Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to Kona's Favorite Trail

We had a miserably hot streak last week. Kona and I still got out for our morning runs but I had little energy to do much more than make it through the day. Then this weekend, temperatures dropped 30 degrees but Kona was sick with disturbing stinky bum. Finally, bodies are healthy and the weather is tolerable.

For the first time in over three months, we returned to Kona's favorite trail (the scene of her foxtail inhalation). We arrived just as night faded. I was exited to be on a different trail. Kona seemed to share my enthusiasm. It took us nearly five minutes to move no more than 100 meters as Kona sniffed away. She found coyote scat and immediately squatted to pee. "Kona's back."
I forgot how much I enjoyed our neighborhood trail. Unlike our ridge, the climbs on this trail are steady and long. No tippy-toeing required to make it to the top. At the crest of our second hill, I stopped to admire the mountains. During the winter, the forest peaks can be covered in snow and the power lines that criss-coss the trail buzz from the moisture in the air. Today, as we enter the driest months of the year, the forests no doubly laid crisp brown under the morning light and the tower stood in silence. This is the time of year we hold our breath to not ignite a brush fire.

To help reduce the risk of fire, crews come in to remove brush. While I can't help but think the efforts would be in vain in face of fierce heat and winds, Kona gets to enjoy the results of the work. She sniffed away in a foxtail-free zone.

Despite being sick for a couple days, Kona exploded with energy. She zoomed around, becoming a difficult photo subject.
Once she caught the trail of a mule deer, she fell into her tracking zone, zipping around only to stop suddenly to survey the scene.
The deer hunt proved to be a lost cause but Kona found other things to explore. I had to make a desperate yank to keep her from pouncing something on the side of the trail. I recently read an article about an increase in the number of snake bite victims in the area showing the effects of neurotoxic venom. This is a bit alarming as usually only the Mojave Green rattler (which isn't in our area) is feared for its neurotoxic bite.

As I thought about rattlesnakes, I rounded the corner to find this:
The snake that left this trail was a big boy; most likely a western diamondback. With Kona nearby for perspective, you can see just how thick the snake's body was. Seeing that the track was nearly untouched on a popular trail, I figured the snake slithered through just hours, if not minutes, earlier.

With the snake behind us, we headed up our last climb. The trail was nearly empty. So much so that I thought I had missed the memo. Certainly everyone was home for a reason? Whatever the case, I enjoyed the quiet. Just as we reached our turn around, the sun erupted behind the mountains.
It may be weeks yet before I feel comfortable returning to the singletrack trails in our forest. I'm learning that foxtails stick around throughout the dry season, which could be (ahem) until January. Thankfully, the barbed seeds are beginning to lose their umph, making it safer to return to some of our favorite trails.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sending Strength

To all my blogging friends (two and four-legged) who've been handed too much recently,

I wish you strength

and hope you find peace in a new day,

possibilities in the open sky,

a renewed spirit and curiosity,

with safety as you find your way.

I hope you can pause in sunshine

and laugh, chasing goblin shadows.

in spite of it all,
goodness abounds.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dawn Patrol

Summer sprung on us this year. We went from temperatures in the upper 70s to near triple digits this week. My perfect running weather is mid 40s and sunshine, so this Summer business has not been my favorite. Solution? Beat the sun.

Dawn patrol it was. I stopped to say hello to sleepy Downtown.
I would not run alone in our forests before sunrise. That just wouldn't be wise being that we share our trails with other predators that are active in the pre-dawn hours. I feel safe on our ridge. It offers me and Kona a place to get away from the city rush, but a big cat would have to be terribly lost to find its way onto our trail.

Just as I reassured myself that we wouldn't be ambushed in the dark, I ran into a spider web. Thankfully, I only hit the edge of the sticky food trap. I turned around to see the silhouette of the big spider as it scurried to safety. It's shaped was unmistakable--a brown widow.

I shook off the thought of face planting into one of the most venomous spiders in town. Brown widows are new to our area. They have a similar shape to the black widow, with the same hourglass tummy. Unlike the black widow, they aren't nearly as shy. They spin webs in full view, not hiding in dark corners like their cousins.

Spider averted, we kept running. The sky lightened as we started the steep portion of our run. I stopped to watch the sun awaken our forest to the north. Many of the mountain trails are still closed due to unstable trail conditions after last year's fire.
This Summer, Kona has gotten better at waiting while I stop on the trail. She use to immediately whine whenever I paused. As I watched the sun rise over the mountains this morning, she stood quietly. She still wasn't completely relaxed as she shook off her nerves before we started running again.
As we started back towards the car, something caught Kona's attention. She sniffed the air and looked down the hillside. I wondered what she smelled that I couldn't see.
The sun reflected off the downtown skyline, promising another warm day.
Lucky for us, we returned to the trailhead just as the sun peaked over our eastern mountains. We stealthy runners slipped into the car before the sun could catch us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Alright, so really our weather has just squeaked up to normal August temperatures, but I forgot what Summer feels like. I knew it would be a warm morning, so we raced out the door to try and beat the sun.
The air felt thick. Without a breeze and with the top of the ridge holding tight to warm air, I couldn't believe it was just past 6:00. Kona looked how I felt. She seemed to half slink, half walk. We trudged onward.

I worried that Kona was having a horrible time, but bunnies came to the rescue, providing a new surge of enthusiasm. (If I could only borrow a rabbit, maybe my counter conditioning attempts would be more successful.)
With spirits higher, we continued to the second half of our trail. I had first planned to fun our ridge twice, but as Kona panted with the sun still hiding, I decided one lap would do.
In the spirit of our recall month, we put in some practice before we headed home. It's interesting with Kona that she has a really hard time looking at me while we're on trails because her senses are on alert (that's my guess), but she's still able to respond to commands like sit, wait and come.
Yah Kona!

I've been wanting to get into our high forests, but need to wait until it cools off. Hopefully we'll have another mountain adventure at the end of the week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

100 Days of L-Theanine

Kona recently finished her second 50-capsule bottle of L-Theanine, so I decided it was time for a report.

. . .Oneday, Kona's worry face won't be quite so impressive. . .

About three months ago, I had one of those living-with-a-fearful-dog low days. I decided it was time to try something new and pledged 60 days of Relaxation Protocol work and 100mg of daily L-Theanine for Kona. Our RP work wasn't too successful. I was consistent for about 20 straight days and continued for about three sessions a week after that. I suppose we did put in some work, but I'm not sold that RP is what we need, so it has fizzled out of our work. We have stuck with the daily L-Theanine.

Some L-Theanine background: L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It promotes Alpha brain waves, which are associated with an alert, relaxed brain state. Basically, your brain emits four different electrical pulses, or waves, that reflect your level of consciousness and arousal. Alpha waves are your relaxed, awake brain pulse.

The folks in supplement land packaged L-Theanine into capsule form. It's on the market for both humans and pets. I buy the human version for Kona because it is significantly less expensive than the canine variety.

I've seen improvements over the last three months, mostly in a decrease in Kona's fearful reaction to noises while she's outside. Kona's sensitive to people noises, especially loud voices that come from a distance. Unfortunately, the topography in our neighborhood makes voices from blocks away bounce around, echoing into our yard. Kona has become spooked enough to want to retreat inside.

Since she started the L-Theanine routine, it's become more and more rare for "voices in the yard" to scare her. On a number of occasions I've cringed at a loud shout, waiting to see Kona slink for the gate, but she'll stay lounging under the tree. It's come to a point where it takes a lot (say, a loud party at a neighbor's house who usually doesn't have company) to push Kona over threshold.

Beyond the outside voices, I can't pinpoint obvious improvement. To me, this doesn't mean that the L-Theanine hasn't worked well. Subtle improvements are huge in my book and they build up over time.

It's impossible for me to know if L-Theanine caused the decreased voice reaction. Kona could have had just an overall increase in confidence with her Nose Work classes, RP work, trail runs, etc. But, I have noticed an improvement, which is enough for me to keep Kona on L-Theanine until the brave fairies work their magic.

I think we're reaching another behavioral plateau. While the L-Theanine continues, I need to find another behavior modification plan. Meds should work in conjunction with behavior modification. I'm doing more research and moving intrepidly as I look for a program that suits Kona. I've finally had to admit that counter conditioning and desensitization (the staple techniques behind fearful dog rehabilitation) do not work for Kona. (That topic may become another blog post). Unfortunately, it's hard to find BM programs that do not use CC&D as a foundation.

It often feels easier to not worry about working with Kona's fears. Kona has many avenues of fun and I'm better at management and avoiding triggers. But even with daily runs and romps with her best canine friend, Kona's undeniably more easily scared than the average dog. There are also days when I wish I could walk Kona around the neighborhood. Both of these are reason enough to keep working.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spoiled for Too Long

Our summer has been unbelievably mild, so I guess I shouldn't complain that temperatures should rise back to normal highs this weekend. Of course, we'll take these last few days of cool weather.

When we hit the trail this morning, fog wisped around the hillsides, keeping visibility low.
We were out for another workout of laps. The last time we were on this trail for a long run, Kona nearly melted. As we finished our fist lap, the sun snuck behind the layer of mist, reflecting brightly off the moisture. I crossed my fingers that the low clouds would linger for awhile longer.
I quickly became wet from all the moisture in the air, but was glad the sun stayed at bay. The cool temps kept Kona's enthusiasm high. She was persistent about sniffing. We finally stopped at a needle-covered coyote bed to let Kona do her thing. The needles snuffed out the foxtails on this bed, making it safe to explore.
Just as we started the final leg to the car, the sun peaked over the fog, layering blue sky over clouds. Lucky for us, we would finish our run in the middle of the mist cloud. Oh what will we do when summer arrives?
On The Training Front
I've declare August as Recall Month for me and Kona. Since the stickers came out and Kona can't run on her long line, we've been slacking with recall training. Kona's much more relaxed when she romps on her long leash, so it was easier for her to respond to my recalls during the winter when she hikes on her long line. I want Kona to be able to respond well to me on trails to keep her safe, and continue to make our outings together easier.

So far this month, I've tried to add one off leash recall during our runs, as long as no one else is around. She's done great in these low distraction scenarios. We're also playing a lot of "disappearing human" games in the yard. I hop behind a bush while she's distracted, in hopes she eventually notices I'm gone and will come looking for me. If Kona spots me putting treats in my pocket before we go outside, she seems to know the game is coming and keeps a close eye on me. Other times, she's so enthralled with something that she doesn't realize I'm missing! I'll then call her name and she'll come search for me.

I hope to get back into the swing of practicing recall and "find me" games so that Recall Month continues throughout the year. Does anyone have other recall games they play?

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Run of Firsts

I decided to push further this morning, running up one of the peaks off our saddle we ran to last week. It would be the first time Kona and I would run that distance together. I knew we would be out for awhile, and was thankful for the shade in the canyon.
We have had the most mild summer that I can remember. The below-average temperatures seem to keep the water level high.
After running out of the shadows of the canyon, we were blinded by the sun-drenched ridge.
We met another hiker on the saddle. Kona didn't seem too bothered by him. She's often more nervous around people who are standing still, as he was. He also had his pack on the ground--another potentially scary thing. Despite the company, Kona took a handful of treats before we headed into new territory.

A few yards from the saddle, the view to the east opened.
We ran with no relief from the sun. Even when the air temperature stays cool, Kona can overheat quickly without shade. I kept an eye on her, watching for sighs of heat exhaustion. Of course, I only found a lizard huntress.
The last stretch of trail to the peak hurt. My calves felt like rocks. During the final half mile, I started to trip over my own feet. I was moving very slowly, but was also able to look around more. I noticed pine cones dangling from most of the trees. Sap oozed from the pine cones like icicles. They reminded me of Christmas ornaments.
I finally shuffled to the peak. Kona lead the way to check out the view.

I sat on a charred log to rest. Kona came over and nearly stuffed her face down my water bottle in an attempted to quench her thirst. She sat for awhile and ate treats, seeming more relaxed than usual. That is until she spotted a lizard.
I finally mustered the enthusiasm to get up and start our descent. Terrain that steep can make for a dicey downhill run. I forced myself to focus, despite my fatigue. A sprained ankle that far out would make for a long afternoon.

I payed attention to nothing but my feet until scree began to tumble off the hill above us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what I thought was a deer--but it wasn't.
It was a bighorn sheep! It was the first time I'd ever seen one and they were absolutely mythical. I almost expected to see fairies accompany them up the slope.

Kona was just as enthralled as I was. She had frozen, every muscle in her body tense, paw lifted. But, she just watched and made no move like she wanted to chase. I was glad, because the big boy of the herd kept an eye on us and I didn't want to upset him. As hard as it was to leave, watching those huge horns helped me move the two of us along.
Despite some achy joints, I found myself smiling during the rest of our descent. I was worried about the inevitable crowds on the trail as we approached the trailhead. Kona did amazing most of the time. The final stretch to the car undid her, but I couldn't let that get to me.

It was a beautiful morning. We ran a new distance. We explored a new peak. We saw new animals. I was feeling pretty lucky.

Monday, August 2, 2010


The last few days brought overcast mornings, so I was excited to see blue sky and clouds to start the day. Kona stood silhouetted by the rising sun.
I wanted to add some distance to our run. Unfortunately, our ridge is relatively short, so to add miles I had to add laps. I'm not a fan of running laps, it can feel more like training than exploring. While I enjoy training as well, I like to package it in an adventure.

I soon realized that our blue sky also meant a warm sky. About halfway through our run, Kona looked back at me, perhaps asking for some shade.
When we crested one of our mini-hills, something reflected off the sun and caught my eye. A Mylar balloon floated, half suspended, over the trail. When Kona first spotted it, she slowed down and changed her course to arc around the strange object. I was happy to see her decide the balloon was safe. She didn't flee as it floated around. She even stood on her hind legs to try to get a sniff as it took off.
We rounded the trail fork to finish our final lap. I wondered why I had planned our run to finish on the hilliest trail with little shade. Kona was slowing down. I've figured out that it's hard to tire Kona with added distance, but the heat gets to her quickly.

I decided to stop in one of the only plots of shade. We were close to finishing, but Kona was panting hard. She decided to lie down, but only for a few seconds. She happily gulped water, ate some treats and just hung out in the shade. (Alright, Kona looks tortured in this picture, but I promise she wasn't!)
We slowed down to cool off a bit before getting in the car. As much as I don't care for running laps, I do love a summer morning on the trails with Kona.