I dropped Titus at home after his Greenleaf adventure and got right back on the road. Lilo has been amazingly patient with the kid; she deserved a little extra one-on-one time! We headed to West Rattlesnake in Holderness, NH.
It’s an easy little hike: just over a mile of gentle climbing from car to summit. But the view-to-effort ratio is second to none.
We saw a lot of people on our way up, but most were heading down. We enjoyed a snack on the ledges before heading briefly along the ridge so Lilo Could stretch her legs off leash. (She handled herself well all hike, but there were enough people and dogs around that I’d leashed her rather than recalling her every three steps.)
As we passed back over the summit, Lilo indicated that she wasn’t ready to head down yet. We found a sunny spot atop a raised ledge for more snacks and quiet appreciation of the view, the day, and each other’s company.
That peace lasted for the stroll back down to the car and the beginning of our drive…and then I spotted two stray Shepherd mix type dogs running in the street. I pulled over, of course. If it were my dogs, I’d want someone to help them; stopping always seems like the least I can do.
They ran right over and luckily I had left Titus’s travel crate in the car. Even more luckily, they jumped right in. Did you know that 120+ pounds of happy, friendly Shepherd can fit in a 22″ crate? Neither did I!
They had collars, but no identifying into. I didn’t have enough cell service where I grabbed them to Google up the local ACO. My blind exploring, though, brought me to a speed trap. The officer running it was a good sport when I pulled up next to his cruiser and asked him to take the dogs off my hands!
Normally I would have taken them home overnight and worked harder at finding their people myself…but even I could tell that four, even temporarily and even though they were very nice, would be Too Many Dogs! Although I think Lilo would not, at this point, have been surprised…
Saturday morning was Titus’s adventure: a group hike with friends (including Paws on Peaks) and three other dogs! That seemed exciting enough for me; Lilo had to sit this one out. Luckily the wake-up call was early enough that she didn’t mind too much (and I promised her a one-on-one outing later in the day).
We’d discussed a couple of possible routes before settling on Greenleaf trail up Mt Lafayette. We wanted a modular hike: my goal for Titus was 5-6 miles with his first real elevation gain, but other folks were hoping for a summit or four. (Normally splitting a group mid-hike would be verboten, but we’d accounted for the possibility in our planning and everyone involved was experienced, both in general and at soloing.) Greenleaf is a lesser-used route up Lafayette (on Franconia Ridge. The more popular Old Bridle Path is apparently an icy nightmare right now and Greenleaf goes through Eagle Pass, one of my favorite spots in the Whites. The AMC’s Greenleaf Hut sits in a pretty spot along the way and would make a suitable destination for Titus.
Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.
The thing of it was, we knew from driving up that it was sunny and bright just a few miles away. The Whites make their own weather! The notch was filled with a dense fog — the kind that sometimes makes it hard to tell whether it’s just foggy or actually raining — but the summit forecast had looked okay and we had a feeling the fog would burn off as the morning wore on, so we stuck to our plan.
And there are worse fates than hiking through a cloud! Greenleaf winds through pretty, mossy forest. Our New England boulders have remerged from the snow, at least at lower elevations. In some ways I really like hiking on foggy days; they give the forest a peaceful, mysterious feel. So I was in good spirits as we headed up.
We climbed and climbed. Titus started out lagging at the back of the group; having to sniff everything really does slow one down. He eventually figured out that his girlfriend Ty was up ahead and made better time after that. He did still have to stop long enough to dig in every puddle and stream, though!
The fog had not lifted in the slightest, alas. It was just as well that Lilo hadn’t come; she would have hated (as did a friend’s dog) all the wet. Half our group decided that the lure of sun a few short miles south was too great and opted to turn around. I don’t blame them one bit!
Eventually, though, the feel of the forest subtly changed. I mentioned to Krista that I thought we were getting close to Eagle Pass — and then we turned a switchback and there it was.
My last hike through the pass was on a fine summer day, but the experience this time was much the same. The trail suddenly opens up into this grand expanse, cliff rising to the left as the world drops away to your right. Even hidden by the fog, the sense of space is unmistakable. I had feared that reality wouldn’t live up to my memory — I hiked Greenleaf en route to my third (and fourth and fifth) 4,000-footer and have seen a lot of other cool spots since then! But I loved it even more than I had thought I would. It’s a wild, special, peaceful place.
Trail conditions shifted sharply above the pass, from mud and rock below to ice and rock — and sometimes just ice — above.
And unfortunately those of us who had continued on also had to call it a day before reaching the hut. We got quite close, but reached the point where it just wasn’t fair to ask the dogs (or inexperienced Titus and unambitious Tango, at least; I didn’t see Ty’s face at the time of turnaround but I hear she was quite put out!) to continue on. They didn’t get to help plan the route, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that whatever we do is working for them, you know?
Titus did handle the ice with impressive cleverness. After a couple of worried moments early on — he was perfectly safe, but couldn’t figure out how to navigate a few stretches; I gave him a boost using the handle on his pack — he discovered bushwhacking and was thereafter very clever about using rocks and the edges of the trail to bypass icy sections. Good hiking dog!
(This is something that Lilo, for all her hiking genius, does not do. She is a big believer in following the rules and staying always on trail, so I have to be careful about where I take her during ice season.)
As is usually the case, sketchy trail going up is even sketchier going down. Titus was pulling pretty hard at this point. Can’t blame him for that; the pack harness is easy to lean into and we’ve only just started training! I ended up handing Titus off to Krista (who had full-on crampons whereas I had only microspikes) for part of the descent to the pass and decided that he’ll be hiking in his front-clip harness for a while longer. I don’t love it for hiking — I’d rather he have total freedom of his front legs — but it’s an acceptable compromise while he’s learning about manners.
Once down, we regrouped at the Lincoln Dunkin’ Donut’s, because New England. Our friends who had turned back below the the pass had gone on to hike the wonderful Welch-Dickey loop; Paws on Peaks would opt to tackle another small peak on the way home. I called it a day with this dog. He’d handled himself absolutely beautifully, with minimal goofiness and lots of good instincts and willingness to learn. I figured his brain was tired now. Besides, I’d promised Lilo an outing of her own! So Titus and I took our leave.
And that’s the story of the cattle frog’s first White Mountain adventure! No dramatic view and no summit under his belt — not even the more modest intended destination — but a whole lot of learning. That goes for both of us, really! He learned about hiking and I learned about him. It gave us both a lot of confidence and led directly to another adventure. I’ll talk about that one next week!
My hiking plans for the weekend were many and varied. I didn’t get much sleep Thursday night. I had an early wake-up scheduled for Saturday morning. The sensible thing after work on Friday would have been to take the dogs for a quick leg-stretch and then fall into bed.
But it was warm — near 80! — and I wanted to hike. We headed to the Belknaps instead.
Piper is one of those bang-for-buck mountains: not even 3 miles round trip but views for days.
We had the trail and summit to ourselves and the dogs did really well. They even consented to pose a bit!
I notices the rich golden sky to the west during the ascent and hoped to find a good spot to watch from, even if it meant descending in the dark. There were trees where I wanted to stand, though, and I had forgotten Lilo ‘s beacon (and didn’t relish strapping a glow stick to her). After some peering, we headed down — which meant we got to enjoy the sunset from several angles along the way!
Pretty spectacular, even without an unimpeded view! I actually suspect this wound be a great sunrise peak. Maybe we’ll try that next.
My partner (R.) and I have been talking for a while about heading up to Vermont to check out the Lyndonville Air Force Station. He’s been before; I thought it sounded great; it just took us a while to get schedules and weather to line up for the trip. Last Saturday, we loaded the dogs up and hit the road.
Unfortunately we’d forgotten to account for mud season (and possibly changes in management; it’s been tricky to get much current info). Radar Road, which leads to the station, was gated significantly farther out than anticipated. Still, we were there and the weather was beautiful — sunny and warm — and there are worse fates than strolling through the Vermont woods. We figured we’d just start walking and see what we could see.
Radar Road move through some swampy areas, through forest, and eventually opens up a bit. It follows the Moose River the whole way, or at least as far as we got. In addition to the air force station, there are some older ruins, too. My picture of our favorite won’t upload for some reason; it was a low stone circle surrounded by the remains of another constructed of much larger blocks. There was an old rusted metal bucket in the circle and some threaded metal pieces — not enough for us to make a good guess as to what it was, once upon a time, but a architectural historian friend of mine is on the job. The stone was overgrown with moss and it was a really lovely, peaceful spot.
We saw two other couples and one American Bulldog out enjoying the day near a particularly pretty crossing of the river. Titus watched with calm interest and Lilo, taking her cues from him, was happy to sit and enjoy her cheese as they passed.
We found our way to the usual parking spot at last and headed up towards the base station after a bit of celebrating. Alas, the day had warmed notably and this portion of the road lacked shade coverage and young Titus was starting to slow down. Our total mileage for the day would already be more than I would have planned for him at this point; I’d felt okay about trying it once we were on site because the road was good going: smooth-surfaced and never even remotely steep. But it’s important not to ask too much of him and while he’s a great little athlete, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t overtax his brain. We called it a day.
We’d scouted a couple of candidate lunch spots and backtracked to the best of the lot: some lovely massive boulders at a bend in the river.
One of the things I’d wanted to know, when looking at prospective dogs, and couldn’t figure out a way to ask was, “What do they do when they get tired?” Because a hiking dog is going to get tired, sometimes. Hiking with my never-say-day old dog Casey taught me the value of a dog who will keep going even when tired; hiking with Lilo has taught me the value of one who will take care of herself. This was the first time I saw Titus tired and I was really pleased with how he handled himself: he took advantage of the breaks, sought out water and cooling snow, and was happy to keep moving along. Both dogs regained the bounce in their step once we were back under the tree cover. As pleasant as the weather was for people, it was the first really warm weekend of the spring and they appreciated the shade.
Everyone was recharged by the end of lunch and we headed back towards the car in good spirits. Lilo was foot-perfect the whole way, of course. Titus needed a little more management on the second half of the hike just because his brain was a little tired, but he was trying really hard to do everything we’d spent the week working on; I was super-proud of him.
All in all, it was a really successful outing and I was thrilled with both dogs (and with the humans, for that matter!). Lilo was her usual stellar self, a good influence for and very patient with the kid, and Titus seemed to enjoy the adventure — that’s the first step — and acquitted himself really well while learning a lot. I wish the gate had been open and that we could have checked out the ruins, but I snapped a picture of the sign on the way out; there was a number to call for road information, so I’ll give them a buzz after mud season is over and we’ll see if this is in fact a seasonal gate. And if not, well, then I guess we all have a reason to keep on conditioning!
But first we’ll be sticking closer to home for Titus’s first encounter with White Mountain footing and his first group hike. Lilo is going to skip this one, alas; we’re headed to a popular destination during school vacation weekend and that’s not exactly her cup of tea. So she’ll get her own little adventure (TBD) after the little guy has his and hopefully I’ll have a good (but not too exciting!) story or two for you guys next week.
(My secret goal — so secret that I’m telling the internet — is to be comfortable hiking the Whites with both dogs by the time the weather warms up enough for comfortable-for-us night hiking. Wish us luck!)
Achievement unlocked: flipped the operant conditioning switch in the little guy’s brain!
Short story shorter, I like shaping and I have been spoiled by having a Really Good shaping dog in Lilo. I tried a little with Titus in his first days home but he found it frustrating – he was all, “I AM SITTING WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” – and I figured it was too much, too soon. So I hit the pause button and gave him some time to just decompress and be a dog. I’ve let him show me his sitting for functional rewards and we’ve started some doggie Zen, but that’s it.
A few days ago, I pulled the clicker back out. We “shaped” his sit. Scare quotes because of course it wasn’t really shaping; he came to me with that behavior already in place. I wasn’t actually asking, “Can you learn to sit?” I was asking, “Have I taught you mark-and-reward by accident, these last couple of weeks?” The answer was yes.
So on Tuesday night I decided it was time to try shaping again. I wanted a down. The little guy does lay down of his own accord now. But he’s smart enough to know that sitting pays and green not to know that trying other stuff does, too. And I didn’t want to frustrate him, so I lured him down with a treat between his front paws. He’d pretty clearly seen that before; he dropped right down. Hurrah! Click/treat, and repeat a couple of times.
But I don’t love luring. I don’t love having the dog think about the treat instead of what they’re doing. I especially didn’t want to follow his previous experience too far. I wanted that down so that I can start teaching him to relax on and eventually go to a place! But even more, I wanted him to understand his part of the equation; I wanted him to start thinking about how to make good decisions for himself and to start understanding that we’re not just friends now: we’re a team.
So I faded the treat pretty quickly. He’d follow an empty hand down, which was a gold star for him, but when I tried fading the hand signal – maybe too quickly – he reverted to only sitting. With Lilo, even early on, I just waited her out; her frustration tolerance was impressive even at baseline and that free-thinking terrier brain has a knack for finding creative solutions to every problem. Learning to work with a herdy brain has been interesting. In some ways, he’s super easy; in some ways it’s like the first time I rode a warmblood and I was like, OH HEY, ALL THOSE DRESSAGE BOOKS WERE TELLING THE TRUTH AFTER ALL. In other ways, it’s a new language. Which is cool! One of my very favorite things about working with critters is figuring out how to communicate.
And then he glanced over at Lilo, who was lurking meaningfully on the other side of the kitchen, watching the proceedings all, “THERE IS A GOOD DOG OVER HERE.”
I gave Lilo her hand signal for down and tossed her a treat when she dropped.
Then I lured Titus down again. Click/treat. Repeat a couple of times and pause. When he only sat, I dropped Lilo again and tossed a treat to her.
(I should probably note here that 1) Titus was on leash, 2) Lilo has solid distance behaviors, a good leave-it, and can easily be sent out of the room, 3) neither dog has any resource guarding issues worth mentioning, and 4) we’ve been working since Titus came home on waiting politely as a group while treats are doled out. I’m comfortable with this set-up for these dogs in this context, but it’s not necessarily something I’d recommend universally!
We went back and forth a couple of times. And then in one of the pauses, he dropped on his own. Maybe he was thinking or maybe he was just anticipating; it mattered not to me. I marked and rewarded heavily and — clever pup! — he got it right then and there. We did two more reps, then a quick session, and one more short training session for the night (which was probably one too many). Revisited it briefly this morning before work. Then I told myself to leave it alone for a while, but you know what? When we paused on Wednesday night’s walk for a round of all-dogs-sit, that little guy threw a down at me instead.
(Interestingly, it’s a nice sphinx down instead of his usual frog-legged sprawl. Which is objectively better, but I’m clearly going to have to capture the frogging at some point, too!)
His sit is kind of broken today, but that’s not surprising and we’ll get it back. I’m frankly delighted that he remembered what he’s been learning well enough to try that instead of the longer-term behavior. And I’m curious to see whether he’s more shapeable now (versus whether he just happens to grok model/rival because he’s such an observant little guy); we’ll figure that out soon enough.
First, though, I have to write up his first big hike — so that will be tomorrow’s post.