Summer Time!

Talk to any Alaskan and it’s bound to come up: the amazing weather we’ve been experiencing.  We went from this on May 17th…37 degrees and SNOWING!

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And, I’m not complaining one bit!  Summer has gotten off to a busy but incredible start!

It’s kind of bittersweet though that I am writing about our splendid summer on Summer Solstice, which arrived at 9:04 PM (Alaska Daylight Time) today but here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to since my last blog on May 5th (gulp!):

Immediately after school let out, I headed down to Seattle for a week.  I met my parents there and like always, we had to keep them busy.  So we worked on a few house projects (installed a shower and re-did a front porch) at my in-laws’ house.  It wasn’t all work and no play though.  We took some time to explore the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit which was absolutely breathtaking!

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Steve then came down to Seattle for a day and a half to visit his family before we jetted off to Las Vegas.  He attended a conference, while I sat by the pool catching up on my leisurely reading.

IMG_0075All of this travel and transition was tough on Pongo but thankfully, he was in good hands as Miss Sue was staying with him.  He was one lucky boy as she sure knows how to comfort him and dish out the love!

IMG_0070 IMG_0080Since we’ve returned, we’ve been out enjoying the heat and sunshine.

Dock-Jumping At Big Lake

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I think someone is finally pooped after an hour and a half of playing in the water!

IMG_0103Happy Summer Solstice!

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Nose Work 2 Trial: A Learning Experience

With a deep breath and the mantra “Trust your dog” going through my mind, we step up to the Exterior search start line.  I bend down to Pongo telling him, “It’s time to do some Nose Work” and then asking him, “You ready to work?”  I knew even before we got to the start line, this dog was ready to work as he pulled me full throttle down to the search area from the staging area.  With the “Go find” command, we’re off.  He hits the first hide in probably less than 15 seconds.  ALERT!  I get the OK from the judge, reward him and we’re off again.  He checks out the area around the first hide and then moves to the other part of our L-shaped search area.  He’s on to something but can’t quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.  The wind was blowing through the area sending the odor down to the corner where our two search areas converge.  I knew there was no way they would have put the second hide so close to the first so I direct him back to where he was showing some interest.  Then I hear, “30 seconds.”  PANIC sets in.  I give one more, “Go find it, Pongo.”  He’s working so hard and I am just praying he find it in the few seconds we have left…

“Time!”

My heart drops.  I can’t believe we just timed out-something Pongo rarely does.  The judge shows me where the hide was so I can reward Pongo at source.  As soon as I saw where it was, I was kicking myself-it was the one place we passed by several times, without really getting down and dirty with the area.  It was a total handler error.  I was beyond disappointed.  I knew that we were out of contention for our Nose Work 2 title on the very first element.  As much as I tried to reframe it: well, the pressure is off rest of the day, I just couldn’t accept my mistake.  We’ve always let Pongo choose where to go when searching…

Lesson #1: Keep track of where we’ve been and where we haven’t.  Make sure we hit the whole area even if you have to give him some guidance.

I had some time to reset myself and get back into the game before we needed to head to the Interior search.  I needed to be on for Pongo despite my disappointment.  We get to the start line and he is ready and rearing to go.  I think the Interior searches are his favorite; mine, too.  “Pongo, go find” and he’s off.  He quickly moves to a table pushed up against something big and black (I’m not too sure what it was as I wasn’t paying attention to anything but Pongo).  He ducks under the table, nose working 50 miles a minute.  He goes back and forth along the table a couple of times and hits it-ALERT!  Yes!  Pongo gets his reward and is already off, with the “1 more. Go find it” command, before he probably even swallows his piece of cheese.  He starts checking the perimeter of the room working counter-clockwise.  He zips past the judge and videographer making his way back to the start line.  I see him starting to cross the start line, thinking maybe he’s caught the scent coming under the door from our second search room.  There’s no penalty going out of “bounds” but I didn’t want him focusing on that second room yet.  I remind him once more, “Go find it” and he swerves back into our search area.  He starts heading back toward the first hide but makes it only a couple feet before I get this beautiful head turn-he’s caught the odor.  He whips around, sniffs a trash can then starts to move along the baseboards. He stops about 6 inches from the start line and starts pawing and then sits-ALERT!  Yes! He’s found the second hide, stuffed into a small hole in the wall.  Good Boy, Pongo!

The judge asks me to hold Pongo as they open the door to the second search area.  The judge and videographer walk in to the tiny room and let me know I can move to the start line.  I get Pongo set-up, his nose already working and give him the command.  He runs into the room and immediately becomes interested in a table to our right.  He checks out on top of the table and moves down along the edge of the table.  That’s when I notice the tall garbage can under the table.  Oh, please don’t let him start dumpster diving!  Pongo is really working the garbage can and sticks his nose under the edge of the top lip and immediately sits.  This is where “trust your dog” comes into play…ALERT!  The judge acknowledges his correct find and he gets the biggest piece of cheese I had in my pocket. What a smart boy!  I was so proud of him!  He rocked the Interior search: 1:37.25!

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We even earned a “Pronounced” on this element, which means the judge thought we demonstrated exceptional technique and teamwork.

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The success was bittersweet but after hearing how many people were not able to find all three hides on the Interior search, I knew we had something to be very proud of.  Pongo and one other dog were the only ones to find all three hides in the Interior search!

After a lunch break, our next element was the Container search.  This was the one element I was expecting some difficulty.  We had only one hide to find but it’s a mixture of boxes and luggage AND food and/or toy distractions.  I wasn’t worried if they had toy distractions because Pongo has shown no interest in the toy distractions in our practice runs.  It was the food I was worried about.  In practice, he was about 50/50 when it came to ignoring food distractions: sometimes he would totally leave it alone and other times, he was all over it, especially when cheese was used.

I reviewed in my mind what Pongo’s alerts on food look like compared to his source (odor) alerts: he’s all over the food hide and it’s almost impossible to get him off of it.  We can do this!  I just need to be observant to what he’s interested in, note which containers we’ve searched, and make sure we hit all the corner containers.  We get settled at the start line and I give Pongo the command.  He starts by checking out a few of the first containers we pass and then moves toward a corner container.  He checks out the interior facing side of the piece of luggage but then quickly moves on.  He moves toward the middle of the search area and I think to myself, “How am I going to keep track of what we’ve checked with all this randomness?!?”  Breathe, Jen breathe.  Pongo then beelines for a luggage container on the edge of the search area.  He sniffs very interested, paws at it lightly, then gives me this beautiful sit and looks at me with eyes saying, “This is it, Mama.  I found it.” ALERT!  It seems like forever before I heard the judge say, “No.”  What?!?  Did you not see the absolutely textbook, beautifully gentle alert my dog just gave???  You can’t tell me he gave me that kind of alert for a food distraction!  I was dumbfounded.  The judge walked us over to that corner luggage container he checked out in the beginning, took us to the exterior side of that piece of luggage and had me reward Pongo at the source down in the bottom corner where the wheel meets the bag.  And once I found out what he actually alerted on, all I could do was laugh to myself; I guess he was really in the mood for buttered, wheat toast that day!

Lesson #2: Work both the interior and the exterior of your perimeter containers.  

After talking with a friend who was videographer for the container search, she said that I didn’t give Pongo enough longline and it would have helped if I had walked to the exterior of the search area.  For some reason, my mind went to “boundaries” when we hit the edge of the search area.  There are no boundaries-you can walk out of the search area; I knew that.  I also knew to pay attention to corner containers–I just didn’t pay attention to the outside facing side of that corner container.  It was interesting because ALL the big dogs missed the container with the true hide and almost all of them alerted on the food containers (the other food distraction was Doritos, which we had practiced with and he ignored).

We had one more element to go: the vehicles.  We really have not practiced much on vehicles so I had no expectations for this element.  There were two hides we had to find on a total of four vehicles.  I knew we needed to be meticulous about this search and make sure we search every side of every single vehicle.  The plan was to let Pongo choose which vehicle to start with and then I would be sure we hit all sides before moving on to the next vehicle.  When I gave Pongo the “go find” command, he headed straight for a snow bank that was pushed up against a dumpster.  I couldn’t quite figure out if he was distracted, mentally tired or catching the scent over there.  I let him move that direction before reminding him of what he needed to do: go find it.  He got back on track and moved to the vehicle closest to the start line.  He sniffed the hub cap we came upon first and sat.  Really?!?  I wasn’t even too sure I saw where his nose touched before he sat so I prayed the judge wouldn’t ask me, “Where?” when I called ALERT!  Pongo had hit source correctly!  I rewarded him and it was time to move on.

We walked around another car and once again, he moved out onto a snow bank.  I again couldn’t tell if he was distracted or using it as a way to clear his nose and reset but I went with it.  After giving him another “go find it” command he quickly moved to a blue Toyota 4Runner.  I knew he was on odor but just had to work it out.  Once he gets scent of the odor, I trust he will work it until he is right on source and that is exactly what he did.  He hit source within seconds of catching the odor and gave me a strong alert by trying to get at the source with his mouth (VERY BAD habit we’re trying to break!).  I immediately called ALERT! in hopes he would sit down and stop trying to get to the source.  He did exactly what I was hoping and the judge gave us a “yes.”  Pongo rocked the vehicle search with a time of 1:02.56!  AND, we were also awarded a “Pronounced” on this element!  I was one proud Mama and I think Pongo was one proud boy, too.

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We were DONE!  A sigh of relief and a big hug and kiss to Pongo for all of his hard work!  I knew we didn’t title but also knew that out of the fourteen dogs entered in the Nose Work 2 trial, no titles were going to be awarded that day.  I didn’t expect to place overall because of our one missed element (Exterior) and one false alert in the Containers element but I was hoping that he would place in the Interior and Vehicle individual elements.  Pongo did place in both of the elements: 1st Place Interior and 2nd Place Vehicles!

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At the end of the day, I knew Pongo had done his very best and loved every minute of it.  It was an incredible learning experience for all of us participating in the Nose Work 2 trial for our first time, and it will only get us better prepared for the next Nose Work 2 trial in September.  Click here to view the complete trial results.

I absolutely love this sport, and love the bond and sense of teamwork it instills between us.  Congratulations to Pongo for a job well done!

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Portage Valley

I am loving this thing called Spring Break!  It’s been so nice to have some free time to get out and enjoy the sunshine and beautiful state we live in.  Pongo and I drove down along the Turnagain Arm to spend some time snowshoeing in Portage Valley today.

Turnagain Arm

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Portage Valley

The aftermath of an avalanche that swept across Portage Glacier Road.

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Snowshoe hare prints

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I had one happy dog on my hands today!

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DSC02909Someone didn’t want to cooperate in having his picture taken…

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And at the end of the day, I had one pooped boy ready for a nap.

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The Screaming Monkey

Pongo received his all-time favorite Christmas gift this week.  Something that I think may eventually drive us batty but as long as it keeps him entertained, we’re good.

Besides the screaming monkey, Grandma Bev sent this amazing Christmas ornament…how did she know I was looking for Red Cattle Dog ornament but just didn’t find one I liked?  This is perfect!

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THANK YOU, GRANDMA BEV!!!

And All The Stockings Were Hung

Well, sort of…

I was excited to hang Pongo’s new stocking this year that my Mom and I worked so diligently on over Thanksgiving.  It was a melding of three creative minds (Steve gave his input throughout the process) and one expert seamstress (that would be my mom, not me) that brought into fruition Pongo’s new stocking.  I am very proud of how it turned out and love looking at it hanging on the stocking shelf.

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But, I really didn’t think about what it would be like decorating for Christmas this year until I actually started doing it.  As I pulled out the stockings to hang, I realized I am going to be hanging two less stockings this year.  I could feel the tears starting to weld up and a lump forming in my throat: Reid and Kona were not going to be here to celebrate Christmas with us this year.  In the span of a year, we went from six of us to just four of us.

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I am trying not to dwell on our losses this past year, as I know Christmas brought Reid so much joy and I need to hold onto those good memories as we celebrate this year.  And while the stocking shelf is less two stockings, I know someone is awfully excited about Santa coming and what surprises he may bring!

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Pongo’s Big Day

It’s been some time since I last blogged.  My shortfall in blogging can’t be correlated with a lack of excitement around Pongo because there is still plenty of that!  But, it has to do with my lack of time lately.  Sadly when life gets crazy, blogging is put on the back-burner.  I just couldn’t let today’s success of a day go by without sharing.  Today’s agenda included one of Pongo’s favorite things to do: Nose Work class and then a trip out to the Valley to visit Miss Sue and her crew.

We are in the process of getting ready for the NW2 (Nose Work 2) trial in May.  In NW2, the scent of anise is introduced.  There can be up to 2 hides of either birch or anise or one of each scent.  The dogs also have to work around distractions such as toys and concealed doggie snacks.  After the first couple of practices with toy and food distractions, Pongo has been a rock star about ignoring them and sticking to his job.  He loves his Nose Work job and we love watching the wheels turn as he tracks down those scents!

Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis

But, the biggest event of the day was going to visit Miss Sue and her crew of 5, yes you did read that right, 5 dogs.  Miss Sue and her husband, Ken are going to care for Pongo while we are cruising the Panama Canal later this winter.  Both Steve and I have some anxiety around doggie meet and greets when it comes to Pongo.  It can be hit or miss with him and we really wanted this to work.  We put our trust and faith into Miss Sue and Ken when it came to “the plan.”

When we arrived, there were five furry faces peeking at us from behind a gate.  My first thought was, “Holy crap!  That’s a lot of dogs!  How is this going to work?”  I quickly let that doubt go because I didn’t want Pongo picking up on my anxiety.  Steve and I went in the house, sans Pongo, to meet Ken and hear how they wanted the meet and greet to proceed.  The plan was to bring Pongo in and let him explore the house while the other dogs waited outside.  One by one, the dogs would then come in to meet Pongo.

Steve brought Pongo in, past the 5 dogs peeking at him through the gate with absolutely NO reaction, and unleashed him to explore.  And, explore he did!  His nose was working overtime as he took in the all the new smells.  He was very appropriate in meeting one of their two cats but was a little too interested in the parrot squawking at him from underneath a blanket covered cage.

Then it was time to meet the dogs.  The first meet and greet between Pongo and one of Miss Sue’s dogs went well.  He looked a little stressed but held it together.  Another dog was let into the house and that greeting went well too.  Steve and I did notice that Pongo’s stress level was rising some as he moved between greeting the dogs and checking in with us.  Steve and I decided it was best to take ourselves out of the equation so the final three doggie greetings would go smoothly.  We stepped outside and pressed our ears to the door, in hopes of catching tidbits of how things were going inside.  After a good 10 minutes of meeting everyone inside and then some playtime outside, we came to realize that all of our anxiety was unfounded; Pongo was going to be OK.

We learned that we have to trust the process and just do some legwork when it comes to Pongo meeting other dogs.  As much as I would love to be able to have him jump out of the car and walk into a house five dogs full, it just is not going to happen.  What works for some dogs, does not work for Pongo and dwelling on the “what ifs…” is not going to move us forward.  He is a unique little guy who filled our hearts with joy and made us so proud today!

And, all the excitement of today has left our sweet boy beyond exhausted!

Race To The Finish

I’ve really procrastinated on cleaning up the garden this year; I guess I was hoping that the longer I waited, the longer summer/fall would hang on.  I knew this weekend was it and I needed to get it done…but after a much needed afternoon nap.

When I woke up, ready to hit the yard work, I looked out the window and realized the clock was ticking.

I don’t think Steve nor I have ever moved as fast as we did to get the yard cleaned up and “winterized.”

A not-so-happy Steve having to rake wet, heavy leaves.

Pongo wasn’t much help.  His main objective for this afternoon was to play as much frisbee as possible.  He was intent on making sure that we knew that too as for each rake we made, we would find a frisbee in our way and a dog staring at us waiting…

Our last glimpse of summer past.

One Last Hurrah

It’s that time again…when the dread starts mounting and the countdown begins.  I’m way past the countdown part though–I’m grasping at my final hours of summertime freedom. Yes sadly (at least for me), I head back to work tomorrow.  As usual, summer break has flown by; it feels like I just got out of school and now it’s time to go back.  Not a good feeling.

I wanted to make the most of today and the nice weather we had this morning, so Pongo and I walked the mile, from the Kincaid Chalet, down the Coastal Trail to spend some time at Kincaid Beach.  We were so fortunate in that we had the whole beach to ourselves!

Pongo enjoyed wrangling his log in and out of the water…

While Mama tried to capture a very distant Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker.

The frisbee came out and Pongo quickly discovered: sand + mud = one very nasty and dirty frisbee.

But he used his problem-solving skills and made sure that frisbee was clean each time he brought it back.

Washing off the frisbee though didn’t necessarily mean that Pongo also came out clean.

But we tried to rinse him off every now and then, too.

Pongo and I had a wonderful day at the beach-enjoying our last day of summer break!

Late Bloomers

Our garden has been a true testament to the mostly dismal summer we’ve been having. Plants that are typically mid-June bloomers have just started to show their true colors this past week.

I’m just thankful they finally decided to bloom so we can enjoy their beauty for the remainder of our short summer.

Come Rain or Come Shine

Last Wednesday, we packed up our Airstream and a 28 foot RV rental and headed down to the Kenai with my parents and Uncle in hopes of finding some sun and some fish.  I had this trip planned out months ago: we would spend two nights at the Russian River, two nights in Kasilof and one night at Williwaw campground.

I have always avoided the Russian River Campground because of the crazy stories you hear about the bears.  They haze people fishing in hopes of a free meal and are often seen roaming the campground.  That’s a little too close for comfort for me but we decided to take the plunge, along with lots of bear spray, and give the campground a try. The last time I was there, 16 years ago, it was gravel roads and pretty primitive camping. We were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the campground was and all the improvements they have made: asphalt campsites, nice restroom facilities, bear-proof food containers at every site, and a beautiful boardwalk down by the river that had numerous access points along the river.  We were also blessed with 2 days of sun and hot, yes I said hot, weather.

Unfortunately, the fishing wasn’t so great on the Russian River by our campground so we dropped Dad and Uncle Art off at the Russian River Ferry to try their luck there.

While they were fishing at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers, Mom, Steve, Pongo and I went to explore Skilak Lake Road.  It was so hot (trust me, I’m not complaining!) that we decided to stop and let Pongo cool off in a lake by the road.

We still had a couple hours to kill before we needed to pick up the fishermen, so we hiked up Bear Mountain, a 1.6 mile hike roundtrip.  It was a beautiful hike with spectacular views!

Here’s Pongo completely pooped after his swimming and hiking adventures; he isn’t too pleased Mama is taking his picture.

Dad and Uncle Art had absolutely no luck snagging salmon at the Russian River Ferry; they didn’t give up though and tried again the next morning, before we headed down to Kasilof. After 3 hours of fishing the Kenai River off of Skilak Lake Road, they came back with 3 beautiful Red Salmon (unfortunately, I don’t have a picture).

We traveled the hour down to Kasilof, after Dad and Uncle Art’s successful fishing excursion, where we spent two nights at Kasilof RV Park.  It was our home base for Halibut fishing and touring around Homer.  The rain decided to return, after two and a half days of gorgeousness, and it never stopped.  Dad and Uncle Art went on a full-day Halibut charter and shipped back to Nebraska 40 pounds of Halibut they caught.

And while they were out fishing, Mom, Steve, Pongo and I traipsed around Homer.

We ate brunch at one of Steve’s favorite eateries in Homer, the Duncan House Diner. They really know how to do breakfast!

Our last stop of the five day trip was at Williwaw Campground, just outside of Portage.  We walked the trails during the brief break in the rain and played a lot of dominoes when it was really coming down.

Overall, come rain or come shine, we had a fabulous family trip!