Saturday, April 29, 2017

Deer Chase

Considering it's the end of April, the weather has been unseasonably cool this past week. We even had snow earlier in the week! At least the snow was gone this morning, but it was a very breezy and cool 38 degrees when we arrived at our hiking destination.

Do you see my little photo-bomber?

In some ways the cooler weather is preferred because there are less people out on the trails which allows me to have Charlie off-leash more often.

I really wanted to spoil her today since we hadn't walked much this past week. Everything worked out perfectly! We had the trail to ourselves, Charlie was able to enjoy most of the hike off-leash and she got to do her favorite thing... chase deer!

The woods were full of wildlife today... deer, squirrels and birds were everywhere. We saw and heard several cranes, eagles and hawks. And Charlie took off on at least three deer chases.

She knows this trail well and is aware of where the deer typically are. She's watchful and ready. And it's adorable when she takes off after them, yipping an excited bark! I know she'll never catch up to them, so I don't worry. I just smile and shake my head and wait a few minutes for her to return. Which she always does. And always with a huge smile. It's as if she knows she'll never catch them but she just can't help herself.

Spring has finally sprung and the trees were laced with a tinge of green; tiny buds just waiting to burst open.

Tiny wildflowers are blooming and new grasses are getting taller. Soon the ferns will appear and begin to unfurl.

For now, I'm grateful for the tiniest bit of color to brighten up the grays and browns of recent months. I feel hopeful and energized again.

And the icing on the cake... Charlie rolled in poop today so she earned herself a bath when we got home! Now I have a fluffy clean dog to snuggle with all night. Love my girl.

VIDEO (Charlie takes off chasing a deer; you can hear her excited yips and see a flash of white tail from the deer as they disappear into the woods):

VIDEO (Charlie returns from a deer chase needing a drink of water and to catch her breath):

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fearful Dog

Living with a fearful dog is exhausting. It's time-consuming. And it's heartbreaking.

We had a rough day today.

Instead of having a restful day at home (as originally planned), I really felt the need to go hiking. Hiking is a moving meditation for me. When my mind is too full of chatter or I'm dealing with something that is dragging me down, hiking seems to be my cure. It helps me get re-centered and focused. I was in desperate need of this type of healing today.

Unfortunately I didn't get what I needed.

We hiked the far southern portion of the Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail in hopes of finding blissful solitude and an opportunity to sit in the forest along the bank of the river and listen to the water babble over ancient rocks.

This section of the Ice Age Trail is on public hunting and fishing grounds, and regrettably, I forgot that it is turkey hunting season right now. Shortly after we began hiking, gun shots rang out through the woods, reminding me of our recent hike on the Ringle Segment.

Charlie was nervous and stuck by my side pretty closely, but we continued on. The woods are coming alive with spots of green and tiny wood violets blooming along the forest floor. Butterflies flitted about and birds chirped in the tops of trees. We even saw two deer trot by, not 20 feet from where we had just passed.

It seemed to be a magical day in the woods and I wanted to continue moving forward toward the river, where I could sit and think for a while.

When we got to the river, though, several gun shots rang out in quick succession very close by and Charlie panicked.

Normally this is one of her favorite places to be and the water always draws her in. She loves to romp around in the sparkling clear water of the river and find sticks for me to throw for her.

Today, though, she shook with fear, panting heavily and trying to hide between my legs. She wouldn't leave my side. Her tail was tucked between her legs and she was visibly shaking so hard (see video at end of post).

I was disappointed to have to leave when we had just arrived at the spot I wanted to spend time enjoying but I could see the fear in Charlie and knew we needed to go.

I also knew that the hike back to the car was not going to be fun. She was in a full-on panic attack at that point and her only agenda was getting to the car where she could feel safe. It was a miserable hike back to the car, Charlie pulled with all her might to get me to go faster and literally choked herself on her harness with the effort. I felt so bad for her, but there was nothing I could do but walk as fast as I could.


I went to a book signing recently at our local library where animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, was promoting her new book, The Education of Will. Patricia has had a lot of experience training dogs and working with people and their dogs' issues, including fearful dogs.

I'm almost finished with the book and then going to start reading another of her books, The Other End of the Leash. Hopefully I can start working with Charlie again on some of her fear issues. Unfortunately I've been working with Charlie on her issues since she was a pup, and she's almost 7 years old now. Training and working on fear issues is an ongoing process with dogs like Charlie and sometimes can never be fixed completely.

I've made a lot of concessions for Charlie over the years. Because she's fear-aggressive toward most other dogs, I can't trust her 100% and always need to be on alert, watching her body language. We walk alone most of the time and sometimes at "off" hours of the day to avoid other dogs on busy trails. I've gotten used to being a solo hiker, even though I miss having a social life.

Charlie's noise-reactivity always has me prepared to redirect and calm her. When a car backfires while we're out on a walk or someone slams a car door too hard, I'm quick to give her treats and talk in a soothing voice. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes she practically drags me home in fear for her life.

We've tried diet changes, Bach's Rescue Remedy, essential oils and other calming methods. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

Unfortunately this is the reality of having a fearful dog. I love Charlie to death and would do just about anything for her. I have turned my life upside down over the past 6+ years to accommodate her needs and give her the best life possible. And in a lot of ways, she has improved my life so much.

And sometimes I'm just frustrated. Like today.

Even though today didn't work out as planned, I did get to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun in the backyard petting Charlie.

Man, I love this dog.

VIDEO (Charlie's reaction after the gun shots next to the river):

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day Hike - Dells of Eau Claire

Since I had to cancel the group hike on the Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail due to recent heavy rains and flooding, Charlie and I headed out to Dells of the Eau Claire Segment to check out the trail conditions instead.

The Plover River and Eau Claire River are in close proximity, but this trail was likely to be less flooded than the Plover River area, so I figured we wouldn't have any trouble.

We started out at the south parking area at the county park and took the Forest Preserve Trail to where it intersects with the Ice Age Trail along the river. I love the Forest Preserve Trail because there are some really cool rock formations along that route and hardly ever any other people. Plus there are little streams and ponds that attract frogs and birds, making for an idyllic and peaceful spot to soak in the forest.

As you near the river, you can hear the roar of the water flowing over the huge rock formations. And with all the recent rain, the river is high and flowing fast.

Trail conditions were predictably mucky and wet in spots, but there was always a rock or tree root to help bypass those areas.

Some areas were far muddier and required a little more careful footwork to get around, but my boots stayed fairly dry. There were a few times where Charlie charged ahead through the wettest and deepest spots and I had no choice but to follow her since we were tethered together. After a few of these instances, I unbuckled her leash from me so that we could pick our own way through the mess and leash up again at the other side.

Most people who visit this park stick to the close trails within the park itself, but I highly encourage you to continue on the trail to the south marked with the yellow blazes and experience a part of the area that you may have missed before.

Don't get frustrated with all the rocks and roots decorating the trail and threatening to trip you every step of the way. Instead, slow down and appreciate their geological formations and the natural beauty that you have free access to.

Take in the winding river that can go from roaring rapids one minute to calm flowing waters the next.

Sit on an ancient rock and listen to birds flitting through the woods and the trickle of a small creek making its way to the river.

Enjoy our Earth.

VIDEO (crane and crows circling above):
VIDEO (forest sounds):

VIDEO (bird song):

VIDEO (rapids):

VIDEO (river view from Ice Age Trail):

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mapping Routes & Making Plans

Wausau's Whitewater Park along the Wisconsin River.

I recently let my membership on expire and had decided that my best bet to finding someone to date, or just making friends in general, would be to get involved in the things I love doing best. 

What better way is there to meet like-minded people than doing activities you already love?!

So I started looking around on Facebook to see what other groups or pages there were for outdoor activities in my area and was disappointed when I found nothing.

River Edge Parkway with Rib Mountain in the distance
(ski runs still have snow on them!)

At first I felt defeated. And then I thought... if it doesn't exist yet, why not make it happen myself? Now that I'm not busy dating anyone, I have time to put into creating and managing a FB group and putting together events and activities.

So that's what I did! I started my own group and I guess we'll see what happens.

Charlie chased a pair of geese away from the shoreline.

Tonight, Charlie and I mapped out routes for a new dog-walking meet-up as one of the first events for the FB group. I'm using the "Map My Dog Walk" app and loving it. 

We mapped out two different segments of the River Edge Parkway along Wausau's East Side... one for a short morning walk and another for a little longer evening walk. We'll then alternate days for mornings and evenings so anyone who is interested can find a time that'll work for them.

One of the bridges on Fern Island.

The river is still really high from spring rains and has obviously flooded the path in several areas, but by the time the meet-up starts next week, everything will be accessible again.

I'm really excited to hopefully meet new people and connect on a regular basis with my current dog-walking friends!

River is still pretty high from spring rains.

Debris on the trail from recent flooding on the Wisconsin River.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hiking Gear... A Question To Readers

I've often said that you don't need anything special to get outside and go hiking. A nice pair of hiking boots or shoes is helpful, but otherwise you really don't have to spend much on gear.

And I still think that's mostly true as long as you're just doing short day-hikes.

But sometimes, some good gear can really make your life a whole lot better.

When I hike with other dog owners, they all tend to comment on how they should get a waist-leash like I use with Charlie.

