Bugg the Brave

A timid boy

In late February of this year, Bugg joined our family of misfit toys after his previous owner needed to rehome him. Bugg is a Treeing Walker Coonhound/Australian Cattle Dog mix and one of ten pups whose mother died of bloat soon after birthing them. If this story sounds familiar, Bugg is indeed, a littermate of my boy Norbert, who I’ve had since he was five weeks old.  When I heard his brother needed a home, and knowing I wanted another pup, it seemed obvious that I should see if we could make this work.

The moment Bugg trotted up on my front porch, it was love at first site. His warm eyes and sweet disposition were the first thing I noticed. I knew within hours that we would likely offer a home to him. Though red and white to Norbert’s tri-color, the two have many similarities – their butt spots, the way they hold their ears, their affinity for casing the cats… They also differ greatly. Where Norbert is headstrong, dominant, and protective, Bugg is passive to the point of frequent bouts of submissive urination.

This has been a challenge. Bugg is a big boy and Bugg has a big bladder.

Pre-race prep
“I’m doing what?!”

Just prior to our new addition, I learned about the US Canine Biathlon from a Canicross Facebook page that I had joined.  Norbert had been my constant adventure buddy from the start – trailrunning, paddleboarding, skijoring, etc… He was quite the athlete and I thought participating in what is essentially a Tough Mudder with your dog, seemed like a great way to spend the day with him.

Once Bugg joined the family, he became part of our weekend hikes and runs. He quickly took to the fun but wasn’t quite as athletic/agile as his brother and was often timid when faced with a challenge (Bugg vs Log). In time, he started to try new things such as jumping in the lake and swimming out to retrieve a stick, but his insecurities were still a mountain. I called my trainer in to help and started a routine with me to help build his confidence.

Additionally, I took Bugg on a couple of road trips and camping trips with Norbert and me.  After his first road trip where he stood in the back seat for 4.5 out of the 5 hours each way, excited about every truck that went by, he had liquid diarrhea for two days following.  A camping trip later, his anxiety about riding in the car started to subside (though he still gets really jazzed about trucks!). Our next trip to Alliston, Alabama was a long one so I was prepped with some Pro-Pectalin on hand, just in case….  I planned on bringing him down with Norbert and me for the race so he could be exposed to the event, crowds of people and other dogs.

That was the plan.

Roadtrip to Alabama
“Look, a truck!!!”

 

What about Norbert?

Then, last week, my Norbert didn’t live up to his perfect social media persona and snapped at a hiker on a trail where some friends and I had been camping. Long story short, the guy was very understanding about things, but I was a mess. I had failed my dog. I knew he reacted to strangers sometimes and I made several mistakes (not being aware of my surroundings, not having full control, verbal or otherwise, of him, and not keeping the space I know he needs when out and about).  I had also made the mistake many owners make of not taking it seriously enough sooner (“MY kid isn’t a bad kid!”). When a dog is labeled “reactionary” people tend to think of the big dog that really bites down and could kill someone. Norbert isn’t that dog; but, he is the dog that will rip clothing and might just get some skin while doing so – he will also sound like Cujo as he’s doing it and is a fairly big dog which is intimidating to many. It can’t be a pleasant experience for the casual hiker just going out for a peaceful walk in the woods…

I was a wreck over it. Me, the dog person who knows how to work with my dogs, completely failed. I immediately recognized the errors I made, but also lost my own confidence that I could be certain not to let it happen again. It shook my world.

A call to my trusted trainer, Jeff Hacker, to postpone Bugg’s training to discuss, and work with Norbert, became priority. After just one session I felt 100 times better and had a plan in place that is already showing promise.

However, I was just days from heading south to Alabama and though I knew they allowed for dogs of all sorts to participate in the event, I was new to it and wasn’t going to put Norbert nor myself in a situation to err again.  After talking to my trainer, I decided to run Bugg instead, but still bring Norbert with me so he could be exposed to the event and see what was happening, but under my watchful eye.

With the decision made, we headed south with the The Doghouse in tow.  Norbert, who has many road trips in the books, settled in and napped most of the hours on the road while Bugg stood for all but about 15 minutes, excited about every truck that passed on the highway. “Look, a truck!  Look, another truck!!!”

I was glad I had Norbert with me. It was hard enough to make the decision to not run him, but to leave him at home would have broken my heart. When a stranger approached my camper at my stop Thursday night, where Bugg would have likely hid in a corner and wet himself had we been alone, Norbert was fully in tune and on the ready to protect me. Norbert may have a bad attitude at times, but is ever loyal and protective.

Sweet setup
Our home for the weekend!

 

Bugg’s Big Day!

The event was at Vapor Wake K9, a training facility for dogs who are trained in explosive detection. This was the fifth year for the Canine Biathlon, which I was told, has doubled in size every year through word of mouth alone. Many of the participants were from military and police backgrounds and had dogs trained in specialized programs – there were a number of Malinois, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinchers, many of which were dog or people aggressive, but in full control by their handlers. In fact, during the whole weekend where there were over 800 dogs out and about, the only issues I saw were with pet owners (not the working dogs) whose dogs got loose or whose leashes were dropped during the race.

The forecast called for thunderstorms all weekend.  As it turned out the only time it rained was when I first arrived. We had about a 15 minute downpour just as I was setting up camp. Since I didn’t expect it to stop, I was completely drenched by the time I had everything set up.  Then the sun came out for the rest of the weekend.

The event and course was designed with dogs and their safety in mind, first and foremost. Humans be damned! As Paul Hammond, the Mad Brit, who designed the course stated in his opening remarks, “We always send the runners off first without dogs so they can clear the snakes for our beautiful furry friends!”

The course was a tough 4.1 miles and winds through the woods where there is plenty of shade and water.  It includes about 50 different obstacles that included sand hills, steps and platforms, pools of water (humans have to go under while dogs are able to swim above), A-frames to climb up and over, rocky creek beds with flowing water (Spider Mile), drainage pipes to crawl through, mud crawls, cars to go up and over (how many cars can be left in the middle of the woods???!!!), giant wooden spools to climb up and over, Snake Mountain which is an up and down hard dirt tortuous route with ropes for the humans to climb up and down (I left part of my left buttocks on one of the hills), a wall of tires to climb up and down through, Heartbreak Hill, the dunking pool, and a dog carry across a log (that was the one and only obstacle we couldn’t complete).

I had no idea how this was going to go but I knew we weren’t going to be racing. I knew Bugg would be glued to me out of sheer fear and would likely need some coaxing to complete some of the obstacles. If he refused or was too anxious, I would take the penalty and get through the day with him. He needed some time solo with me and I figured it could only help boost his confidence.

The course had two to three lanes with wide paths.  The starts were staggered, so that dog/human could go together without conflict. This helped prevent congestion and with rules that clearly stated to give faster participants the through way, there was plenty of space.

When it was time for us to go, Bugg wasn’t quite sure what to do.  The course starts by going up and over several small sand dunes. Bugg’s first reaction was to head off the course to the road but I prompted him to stay by my side.  Next came steps and a platform that included a wobbly bridge to cross. Bugg was a bit shaky and I could see he was considering jumping off the side which would have taken me with him since he was attached around my waist.  After several seconds passed, we made it across. Two short obstacles and already others were passing by us. I thought to myself, this was going to be a long day of going slow and providing lots of positive reinforcement. We’d take as much time as Bugg needed. A pool of water came next that had wires across the top just inches above the waterline.  Dogs could swim across and stay above water but humans had to go under to make it across. Once I entered the pool and was able to lift Bugg in, he completed it fabulously.

Then came a short run through a couple of windows to climb up through, a stream to run through the middle of, and our first drainage pipe to go through. This one was short and Bugg got in next to me and went through fairly well. Ah, he’s getting it!

We continue on down a path hurdling over a number of logs and then winding us back into the stream and to our next longer drainage pipe.  I had watched others do this in the morning and saw that all had let their dogs lead through. I did the same…

Bugg starts through and I follow on my belly, head first and crawling.  About a third of the way in, Bugg starts to panic and tries to turn around. With no room to pass me, he climbs on top of my head and folds his body in half over me.  I talk him down calmly until he melts into my arms and I end up slowly pushing him out backwards all the way through and into the water.  Once out, I layer on the praise and he starts to get excited. We head further down over rocks through the stream and get to the next, longer drainage pipe. I decide to go in first this time and cheer him on from the front. He follows me through and I give him major props when we exit.  I can’t remember how soon after that we went through our next pipe, but after that point, he was all about leading the way (and happily dragged me through a couple of them)!

Mud crawl (photo cred: T&C Pet Photography)
Later in the race, after Bugg had found his confidence!

The A-frames were another big challenge at first, but he quickly figured them out and was great about waiting on the top for me to find my footing and manage to make my way over with little bruising. As we entered the woods, he seemed to get more and more comfortable. Many rock beds, mud crawls, car climbs, and rugged trails later, we came up to three rows of three giant wooden spools. I guide Bugg up the first and hold him steady telling him to wait (he’s NOT all that well trained yet and I had images of him jumping over and taking me with him like a paddleball ball on a rubberband).  He stays focused, eyes on me, as I jump up and make my way over.  The second spool goes just as well with Bugg waiting on top, though a bit shaky, as I make my way up and over again.  The third spool is higher than the first two. I help get Bugg to the top with his harness handle and tell him to sit, which he does.  I jump up but can’t pull myself up.  I drop down and let the leash out as far as I can to give me a little room for a jump start. I start to pull myself up again, but my arms shake and give. I drop back down. I look up at Bugg and he has moved over to one side of the spool and looks me in the eyes. I swear I could hear his thoughts repeating to me what I had said to him in that drainage pipe curled into my arms, “C’mon mom, you got this!”

I step back and take a run hop and struggle with all my might to pull myself up just enough to steady myself and push with my feet on the spool sides until I could rest my chest on top.  I hold steady for a second and look up to see Bugg’s eyes looking down at me, “I knew you could do it, mom!”  I climb the rest of the way up and we get over to the other side and start heading down the trail for the tires, Snake Mountain, Heartbreak Hill, the dunking pool, etc…. From that point on, Bugg had a swagger about him. With his tail lifted, he carried his head up and was lighter on his feet.

When we crossed the finish line, I was handed a finisher’s medal which I immediately hung around Bugg’s neck. He seemed to know he did something special.  I sat down and hugged him and told him how proud I was of him and then the rain started… in my eyes.

Bugg the Brave!
A well-earned medal!

 

Epilogue

Bugg is still a work in progress when it comes to self-assurance, but the dog I brought to Anniston, Alabama is a completely different dog than the one I brought home to Bloomington, Indiana.  Both he and I have a new bond and level of trust with each other and both walked away with a bit more confidence.

K9 Grit
Deborah Glovier from K9 Grit and her beautiful Malinois, Ju-San

As for Norbert… I learned quickly in Anniston, that Norbert’s issues are mild compared to what many people there were dealing with in their dogs. The difference was that the people who were handling those dogs (mostly professionals), were fully aware of their might and had full control of them (in fact, the only issues I saw the whole weekend were with pet owners). I spoke to many others who had dogs that were reactive to either people or other dogs (and for a short moment had an image of taking Norbert through the Scared Straight Program). They provided a space where I could talk through some of my own fears without any judgement on their end. I walked away feeling certain I’d own, the hardest part, and be able to address these issues with Norbert (and myself).

After running the course with Bugg, seeing the layout, and the extra care they take to allow for dogs of all types to participate with their people safely, I’m sure I can do this with Norbert next year (and if I can stay in good physical shape myself, I might just run it twice so each dog gets a chance at it!)

These two boys from the same womb, have such different doganalities and needs. When I look at them together and separately, I know we are all meant for each other. I can’t wait for our next adventure!

Tired pup
Nothing like a fridge-fan pillow in the Alabama heat!
Advertisements

2016 Travels with Norbert

With the temperatures warming, the urge to hook up The Doghouse to the Outback and head down the road with my favorite traveling partner in toe, grows.  While prepping for some new adventures, here’s a pictorial year in review of my travels with Norbert!

 

April – HDI (Help Desk Institute) Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida with a stop in Central, South Carolina:

Norbert and I trekked down to Orlando for one of my work conferences where he landed us a free upgrade to a business suite that included a full bar and lounge.  Along the way we made a stop in South Carolina where we stayed with a friend’s friend and were treated to some great food, conversation, drink, and a beautiful day hike.

IMG_7834
The Norbert Upgrade – a business suite I was able to share with some of my HDI colleagues

 

May – Bonnieville, KY for Speleofest weekend

This rookie RV’er learned some good lessons during this first trek out with The Doghouse which included knowing ahead of time where you are heading in a campground and not taking 1600 lb trailer up a muddy hill even if you have all-wheel drive, accepting help from strangers when needed, and understanding that a place in Kentucky called Lonestar has nothing to do with Texas and everything to do with its abundance of ticks. The best part of the trip was hanging out in The Doghouse during a rainy night, drinking cold brews and exchanging laughs with friends.

 

June – SUP with your Pup class and Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

All of my travels have had their significance, but this trip east was a decision I made unlike any other. It was the result of a culmination of events in my life and in the world around me that tipped the scales (we’ll save that for another blog post though).

Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, but call it what you will. I came to the realization that I had spent too many years trying to live up to others’ expectations or waiting for abc to happen, or for xyz to come along… When another trip with friends changed too many times, I decided it was time to walk away and do something for me. I had read a book the year before to teach Norbert how to standup paddle board with me and had found a class back east that the author taught. I hopped online, found an upcoming class, and before I knew it, I had signed up for a class in Virgina.

I searched for places to stay with Norbert and nothing was appealing or particularly cheap (I paid an extra $50/night in Orlando during my conference to have Norbert in the hotel with me). Long story short, I bought a Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket Trek, now dubbed The Doghouse, so my boy and I could travel with ease.  My second trip with it would be a cross country trip to this class as well as a campground in Shenandoah National Park where I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in about 20yrs (NOTE: This IS the year the Cubs won the World Series)

 

July-August – Copper Harbor, MI

We traveled north to Copper Harbor with some friends where the boy and I paddled everyday in walking distance from our campground while my pals took a mountain bike class. The waters of Lake Superior (north of the Lake Fanny Hooe, where we paddled) was crystal clear (and cold!)  It definitely made me think more about what we do to our environment and the abundance of potable water that Americans take for granted.

 

September – Colorado

Longest road trip to date. I went to Colorado for several reasons. I had been thinking of joining a Cricket Rally in Eagle in mid-September. Then, I received a wedding invitation from a friend who I wasn’t particularly close to but felt a strong kindred spirit connection. Maybe it was the mountains, but something drew me, and I knew I needed to go and be present. It was a long drive, but I was able to keep Norbert entertained with my singing.

Norbert and I made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Steamboat Lake State Park, Carbondale (where I took a day trip to the Maroon Bells and another to Delta where I saw another dear friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years), and then to Sylvan Lake State Park. After my two-week trip, I can say with certainty that I’m in love with Colorado.

Trips in the Great Sand Dunes, Carbondale, and Sylvan Lake State Park (Norbert w/ Taxa Outdoors’ Cricket founder and architect, Garrett Finney)

Trip to beautiful Maroon Bells and to Delta to see and old friend and one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.

 

My first planned trip in 2017 had to be cancelled due to some unexpected events, but I worry not.  As I get more comfortable going off the beaten path and off grid with Norbert, I know new adventures await.

Perhaps it’s time to pull out a map and toss some darts…

 

Project Sleeping Platform

A few weeks ago, I read an article in Outside magazine about a company out west that turns vans into campers and rents them at the cost of a basic car rental. This prompted a few Google searches on the topic and landed me on a number of Do-It-Yourself sleeping platform sites.

My inspiration for this project
My inspiration for this project

My 2011 Subaru Outback fit the bill and I thought this would be a great way to get in some outdoor adventures without having to always worry about finding that perfect campsite or popping up a tent in the darkness of the night. Plus, I thought it would make for a quieter and more restful night with my 5-month old Blue Heeler mix and adventure buddy, Norbert.

Having spent countless hours reading other people’s attempts and successes with sleeping platforms, brainstorming with the assistance of my friends Sara, Eleanor, and Tymme, and thinking through elaborate possibilities (e.g. under platform drawers, cut to fit platforms to utilize all the space which would have included some folding pieces, etc), I decided to follow the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid). Additionally, the more I read, the more I learned that most people were frustrated by the lack of headroom when building up platforms which allow for space underneath for storage of camping supplies, clothing, etc…

When it came down to it, I decided on the following,

  1. Use as few pieces as possible for a more stable and even sleeping surface and less weight in the vehicle
  2. Keep the platform as low as possible to maximize headroom (I don’t tend to pack a lot for camping so I can use the vehicle floor and the space on each side of the wheel wells. If I need more space, I can use my Yakima Rocket roof carrier or get a cargo carrier for the hitch)

I decided on creating the platform with two pieces – one that fit in the back of the Outback with the back seats up, the other that would slide out over the back seats when they are down. The back section of the Subaru is flat so that piece would sit on the frame. The head section would sit on the edge of the frame and I would put a support under it to make it level (with the seats down, the head section is not completely flat).

Parts:

  • One 3/4″ piece of 4×8′ untreated plywood (birch)
  • One 2x4x12 (I already had some scrap pieces so used those to make three 36″ pieces)
  • 2-1/2″ wood screws
  • Scrap carpet (found a large roll that had some cuts in it at Lowe’s for $9 that would have otherwise cost $80)
  • Can of carpet adhesive (found at automotive parts shop)
  • 9/16″ staples (for the staple gun)
  • Two simple hooks and eyelets
  • Four-pack of surface anchors
Making sure the pieces fit with room to add carpeting around each piece.
Making sure the pieces fit with room to add carpeting around each piece.
Rounded out the edges with a jigsaw
Rounded out the edges with a jigsaw

I cut the 2x4s into three 36″ pieces and the plywood into two pieces – one 35″x42″ (foot piece) and the other 37″ x 42″ (head piece). I also used a jigsaw to round the corners at the foot and head (I did this for the foot end to make the most of my space and to match the curves of the hatchback. I also decided to do the same with the head piece to remove the sharp corners).

Next, I attached the foot piece to the 2x4s with the wood screws.  I left about 1-1/2″ of the 2×4″ sticking out to later hold the head piece in place.

Tapped in four wood screws for each 2x4
Tapped in four wood screws for each 2×4
Marked the screw locations, leaving about 1-1/2
Marked the screw locations, leaving about 1-1/2″ exposed toward the head piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut the carpet into pieces that would more than adequately fit the top of the foot piece and enough to completely cover the head piece (not necessary, but I had enough carpet and having that piece completely covered seemed like a better idea since it will get moved around the most). Using the adhesive spray (followed the directions on the can) and stretching the carpet as much as possible (I used some of the scrap plywood and some clamps to assist), and using a roller pin to get out the air bubbles, I then stapled the carpet along the back sides of each piece and trimmed as needed. I then laid them both face down and let them dry overnight.

Cut a larger piece than needed
Cut a larger piece than needed
Completed foot piece
Completed foot piece
Underside of both pieces
Underside of both pieces

Next, I cut out small areas of the carpet on the bottom of the head piece to align with the jutting portions of the 2x4s on the back piece so that the two pieces would lie flat.

Notched out underside of the head piece to align with foot piece
Notched out underside of the head piece to align with foot piece
2x4s jutting out for base of the head piece
2x4s jutting out for base of the head piece

 

 

 

 

 

I attached a hook on each side of the head piece and the eyelet on each side of the foot piece so that when the two pieces were put together they would stay in place.

Added a hook on the head piece
Added a hook on the head piece
Added an eyelet on the foot piece and hooked on each side of platform
Added an eyelet on the foot piece and hooked on each side of platform

 

 

 

 

 

I was going to use another piece of 2×4 (any scrap piece of wood should do) to place under the head piece to keep it level (or cut two legs to hold it up from the floor), but as it turns out, the extra carpeting made it perfectly level. I’ll probably still throw something extra in the car in case the seats sag a bit but anything could be used to lift that piece up a bit, if needed.

Both pieces stored in the back with back seats up (just fits!)
Both pieces stored in the back with back seats up (just fits!)
Platform installed in Outback
Platform installed in Outback

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still need to attach the surface anchors to the 2x4s and hook to the four tie downs in the back (just in case I have an accident, I don’t want the platform to become a projectile).

Will install surface anchors to 2x4s and attach to
Will install surface anchors to 2x4s and hook to tie downs

I hope to test it out this weekend or next!

References and thanks: