in sticks as things to carry, chew, and play keep-away with.

The inevitable tug-o-war sometimes creates some impressive contortions, particularly on Jax’s part. He appears to have three legs, a tail that’s attached in the wrong place, and a head mounted on some loose ball bearings.

One of Comet’s great pleasures in life is to be chased. He’s happy to be chased around the kitchen table by us or raced down the path by any human looking to be put to shame, and he even taught our niece, then five, how to play tag (so long as she was willing to be “it” permanently).

The new maturity of Jax, however, has put a whole new dimension to this passion, and given the opportunity, the two of them will run in circles in the woods. Sometimes Comet needs to shake a stick in Jax’s face to get him going; sometimes Jax just plays for the sheer joy of biting Comet’s butt when he catches him.

Then, of course, there’s the absolute panoply of silly faces that a good stick can bring out of a good dog. I realize it’s anthropomorphic to say a dog is “proud” of his stick, but I really have no better way to explain it. He prances, tail high, and is clearly immensely satisfied with his stick. What else would you call it?

Of course, Jax isn’t the only one who can look goofy and satisfied with a stick. After a certain amount of chasing, it’s time to work out that mouthy urge on nature’s perfect chew toy.

As someone who has spent $28 on a really great indoor chew toy, I’m not at all resentful that the dogs like sticks at least as much. I’m actually very happy there’s something totally ubiquitous for them to chew on outside, and I don’t have to stress out if they drop it somewhere on the trail and leave it behind.

Comet will often grab a stick, run ahead on the trail, and if Jax isn’t chasing him, plop down facing back towards us and chew on it until we catch up. Yes, the dogs are that much faster than we are.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good Copley, Bad Copley

Our friend Jill has just welcomed a new addition to her family of dogs. This young sprite goes by the name of Copley (Chantilly’s Bright Lights Big City). If you’re having trouble pronouncing that in your mind’s ear, as I initially did, it’s cop as in officer, not cope as in deal-with-difficulties.

Like all Golden Retriever puppies, show prospects or otherwise, he’s unbearably adorable.

We got a chance to meet him when Jill came down to West Thompson Lake and all three humans and five dogs went for a walk.

Of course, Finn, our old friend, was along for the ride. The contrast between his white face and his youthful gait defines nearly every picture of him, and here that contrast is startlingly evident.

He’s in a full gallop, with only one foot touching the ground, yet he’s totally level, smooth, and almost relaxed. Even in middle age, Finn just glides around like he’s not quite subject to gravity or time.

Jax, despite sharing plenty of DNA with his uncle, hasn’t yet developed that elegance and efficiency. He’s still a galloping, snow-spraying, discombobulated, utterly joyful mess, especially when he’s coming in on a recall, which we teach as a fun game that’s reinforced with affection, sporadic food rewards, and occasionally a race with one of the humans.

That sense of impending fun makes his gait on the recall a little more exuberant and a lot less elegant than when he’s simply moving around from smell to smell.

Despite being an extremely mellow guy, Copley can romp with the big dogs. He’s remarkably unflappable, even for a Golden puppy, and he’s put together very, very well. Since he’s so young, we carried him for much of the walk, but he did get the occasional opportunity to sniff around and play with the other dogs.

I titled the entry “Good Copley, Bad Copley” solely because of my love for terrible puns. Copley himself was a very, very good dog for the entire walk, except for a quickly interrupted attempt to carry a rock around.

At the end of the walk, there’s an old stone wall that Jill often poses the dogs on. We got the four older dogs up there, and Andy put Copley on the wall and ducked behind it. Copley wasn’t the slightest big cooperative about posing, but we did get a five-dog portrait of sorts.

From left to right, it’s Finn, Tally, Ajax, Copley, and Comet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


As we close the book on 2009, so begins a season of snow walks and races to catch the few minutes of each day. Though I don’t like driving to work in the predawn darkness, I don’t mind so much getting out early enough to rush to a favorite place to catch the last hour of day, even in the heart of winter.

In January, the days are just that long, and I’m thankful for both those minutes and a pair of lusty companions to share them with.

I’m also glad not to have to work on Sundays, so we can really take the measure of a couple of hours slowly strolling through the snowy woods.

The dogs had to be actively paused here, at the beginning of our walk, and even as obedient as they are, their attention is down the trail, not on me.

While I generally prefer hiking with Andy instead of just with the dogs, having no other humans around does allow me to indulge my appetite for staged photographs. The dogs got to practice their sit-stays while I trudged back up the trail a few times and set up the camera before calling them.

I’ve really wanted a tandem shot of the two of them in the air, and they obliged me pretty well here. I could ask for better lighting, but that would go against my whole sense of gratitude, wouldn’t it?

This photo requires some degree of explanation. There’s a long trail I like to do on a lazy day, and it winds through the back of the park area to some less-traveled-by trails and a spectacular gorge with a small stream at the bottom. The trail winds down the side of the gorge and runs alongside the stream until the gorge itself ends.

It’s a lovely walk, if a little muddy. Today, however, the stream was fairly high, and I realized if I took the dogs down it, they’d walk in the water, which would cause the snow to freeze into ice balls between their pads, which is very uncomfortable for them.

So, I decided to cut the corner of the trail and walk along the edge of the gorge instead of along the bottom.

Unfortunately, at the end of the gorge, there’s a swamp. The marked trail crosses the stream before the swamp, but we ended up on the wrong side. The dogs happily padded over the snow, but when big ol’ me walked out, my left foot broke through right in the middle and I was standing about shin-deep in cold mud. As I pushed my right foot down in order to extricate myself, it too broke through and got, shall we say, a little muddy.

While my shoes are goretexed, they’re not magic, and I was not wearing the proper socks for a moment like this.

Fortunately, the day wasn’t all that cold, so my feet managed to stay wet instead of frozen for the last mile or two. The shoes had to be washed with dish soap when we got home.

Still, muddy feet aside, heck, muddy feet included, it was a pretty glorious day to be a dog or a person.