Honestly, I don't know what I would do without my Ruffwear Roamer Leash. It's a must-have for hiking in my opinion. I love having my hands free to take photos or get things out of my pack without worrying about letting go of Charlie's leash.

And it's also nice to have the Ruffwear Webmaster Harness to go with it so the leash stays on top of the dog and doesn't get tangled in her legs.

Also, when I'm kayaking with Charlie, I absolutely have to have the Ruffwear Float Coat because it has the super-duper heavy-duty handle on top that helps me lift her into the kayak after she jumps out (repeatedly) to chase sticks (or leaves or bubbles) that float by.

VIDEO (Charlie and the Kayak):

And now that I'm thinking about doing longer mileage hikes, I'm wondering if I need a better backpack. I currently use a cheapie little backpack without padding or frills of any kind, and after a long day of hiking, the straps are digging into my armpits and there just aren't enough special storage areas for all the stuff I need to bring along.

My tiny pink backpack.

So I'm wondering... what do you use for backpacks? What do you like about your backpack? Any suggestions on a good backpack for day trips up to 15 miles long? What do you bring in your pack for that length of a hike?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ringle Segment of the Ice Age Trail

The Ice Age Trail Alliance held a trail cleanup event for the Ringle Segment this weekend, and even though I would have loved to have signed up to help, I couldn't bear the thought of not spending time with Charlie this weekend. And since dogs aren't allowed to participate in these events, I chose to spend my time hiking with Charlie and blogging about our adventures to promote the trail instead!

After yesterday's challenging hike with Matt and his dog, Bob, I was inspired to do another long-mile day. Charlie and I headed to the Ringle Segment... a segment near my home that I hadn't completed yet. The last time we were here was February 2016 and there was still snow/ice on the ground. Today was a balmy 70 degrees with no snow in sight!

Unfortunately we heard several nearby gunshots as soon as we exited the parking area and Charlie totally flipped out. I had hoped that someone was just target shooting near the landfill and that if we continued hiking North, we could outrun the noise. But Charlie was already spooked and she panted full of stress for most of the hike.

Luckily once we reached the Klaver Klame (our destination before heading back), the gunshots had subsided and Charlie seemed to relax for a bit. We played a game of fetch using pinecones on top of the klame and took a short break to let our heart rates return to normal.

Look at those ears! Sign on tree says "Klaver Kame"

The landscape wasn't as challenging as Harrison Hills, but still had quite a bit of rolling topography. Being that it's still early in the spring season, the landscape isn't that interesting yet. A lot of brown leaves and sticks covered the trail and not much greenery has budded out yet. Plus, there were no decent lakes or streams to let Charlie swim.

The most notable feature of our hike today was the sound of frogs! This segment is surrounded by many boggy ponds that are filled with singing frogs.

VIDEO (frog chorus):

VIDEO (Charlie goes swimming in a muck puddle):

On our return hike, we once again heard the sound of gunshots. Charlie was in a full-on panic at this point and pulled me down twice, causing me to scrape my hands and bruise my knees. I had also developed a couple of blisters on my feet that required a quick stop to put band-aids on. On top of all that, we happened to be down-wind from the Marathon County Landfill that borders part of this trail and the odor was not pleasant at all. Also, it appears that rude hunters have dumped deer carcasses near where the trail crosses the road behind the landfill. And since Charlie gets a little freaked out by dead things, this only added to her stress.

During the last half-mile of our hike, I ended up having to let Charlie off-leash because she was so frantic to get to the car to escape the gun noises. I knew if I let her off she would make a bee-line for the car and either hide under it or pace around it until I got there, which is exactly what she did. Unfortunately I hit my breaking point before I let her off-leash because she had just pulled me down for the second time and I lashed out at her... yelling and smacking her butt. 

I felt bad for doing that and adding to her stress but I was pretty stressed out too. These things happen though. 

Charlie covered my hands and arms in kisses all the way home which made me feel forgiven, although I think she was just grateful to be in the car and moving away from that place! I also gave her a special dinner tonight of sweet potato, sardines and egg mixed in with her kibble. Food cures all!

It was interesting how closely she stuck by my side during the hike and even insisted on hiding between my legs several times when I'd stop to take photos. In looking through the photos from the day, she was either running toward me for protection or looking around on high alert, distracted by every noise. In retrospect, we should have left the trail right away and found a different place to hike today. Lesson learned.

Hiding by mom.

This turned out to be a bit of a bummer day for us and I can't say I have good memories of this segment. I'm sure in the summer, when the foliage is bloomed out, the trail might be more interesting. But honestly, I probably won't be back to hike this one again. I'd rather spend my time re-hiking the Plover River or Grandfather Falls segments, or taking a road trip to explore somewhere new.

Stats from Map My Dog Walk app: