Follow by Email

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Find Your Place with The Trustees of Reservations

It's been a while since I've posted. Shale and I have been super busy and I don't know where the summer went and I can hardly believe its almost Thanksgiving!    We are spending a lot of time on the trails hiking, biking and swimming for Shale.  In this blog entry I would like to tell you about our favorite place...

Shale and I are proud to be members and on the volunteer staff for The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) The Trustees of Reservations is a member-supported, nonprofit, conservation organization with the mission of “preserving, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts." I am a trail steward at their Ravenswood Park property in Gloucester and Shale is one of their regular “dog ambassadors” who highlight the “green dog” way of enjoying the property.  The Trustee of Reservations has a wonderful program on 5 of their 100 properties specifically for our canine friends, The Trustees Green Dogs Program.

Shale and friends at Ravenswood
I have been to many of The Trustees of Reservations properties throughout the area and by far Ravenswood Park in Gloucester is my absolute favorite. Ravenswood is a fantastically magical property.   It is not just the wonderful scenery and unique landscape that has captivated me but the warm welcome both Shale and I have always received from the Program Director, staff and the other volunteers at the Cape Ann Discovery Center on the property. It is the personal touches and feeling of inclusiveness they extend that makes this property such a special place.  I truly feel as though Shale and I have “found our place” at Ravenswood.  Ravenswood is undoubtedly the most dog-friendly Trustees of Reservation venues I have found.

I was so excited when I first visited Ravenswood a few years ago.  It was so refreshing to find an accessible, safe, dog-friendly venue. I first visited with the Meet-up Group North Shore Active Dogs.  One of the organizers had heard that Ravenswood was a welcoming venue for dog-walkers with many miles of varied and interesting terrain.  That assessment could not have been more on target. When I visited I was completely captivated by the property.  Since that first visit I have shared this venue with many friends and regularly hike through Ravenswood’s trail system with many of my friends and their dogs from my favorite Meet-up Group, Merry Mutts of the North Shore (I’m an Assistant Organizer with the group and plan a lot of events at Ravenswood). We have spent innumerable hours on the property and we have always have been made to feel safe and incredibly welcome.  We especially love the Ledge Hill Trail – a 2-mile round-trip walk among magical-looking, fern-covered boulders with its scenic vista overlooking Gloucester Harbor.  Another favorite is to traverse the boardwalk through the Great Magnolia Swamp  Ravenswood is also home to many hidden Geocaches and Letterboxes.  

 I am also thrilled to have met countless other dog-walkers on the property and have made many new friends as a result.  Ravenswood demonstrates a successful balance of people sharing the trails in many ways in harmony. It is so refreshing to see how the well-maintained trails are shared by dog-walkers, families, hikers, bicyclists; those snow shoeing and cross country skiing.  That is not an easy harmony to achieve – it takes leadership and commitment to ensure this equity and I directly attribute it to the direction the Program Director, staff and volunteers give this impressive property. 

I think Ravenswood has done a wonderful job on providing suggested guidelines for dog-walkers to help ensure safety for all and the best way to share the trails with others.  Some people as we all know are not comfortable with dogs and as a responsible dog owner I make it my priority to make sure that my dog is a “good citizen,” acts appropriately and is under my direct control at all times. I also am very conscientious of always picking-up dog waste and taking it with me off the property.  If we all work together in this manner it helps to keep Ravenswood and other venues as the wonderful resources they are for everyone including dog-walkers.  Too many dog-friendly venues are disappearing and I consider it my personal duty to contribute in any ways I can to help preserve the ones available and to make sure they are used appropriately and with respect for all that wish to use these special places.  The Trustees of Reservations “Green Dog Program” provides wonderful etiquette suggestions for dog-walkers to follow when visiting any Trustees Property.  I love that there are helpful suggestions and reminders at the trail head information board at Ravenswood for dog-walkers and others to remind us all that we share this delightful property and that we must work together to ensure a safe and wonderful time for all.

So if you are looking for a wonderful place to hike with you canine pal look no further than Ravenswood Park.  You won’t be disappointed.  Shale and I hope to see you there.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shale Takes the Plunge - My Little Swimmer

Exciting news last week about Shale… She finally took the plunge and got brave enough to swim outside!   Shale has been swimming in an indoor pool for a while – more about that shortly – but she has been hesitant for the over the last year and half to swim outside.

When Shale first came home from her breeder I thought for sure she would be a water loving dog.  After all her favorite game both inside and outside of the house was splashing and digging in her water bowl.  While it was really cute at first it was messy and luckily she outgrew this game pretty quickly.

Shale's First Swim
Our first “hike” together was in early November of 2009 and Shale was about 3.5 months old.  I took her to one of my favorite Trustees of Reservations properties, Weir Hill, in North Andover.  I have to admit I was a nervous wreck and judiciously used a leash and a long-line while we explored.  My little explorer was a fearless and loved the wide open trails we traveled while playing recall games.  She had a terrific time exploring the more technical side trails and was fascinated by the large reservoir that the property abuts.  It was a cool fall day and Shale went right in for a swim.  I was so surprised.  She started paddling immediately and was heading out pretty far.  To this day I don’t know if it was a hint of panic in my voice calling her in or the crisp autumn air giving her a chill that turned her off to swimming.  I didn’t even recognize at the time that she had suddenly developed a fear of going over her head.  I guess the fact that she came out of the water at full speed, and literally ran for the hills should have given me some indication that a problem was brewing.  Not realizing I was just super excited to know I already had a natural swimmer and I was already looking forward to the late spring and early summer fun we would have playing at the beach and local ponds.  I figured with it already so cold out there really wouldn’t be opportunities for her to swim again for a number of months. 
That December I decided to enroll Shale in swimming for physical fitness at Good Dog Aquatic in N. Andover.  Good Dog Aquatic has an above ground indoor hydrotherapy pool and offers physical therapy, canine massage and swim therapy as well as swimming for physical fitness.  I’ve known the owners for years and my dog, Meg; also a Border Collie swam there for physical fitness before I lost her to lymphoma a few years ago. I will be introducing Meg and telling some of “Meg’s Tales” soon.  I figured Shale would be a natural in the pool and would easily make the “Good Dog Aquatic Swim Team.”  Well Shale was a not huge fan of the pool.  The dogs at Good Dog Aquatic are required to wear life jackets for safety and I promptly put Shale in Meg’s Ruffwear lifejacket only to find out it was a too large.  No worries Good Dog Aquatic had plenty of jackets for Shale to use so we easily found on with a better fit for her frame.   Shale swam monthly at Good Dog for a while, made the swim team and I was confident she would be an expert swimmer come the late when we could swim outside with all of our doggie friends from the Merry Mutts.   

After a great winter exploring and hiking the warm weather returned I was promptly tossed a favorite water toy into one of the nice ponds on one of our walks only to find that Shale was a champion wader but would not swim.  At that point I was lucky to get her to go up to her elbows in the water let alone over her head. I have to admit I was surprised and perplexed.  In the pool she was a pretty comfortable swimmer though not a big fan of getting into the pool.  She needed a little lift by way of her life jacket’s handle to get her in the water but once she was in – she seemed focused on her swimming.  Toy of choice in the pool was an orange “boat bumper” that had belonged to Meg.  For those who knew Meg, you can probably guess her toy of choice - a Frisbee (that bumper really never got any use before Shale came along). 

I tried all summer to get Shale to swim.  Tried coaxing, going in the water with her, bribing her with favorite toys tossed just beyond her reach, every trick I could think that might resolve this fear of swimming outside.  I certainly knew she could swim.  She demonstrated that in the Good Dog Aquatic pool and a few times outside when she accidentally went in and had to swim.

I found out in the early fall that another dog swimming pool I had been to in Waltham, MA called Aqua Dog was bought by an acquaintance of mine and was now being called, Flow Dog. Flow Dog like Good Dog Aquatic offers physical therapy on land and in the pool.  I immediately called for an appointment to sign Shale up swimming for physical fitness.  I really like Flow Dog’s approach with fitness swimmers.  The staff works really hard to make the swim a ton of fun for the dog and after just a few sessions in the pool Shale was bounding in on her own – no need for assistance getting into the pool.  Before long Shale was doing so terrifically and demonstrated such confidence swimming that she graduated to not using a life jacket in the pool.  I was ecstatic and completely sure that this summer Shale would swim outside without any issue especially since she was so great in the pool. 
The warm weather came and so did our outings to places with great swimming spots and yet no swimming for my little chicken of the sea.  Plenty of wading, going a little deeper each time but nothing was persuading her to go over her head or to start dog paddling.  Yet, she loves the water.  When it’s hot Shale absolutely is the first dog in the group to head to the water, a champion wader I have been calling her. 


A major break through came last week. It was a fairly humid evening and after work I got my bike on and Shale in the Jeep and headed to Lynn Woods for ride.  Shale loves running while I trail ride on my bike. I’ll be chronicling our adventures learning to ride together soon.   As usual we stopped at each of the swimming spots on our roundtrip ride between Great Woods and Pennybrook entrances.  I noticed that evening that Shale was venturing a little further past her usual wading comfort zone and was practically going over her head.  I was very encouraging and kept reminding Shale to swim like she does in the pool.  Something clicked and the next thing I knew she was paddling. I could not have been more excited and proud of my little swimmer.

Shale is still a little cautious entering the water where there is an immediate drop over her head.  However, with gradual slopes where she is able to have her footing and walk out a bit before swimming she is doing fabulously!  I’m so glad she has embraced swimming and I’m sure this is going to continue to be an activity she greatly enjoys. 

Happy dog paddling!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Letterboxing

A couple of weeks ago on the trail, at Harold Parker State Forest Shale, I and our four and two-legged pack met a really nice couple who shared with us that they were “Letterboxing”.   The ongoing joke with the group I hike with is that I talk to everybody, everywhere! So it was no surprise that this random encounter of two groups passing on a side-trail turned into a long conversation about Letterboxing, another idea for an activity to try with our dogs, and a couple of new friends. 

Letterboxing is an intriguing “treasure hunt” where participants follow clues to small hidden plastic containers which contain a rubber ink stamp (generally hand carved) and a log book.  Clue seekers carry and stamp their own log book with the discovered stamp and in turn stamp the cache’s log with their own signature stamp, again this is often hand carved.  According to what I’ve since learned, Letterboxing is an international game originating 150 years ago in England and there are now over 23,000 Letterboxes hidden in the United States.  Apparently Shale and I have been hiking past these hidden Letterboxes since she did her first “hike” at Weir Hill at 3.5 months old.  I was aware of Geocaching, an electronic "treasure hunt" using a hand held GPS or smart phone, but Letterboxing was new information to me. More on Shale’s adventures Geocaching on a future blog.    

Our new friends have searched for and found nearly 800 Letterbox stamps in two years!  Their logbook was filled with beautiful stamped images carefully colored with ink pens.  We soon learned that there a number of websites dedicated to Letterboxing that direct seekers to the hides and have all kinds of information for those just starting out.  Two well-know sites in the Letterbox community are: Atlas Quest: A Letterboxing Community and Letterboxing North America.   Of course there’s an app for this too – check out Clue Tracker on your phone’s app store.  I downloaded it for my iPhone and I like the feature that allows you to search for Letterboxes in your immediate area by using your phone’s GPS.  Letterboxes can be found not just in the woods and parks but in suburban and urban areas too. 

Hand Carved Border Collie Stamp
Shale and I are now new Letterboxers having logged our first find on Saturday at Chebacco Woods. Getting started with Letterboxing is very easy.  Clues to these hidden treasures are posted online and all you need to get started is your own stamp (many start with commercially produced store-bought stamps) a sketch book and an ink pad.  My first inclination was to carve my own stamp after reading instructions online but my artistic capabilities are not the strongest so I decided to compromise and buy a hand-carved stamp online.  Since I would be Letterboxing with Shale (many Letterboxes are dog-friendly and Atlas Quest’s key shows the attributes for the individual boxes) I decided I needed a Border Collie stamp.  My Google search for hand-carved Border Collie stamps led me right to Etsy and Nicole Strasburg’s wonderful online shop. Her Etsy shop hosts a variety of original oils, hand-pulled prints, hand carved stamps and reproductions of original work by the Santa Barbara-based landscape painter. Also check out her blog.  A couple of Nicole’s stamps looked so much like Shale I couldn’t believe it!   Nicole actually carved two of Shale for me from a few photos I provided. 


