Thursday, May 30, 2013

Leave No Trace

One of this month's many projects, I spent six days hiking hiking the Superior Hiking trail on the north shore of Lake Superior with my friend Crystal, her dog Maisy, and my favorite dog, Piper Ann. Rubi got to skip this trip as the Superior Hiking Trail is much more popular than the Border Route we did last year, and I was worried about running into other hikers with their dogs.

Extended wilderness trips are a unique experience. As Crystal mentioned on the first day, it tend to reprioritize your list of "things I can't live without" really quickly. Part of it is losing contact with the outside world and discovering that not only does the world not revolve around you, but it can, in fact, get along just fine without you. The experience also redefines comfort. For example, I've learned that I can live without running water, toilets, and showers, but I am absolutely miserable if my boots are wet. You get dirty. Really dirty. Gross dirty. And there's hard work involved: packing from place to place, setting up camp, hoping the stove works, purifying water. And at the same time, everything around you is overwhelmingly beautiful and awesome and it fills up your soul to know that such a rich world exists. The backwoods is simultaneously the most and least romantic place on earth.

I am not a religious person, but I am rather spiritual. These woods are my church, my place of worship. And if the hiker has a bible, then there is only one command: Leave No Trace. This means that you pick up after yourself. You also pick up after anyone less devoted than yourself. You're responsible about lighting fires and where you put your tent so as to disturb the natural flora and fauna as little as possible. If you cannot leave a place untouched, then at least leave it unsullied.

The Leave No Trace philosophy permeates my life. In medicine, it catches the term "Do No Harm." We interfere with the natural progression of illness and health with our presence, treatments, and advice, but we always aspire to improve the state of being. And if we cannot make improvement then, please dear lord, let us do no harm - let us leave no trace.

It is no wonder, then, that I carry Leave No Trace into my work as a dog trainer as well - and no where is that more evident than with my work with Rubi. My goal for Rubi has never been to "fix" her reactivity. Rubi is not broken. My chief concern has always been to make Rubi happy. Working on her reactivity is a side effect of this goal. The less reactive she is, the more places she can go, and the happier she will be. I have every confidence that I could have used punishment to eliminate or greatly reduce Rubi's reactive behaviors of screaming and lunging.

The fallout from that level of punishment can be huge, though. It can increase anxiety, damage our relationship, and even cause dog aggression. On the other hand, through counter conditioning and desensitization, I have altered the underlying cause of her reactivity. With little or no fallout, I have made lasting changes to her behavior: I can hand Rubi off to a virtual stranger, and her positive behaviors maintain themselves.

Rubi is the same dog that barreled through my door three years ago. She continues to be enthusiastic, vibrant, and overjoyed to be alive. I have not changed that. And should I disappear without a trace, she will continue to be all of these things; all I have changed is her reactivity. I have not left her untouched, but I have left her unsullied, and we are both the better for it.

Photo by Paige.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wait, What Month Is It?

Welcome to May, the month of "holy shit, did I really sign up for all of this?" Guest appearances to be made by two new jobs, officiating an adopting, taking a new foster, two dog-centric conferences, a board meeting, flyering for the next GYF! fair, speaking at a nurse conference, a photo shoot, and planning a five day hiking trip - all on top of the usual activities needed to run this House of Horde Beasts.

Whatever you do, don't stop running.
Photo by Paige.

Today we bring you a short recap of BAD RAP's Rescue Jam in Oakland, California, hopefully to be followed by a longer recap later when I get a chance to sort out my notes (which I have still not forwarded to my fellow conference-goers - sorry, guys!). Rescue Jam, hosted at Bad Rap's famous Rescue Barn, was attended by rescue and shelter volunteers from all over the world. We covered topics from "How to Run a Successful Foster-Based Rescue" to evaluating potential program dogs to battling compassion fatigue. The best part of Rescue Jam?


And also, I got to make out with celebrity dog Elliot.

Photo by Sara N.
After the Jam, we had a day to wander around being tourists. Our wandering took us out to Muir Woods National Park. Muir Woods is a redwood forest an hour-ish north of Oakland, which meant that I got to check "hike in a redwood forest" off my bucket list.

I can't say what walking through the redwoods was like for my companions, but I think I'm close to being able to put words to how this forest made me feel. Many, many moons ago, I was a regular church-goer. I attended a large, somber, ceremonial church and stepping inside always made me feel awed and insignificant - but not in a painful way! Instead, it grounded me, reminded me that the weight of the world did not rest on my shoulders - and as a result, the weight that I had been carrying slid away from me.

So it was with these trees, their heavy somnolence pressing against me, weighing down my troubles until I am forced to leave them behind in the woods, allowing the rest of me to press on unfettered. These trees in their millenia-long histories have survived the rise and fall of nations, stood tall through fires and storms without consideration for human hysterics brought on by sinking ships and flying bullets. They were here before me, and their reassuring stability will almost certainly be here long after I am gone.

After Muir Woods, we hit the other end of the spectrum, grabbing lunch at Fisherman's Ward in San Francisco. I ate what was probably the sea-faring version of smelt and wanted to take our Irish-accented waitress home with me. Then there were sea lions.

Our last day in California, I managed to harass, threaten, and annoy all my friends into one last stop: the studio and shop of Paco Collars in Berkeley. Here, I bought entirely too many collars and don't feel even a little bit guilty about it. I also got to meet Paco Collar's founder, Ana Poe, who is possibly one of the coolest moms ever and whom I may have developed a little bit of a girl crush on (don't tell Ana . . . or my husband).

Photo of me and Ana and the wonder baby
and all my awesome new collars by Sara N. 
I also convinced my new Paco Collars' besties to come to Minnesota and do a collar-making class in July. Or, more accurately, they may have mentioned they were planning on coming to Minnesota anyway, and I was all, "OOH! OOH! OOH! I wanna help! Pick me! PICK ME!" like a great big, embarrassing dog nerd.

But whatever, I shall take my Great Big Embarrassing Dog Nerd award and wear it proudly.

Bonus picture of me making out with a puppy behind bars because I was that desperate for some doggie lovin'.
And also because I really like this picture and can't figure out where else to put it.
Photo by Sara N.