I’m pretty good at training dogs to do things. Recalls. Heeling. Positions. All manner of targeting. So on, so forth. I mean, I’m just an interested amateur, right? But it’s fun. It has a lot of utility. It appeals to my vanity. I get the job done.
I’m a lot less good at training dogs to just hang out. That has a lot of utility, too! More than heeling, that’s for sure. I know in my brain that being able to chill is an important life skill for a dog to have.
And we do train it.
To the extent that makes everyday life liveable.
And then we kind of…stop.
Oh, Lilo’s mat has come along to backyard barbecues and horse shows (that I was not riding at; I have a strict one-animal-at-a-time rule at events involving horses). But I’m more of a go-do-stuff person than I am a just-hang-out person. That is, I just-hang-out a lot in my own space (or in my partner’s). I read books; I play video and board games; I watch the occasional movie or three episodes of a tv show that I swear I will finish and then never get around to. At home, my dogs have or develop pretty functional off-switches.
But away is another story. Away, I’ve been lazy about, because go-somewhere-and-just-hang-out is not my natural inclination and because it hasn’t been super-essential. Which is how I discovered this weekend that I have really good hiking dogs who need a little more work to be really good camp dogs.
You see, this weekend R. and the dogs and I headed to Vermont. Some friends were doing trail magic at a lovely shady riverside spot where the Appalachian and Long Trails cross route 103. Breakfast foods to start and then burgers and hot dogs on the grill and then a for-real clam boil. Chips and cookies and candy. Gatorade and beer. Our particular contribution consisted of fresh fruit and Oreos. It was a perfect way to spend a perfect afternoon; I can’t wait to do it again.
The dogs were mostly really good! They were reasonably social and overall attentive and Lilo in particular was content to chill at my side intermittently reinforced.
But she was more reactive to dogs passing through than I had expected. She’s gotten so good at meeting dogs on trail that it had — foolishly — not occurred to me that old habits might resurface in this different scenario, with new stressors in the form of new-to-her people coming and going and without the job of going down trail to focus her.
And Titus — was kind of a rockstar, actually. In between rolling in gross stuff (and promptly washed off, BUT STILL) and serenading the clam-boil crowd with his ear-piercing “YIPE YIPE!” when his quarter ran out. (I gave him a minute to see if he could settle himself down and then intervened, because I did not wish for him to be distressed or for myself to be murdered by folks trying to preserve their hearing.)
R. pointed out that I have higher standards for the dogs than anybody else does. And everybody was super-sweet about and complimentary of them (and I like nothing more than people complimenting my dogs!). And as above: they were mostly really good! I’m super proud of them for walking into a situation that’s so different than their everyday life and handling it, on the whole, really well. And now I have some motivation to, y’know, actually practice this set of skills that has suddenly become so much more relevant.
I like that about training. I like it a lot.
You ever look at a thing and desperately want to climb it?
Probably not with the dogs, though. And probably not anytime soon. It’s a bushwhack from the top of the slide and I’ve got some stuff to learn (and the right comrade(s) to gather) before trying.
But it’s on the list.
I’m skipping over a couple of really stellar hikes here to share one that was not actually one of my finest on-trail days — but that did include Titus’s first higher summit!
I’d been thinking I’d start him on one of the shorter, easier peaks, but I couldn’t quite settle on which. Not Tecumseh: he’s still young enough that I’d like to avoid endless stair-climbing. Not Tom or Field: I’ve had enough of the Willey range for now. I’ve almost pulled the trigger on Hale a couple of times, but there was something else (we’ll talk about it when I catch up on the reports I’m passing over) that I wanted to do first while in that neck of the woods.
Pierce or Jackson would have worked very well, but we’re into summer hiking season and those peaks are crowded right now, yo. Which is not a problem for the little guy. But I didn’t want to leave Lilo home for his very first 4ker — that would have felt too passing-the-torch and that’s not what we’re doing here! — and I do want my two-dog hiking skills more highly developed before I take them to a popular trail on a popular day at a popular time.
I also just kind of wanted something new. Lilo’s last higher summit was back on March 1st; mine was a week after that. I refuse to be ruled by the list, but I was itching to check another off. So I’d been looking at a couple of options but feeling ambivalent.
I mentioned my dilemma in passing (“Trying to decide if my young dog is ready for his first 4kers”) in a Facebook group. A friend weighed in with a suggestion: Moriah via the Stony Brook and Carter-Moriah trails. A bit more of an effort than I’d had in mind for his first big peak — 10.0 miles and 3,150′ of elevation gain — but not out of bounds given what we’d been doing (and how he’d been handling it). And the description was enticing: lots of water on the lower half, plenty of shade (the ridgewalk alternates between ledge and forest), and good views up top. After a bit more investigation, I was sold.
We got a later start than I’d wanted given the projected high temperatures. Lilo is more heat-sensitive than the average bear; I try to protect her pretty carefully. But I figured we’d get most of the climbing out of the way before the heat of the day set in and there was plenty of water for the hike down, so we set off.
The lower portion of the trail was exactly as advertised: pretty if unexciting forest, easy grades over good footing, and mostly paralleling a stream. We did get sucked onto a side path and wasted some time trying to figure it out before working our way back to the main trail. Eventually the climb steepened and the rocks began to show.
I was a bonehead and did not stop to filter water at the last stream; I figured we’d hit it on the way down. This was dumb. It was still pretty warm up top and the near-windless day meant minimal relief. So we moved very slowly along the ridge and I traumatized Lilo by splashing cold mud-water on her chest and belly and inside her hind legs when we found a puddle near the bog bridges.
The book describes a “fairly difficult scramble” where the summit spur trail turns of Carter-Moriah. Here it is! A fun little hand-and-foot climb. It’s a bit taller than it looks in the picture. Maybe 18-20′? This was actually taken on our descent. Both directions, I tethered one dog while helping the other and went back for the first. Lilo kept trying to walk up the sheer face instead of using the ledges, but we sorted it out. On the way down, I belayed her just a bit with her leash and vest: she made the decisions about where to go and I provided some resistance to keep her from pounding on herself as she did. Titus did very well with his balance; I just helped him route-find a bit.
From there it was a very short jaunt to the summit proper.
That pic looks in the least dramatic direction possible and taken while I was sitting down. The summit is a room-sized bare knob with near panoramic stand-up views, but we had company (and nowhere good to tether the lad). I opted to enjoy the rest with my dogs instead of scooting around the edges taking a million pictures — although I’m a little horrified to realize that apparently I took none! But a happy pup is my favorite view, anyway.
Because of my aforementioned boneheadedness, we did run out of water on the way back down. The dogs did well drinking out of mud puddles and I refilled their bottle from same to offer on the ledges. We went Lilo’s pace to be safe. She was very, very slow but never gave me reason for concern. I do love how well she takes care of herself.
I must admit that I was thinking so hard about the dogs that I didn’t do a great job of taking care of myself. I did take electrolytes steadily, which was good! But I’d had a pretty rotten week and not enough sleep the night before (even with our late start) and I felt pretty sorry for myself for most of the descent. Also did not manage Lilo very well during an encounter with another group of hikers-with-dog at a stream where we had settled for a rest. I had my water stuff laid out on a rock beside me and was in the middle of changing my boots and wasn’t thinking or moving quickly enough to get Lilo moved aside. No harm done, but not my finest moment.
I was thrilled with and proud of the dogs, though! Lilo handled her first big mountain hike of the season — it was still winter conditions when she did Cabot and the Belknap range — nicely. I thought she’d need today (Sunday) off, but she’s been happy and waggy and will go back out again (for something small) tonight. And Titus just plain rocked the hike. He was brain-tired in the last hour, but never dissolved into a tantrum and other than that could have easily been mistaken for a seasoned dog. I’m getting really excited about this little dog, you guys. All signs point to him being everything I’d hoped he’d be (and more!).
It’s just too bad that he’s so dignified and doesn’t know how to cut loose and relax.
This is actually the polite version. The pit bull just head-butts the door into submission.
It turns out that between seventeen and eighteen miles over two days is what it takes for me to make it downstairs in the morning before the Titus alarm goes off! Doesn’t leave much time for writing, though, so I’ll have to work on that throughout the week. Hope you all had a good weekend!