Our Second Signature Stamp

New stamps, an ink pad, the printed clues, Shale, a friend and her dog set out for Chebacco Woods for our inaugural Letterboxing adventure this past Saturday.  We decided Chebacco Woods would be a great place to start.  The friend I went with and I are both vey familiar with the property, it’s dog-friendly and has lots of water.  As a matter of fact the Box is called, “The Four Ponds”.   With the recent heat-wave encompassing the Northeast we wanted to be sure to select a location with plenty of opportunities for dog paddling as the temperature was expected to be in the high 90’s.  “The Four Ponds” is a series of 4 interconnected stamps each hidden separately that should take about 1.5-2 hours on foot (about 45 - 60 minutes by bike) and would cover a distance of 4-5 miles.  We easily found the first stamp a really nice hand-carved stamp which outlined all four ponds on the property.  The name of the first pond was included on this stamp and the other 3 stamps allow finders to label each of the other ponds with its name.  Stamp 2 posed a big challenge for us new Letterboxes.  We followed the clues, decided we were at the right location, search and searched (while the dogs splashed in the pond) with no luck.  We back-tracked tried another spot and still no luck.  After about 2.5 hours we decided to revisit the clues on another visit to Chebacco Woods. I’m not discouraged.  Our next visit there Shale and I will track down those other stamps!

We’re just starting out but so far I am really enjoying Letterboxing and I’m looking forward to seeking out more Letterboxes with Shale and friends.  Follow Shale's and my finds on Atlas Quest under our trail name: Shale’s Tales. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard

I was really excited to take Shale to Harvard University’s Canine Cognition Lab,  last week where we volunteered for a study on Canine-Human Empathy and ran through short Canine IQ Battery.

Harvard’s Canine Cognition Lab in Cambridge, MA runs non-invasive engaging and fun behavioral experiments to better understand how dogs handle problem solving, recognize patterns of sound, reflect on what is known and unknown, and work out what we, their humans believe, desire, and intend.  I especially liked that Shale and I would be working together in a fun environment that felt like a ‘game’ for her.  The particular tasks vary by study but typically involve problems where your dog will have the opportunity to make a choice among a set of options, and will receive a food treat for making a particular choice.

The first study we participated in was a section of the Canine IQ Battery tests that members of the lab ran for a previous study and needed a few more additional tasks to be quantified.  Shale loved playing “find the hidden treat game.” The debriefing material I received explained that the Canine IQ Battery examines the cognitive capacities that underlie canine intelligence.  The full study consisted of a series of tasks that tapped into different domains of canine cognitive skills, including inhibition, number discrimination, memory, and problem solving.  The purpose of the study was to determine whether success on certain tasks reliably predicts success on other (i.e. dogs with strong memories might also excel at problem solving).   The Battery also included contrasted tests that required the capacity to understand and use physical versus social cues to find hidden food, which will be of particular interest when comparing domestic dogs to other Canids such as wolves and dingoes. 

The second study was on Canine-Human Empathy.  In this study the Lab is investigating dogs’ understanding of human emotions.  As those with dogs know there is much anecdotal evidence that dogs are able to “tune in” to how people are feeling and respond to their emotional states.  This phenomenon and the mechanisms that make it possible are yet to be scientifically demonstrated.  In this study, I and a member of the lab alternated showing Shale visualization and vocalizations of human emotions to test and gauge her preference of emotions.  When there was no emotional variance Shale came to me 100% of the time but when given a choice to “go to” a person displaying the emotion of sadness for example three-quarters of the time Shale went to ‘comfort’ that individual.  Some dogs I was told as an example, 100% time would seek out person displaying happiness.  It was very interesting to see Shale’s reactions to the range of human emotions.   I understand the findings of this research may have implications for the use of dogs as therapy animals as well as improving medical diagnostic techniques. 

A past study of theirs on dog-human communicative actions was published in the journal, Behavioural Processes recently (Behavioural Processes 86(2011)7-20). www.elsevier.com/locate/behavproc. 

We had a fun visit and Shale received a Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard leash and a certificate showing she had completed her Freshman Year at Harvard.  We can’t wait to participate again and eventually “graduate” and go on to Shale’s Masters of Dogology! 

If you would like more information or to register your dog to participate visit the Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard's website.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Camp Unleashed

Since she was 8 weeks old I’ve been toying with the thought of starting a blog, Shale’s Tales about my Border Collie.  Now a few weeks shy of her second birthday I’m actually following through. 

For my inaugural blog entry I’ve decided to write about Camp Unleashed.  Check out Camp Unleashed at: http://www.campunleashed.com/.  Shale and I attended Camp Unleashed in June 2010 in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and I can’t wait to go back this September.   Camp Unleashed also holds camps in Ashville, NC and Sequoia, CA.

I’d been hearing about dog “camps” for a number of years – they’ve bee
n increasingly getting a lot of press and attention with their number and popularity rising exponentially. For example in greater New England I can easily think of half a dozen different camps for dogs and their people to get away “ruff” it and participate in all kinds of training and canine sports.

Last summer a friend with 4 dogs, yes that’s not a typo – 4 dogs - recommended Camp Unleashed for me and Shale and I decided to check-it-out.  Admittedly I was skeptical - what’s the big draw I thought?  Why is she raving about this place?  Could it be as much fun as she was claiming?   Did the camp experience really make the drastic impact on her pack that she was claiming?  The opportunity to take agility lessons, nose works and other canine activities – that seemed like things we were already doing.  As for being off-leash and hiking in nature – that’s our regular weekends all year round I thought.  But when plans to take Shale camping with some friends fell through, I signed us up for Camp Unleashed and off I went with Shale in tow hoping for nothing more than a few relaxing, activity filled days in the scenic Berkshires.   I’m very pleased to report Camp Unleashed was far better than I had anticipated and Shale and I left as happy campers – hooked on the concept and ready to go back.  A work commitment kept me from going to the June session in the Berkshires this year. 

Let me tell you about our Camp Unleashed experience last year and what I am hoping to get out of this year’s camp in September.  I imagine that Shale would say Camp Unleashed was a dog’s dream vacation where she could “Eat, Sniff, Play” to her heart’s content.  My three words would be “Eat, Friends, Play”.  I venture to say “sniff” translated from Doggish to English means find friends!  Camp Unleashed Berkshires is held at the YMCA’s Camp Beckett in Beckett, MA, a delightful property encompassing 1400 beautiful lakeside acres in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.   I choose for me and Shale to “ruff” it in one of the private cabins (no electricity) though they do have a dormitory style option with all the comforts.  The food was really great and the days were filled with all kinds of activities. One of the nice things about Camp Unleashed is you can choose to be as busy or as relaxed as you want to be.  All of the people I met from other campers, to Camp Unleashed Staff were really terrific.  Everyone was really friendly, nice and we all had the common denominator of loving our dogs.  I meet a ton of people (camp is limited to 50 dogs and their people) and it was a great mix of people and really well-behaved dogs.   A full day’s and evening’s schedule of activities is offered but you can choose to participate in as many or as few as you want. Since campers pick and choose their activities, the number of dogs at each activity is kept to a reasonable number and it is amazing how well it works.  The staff is very attentive, well-trained and experienced. The quality of instruction on the activities was very high. I was very impressed with how smooth the operations were and how comfortable I felt with that many dogs on the property.  It was also really cool to have that much space where there were no worries about cars or leash laws!   For many dogs this was the first time they had the opportunity to hike in the woods and to safely run leash free.  It really made me appreciate the wonderful opportunities Shale and I have for recreation in our area. 

As we always are, Shale and I were constantly on the move – at Camp Unleashed - starting our day with Yappy Hour each morning, a vigorous hike, followed by dock diving, disc, agility, canoeing, and much more.  Evenings included the traditional camp fire, movies and a number of speakers on important dog-related topics.  We even took the massage class and met with a pet psychic!   A camp friend took the opposite approach and spent a lot of time relaxing, reading and letting her dogs just be outside.  Others found a happy medium between Shale and mine’s constant “go go go” and our new friend’s laid back approach.   I really liked the flexibility Camp Unleashed offers to pick and choose as many (in our case) or as few (in that of my friend) activities. 

I made some wonderful connections and terrific new friends at Camp. Without doubt the most important part of Camp for me was my meeting my new friends.   Over a year later I regularly get together with a core group of friends from Camp that all live in the greater Boston area and we frequently hike and bike together with our dogs.      

Camp Unleashed was a wonderful experience for Shale and me.  We meet great new friends, got Shale’s CGC title, tried new activities, learned a lot, improved our communications and had a wonderful vacation together.  Shale went to her first camp as rough and tumble adolescent, she’ll go back this year with new found maturity and a higher level of training and more adept skills.  I think Shale will continue to get more and more out of going each year and I intend to make it our annual summer tradition.  I will return this year with a better appreciation of all that the Camp Unleashed experience offers.  

I went from a skeptical first-time camper to raving about Camp Unleashed like my friend did last summer.  This September I’ll be returning to camp and am so excited that I will be sharing the experience with many I already count as friends and I am equally excited to meet new ones as well. 

If you’re looking for a wonderful vacation for you and your canine pal check out Camp Unleashed http://www.campunleashed.com/.  Be sure to tell them Shale recommended you go!