Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A new year is born

My dear friends;

We are now a week past the winter solstice, and a week farther into the birth of the new year. The days are, once again, growing longer, and the darkness is slowly, slowly, fading.

I ride tonight, with the dogs, so it is not really a ride for me - altho I do get a bit of exercise. The dogs, on the other hand, get a pretty good workout. Klinger is younger, Sara the elder, but Sara loves to run; which helps to equalize the effort. But, Sara is also far shorter than Klinger. Klinger has the body of the German Short-haired pointer that was almost certainly one parent. This means he has a deep chest (space for the lungs), combined with long legs, and a relatively light build. All of which, added to the youthful vigor, mean lots of energy for running.

He definitely has the hunting genes. If I had started training him for it when he was 6-10 months old, he would have gotten the pointing thing going. He did that alert freeze status quite naturally, but we encouraged him to chase the squirrels at the bird feeder, and eventually his instinct to take a point broke. Ever since, I've had to worry about training him NOT to chase wildlife when we are out walking or running.

His training is proceeding quite well, and he exhibits a great deal of control when he knows I'm paying attention. All of which is good, you know. Can't have him jetting about, scaring people, or being rude by going on land where he isn't wanted. Or running in front of cars. Etc.

He's not a huge dog - he's probably 65 pounds now, but he has a large enough look that he makes people cautious when he gets excited. Let's take a look at him for a second - German short-haired pointers and Labs are about the same height. Klinger has a blond Lab's coloration, and we've speculated that the "other" parent was a Lab. Of the two breeds, though, Labs are broader in the chest, and generally heavier in build. Klinger has the lighter build, with the Lab color.

Sara is also true to her roots. I believe that her parents were a Bassett hound, and a blue-tick hound. She has some blue-tick coloration, with a modified Bassett conformation. Meaning she looks like an oversized beagle. Given that neither breed - Bassetts or blue-ticks - are known for being trainable (rather they are known for NOT being trainable), she fits that expectation to a T. She is no more trainable than a stump. She is NOT dumb - she is actually quite smart, and I would guess she is smarter than Klinger. But, she will not train, unless you offer food as a reward, and if she thinks something else is important or interesting, fuggedaboudit. She likes food, sniffing, running, and food, in that order. She is a sweet dog, but does have a tendency to go Alpha at times.

So, when I take them out running, Sara has to go on lead. She will drag me, and the bike, just as fast as I can go to keep up (on this city bike), but only for the first half mile. Then she still will run, but only keeps up, for the next half mile. After that, she would rather walk and sniff, and riding with her is a PIA. Klinger could run flat-out for at least 3 miles, and if we worked it, surely farther. But, we don't get that chance. After the first mile I am stopping, walking, encouraging Sara to run, and sometimes succeeding.

I'm on my city-bike, a mountain bike with comfort refinements, but also much heavier, and with different gearing than a road bike. This means that I do actually get some exercise, just from powering this heavier machine up to speed quickly, to keep up with the dogs, or to get over a little rise in the road.

So the three of us are out there, running along. What a sight we must be! We left the house about ten or fifteen minutes before sundown. We make our way along, me watching for icy spots, the dogs watching for critters or smells to get excited about.

It is a fine evening. We are riding an out-and-back, all on the same road, out and then back on the same route. With the snow and ice, it is difficult to vary this. About a third of the way out, we are facing into the sun as it sinks below the tree line. I'm glad when it finally goes below the trees, since it is quite blinding, being directly in my eyes, but this also means it will be getting colder.

Colder - well, that is relative, isn't it? But today is the perhaps the first truly cold day of this winter. We are down to about 15' Fahrenheit (-9 or 10 C); which is about where I start saying it is really and truly cold. Alone, that temp is not that bad, but we also have 20-30 mph (32-45 Kph) winds. This puts the wind chill at somewhere below 0' F (-17 C). So, I'm actually somewhat worried about frostbite. We're in the range it could happen - ears, nose, cheeks. Fingers and toes could be a consideration - if we aren't properly covered.

Of course, the dogs don't seem to be bothered in the least. But, they do have nice fur coats, and they are getting good exercise. I yell at Sara to keep running, when she wants to stop and sniff, and sniff, and sniff. I'm getting badly chilled, because I am dressed for staying warm with exercise, and I'm not getting the exercise! My fingers are getting cold, stiff, and numb.

The moon has risen already. It is not full, but it is close. It will be clear tonight, and the moonlight is bright.

After we are home, and the dogs have had dinner, they are eager to go outside, into the fenced backyard. They immediately start barking. I grab my flashlight, and shining it across the street, I see why they are excited, as a fox is trotting across the field there. He is quickly gone, and the dogs are just as quickly quiet, although they look hopefully for another sighting of what they must consider to be "exciting"!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My last Linux post, bicycling with the dogs

I believe this will be the last Linux post - or at least the last Linux post classified under discovery. I have gotten to the point where I feel somewhat familiar with it. I've settled on a "distro" that feels comfortable - openSuSE. My server is still running Ubuntu, and I like that choice well enough, as well. I could go on at length - and I have, as you've seen in the past! Linux has been fun, and it continues to be my primary desktop. It is far more secure than Windows, and Microsoft keeps getting more onerous with the anti-piracy bit, and richer, by the day. You wouldn't think the two might be connected in some way, would you?

It is a cold day, today. So far, this winter has been very mild - I'm sure it would be positively balmy if I compared it to Moscow this year! But, that is typical Massachusetts - mild one year, bitter-cold the next. I took the dogs out riding (I'll have to explain this) - and we went what has lately been "the usual" - about 2.25 or 2.5 miles on the roads. They wanted to keep going when we got back, but I was FREEZING. It it wasn't for the hassle of riding with Sara, I would have gone out again, but it is just too much trouble keeping tabs on her.

Here's the scoop on 'running the dogs', and 'taking the dogs for a ride', and why Sara is problematic. We used to take them around the neighboring land preserve for a walk. But I don't often care for taking the dogs for a walk, mostly because the dogs are trying to walk us, not the other way around. Sometime last year I started getting the city/mountain bike out, and riding the walk, so that the dogs had to run.

You'll need to know who the dogs are at this point. Sara we got back in Georgia, a pound mutt, a cross between (I guess) a blue-tick hound and a bassett hound. She looks like an oversized beagle. Her behavior has always been hound-like, meaning she never took to training, but loved to eat and to run. She mostly used the running part to run away when she got the opportunity. Of course she always came back - 4 or 5 hours later, but in today's world, that's not the point. A loose dog is considered a rude dog. She tends to act Alpha with female dogs, and at meal times. Given how little training other people in the family were willing to do, or knew how to do, this meant a friendly, but poorly trained dog, who pretty much did what she wanted. Had to keep her fenced in and on a leash when she wasn't fenced. Sara would be about 7 or 8 years old now.

Since Coco died in California, my wife has insisted that Sara was lonely. My personal belief is that Sara wasn't lonely even a little bit, and she was enjoying being the pet queen of the household very thoroughly. But you can't tell people stuff they don't want to hear - so a couple years back, we went looking for another dog.

Something very good happened when we found a dog in a rescue operation. Not only did we find a dog we all agreed should be amenable to us, but the rescue operation pushed my wife into some free sample dog-training lessons with the dog. Haleluja, now she was getting SOME idea of what you have to do to have well-mannered dogs. Unfortunately, she also quickly assumed that she knew more than I did. LOL. That all worked out, but that last part took some months. My wife got 3 training sessions, which got things started. I started working along with, and within a month, I was the only one doing any training activity.

But the new dog - whom we decided to name "Klinger" (think MASH) - was doing very well. Within a couple of months, I had 100% compliance on important commands - come, sit, stay. Heel was, hmm, ok. A "stay" could be maintained out-of-sight, but not for long. Until we got to distractions. New people, new dogs, critters like chipmunks, or the worst - deer. With distractions, I got 10% compliance, with deer, it was zero. Oh, he would comply fully, after he had investigated the distraction. So, this was cause for much consternation. Especially since one of my objectives is being able to walk with the dog off-lead. I hate having a dog trying to drag me all over timbuktu when we are walking. If they are off-lead, they can sniff happily, and I can walk.

Sara will probably never reach that. She has never even been trained to properly "come", or "sit".

Ok, now you know all that - last year I started running the dogs by riding my city/mountain bike with them. You realize that when a dog is on lead, this can easily lead to a crash. So, initially, I only took one out at a time. I wasn't about to try it with two. And, we went about a mile and a quarter or a half. The dogs loved it. But they always wanted to run together. I had let Klinger off-lead when walking. Not I let him do this while I was riding. We were mostly successful - except the distraction business. But he would come back within 5 or 10 minutes at the worst.

Eventually, I started doing the ride with Klinger off-lead, and Sara on. With a little care, I could handle that. The dogs LOVED this. But, Sara is DANGEROUS to me, since I'm holding on to her leash, when I'd rather have my hands on the handlebars! She's taken off, and pulled me down, a few times. I've gotten some road rash, and I'm still living, hehe. Being on lead, with me having to hold the lead, she has considerable control over one of my steering hands. One time she took off in the wrong direction, and pulled me with. The bike went down almost right away, but somehow I managed to keep my feet under me. And, I managed to step through the falling bike, and continued to keep my feet under me for several yards. When I came to a stop, I was still standing! Whew. I still had scabs on my elbow from the previous time!

To make a long story short - I invested in a good radio collar for Klinger. That was an excellent investment. I was very reluctant, due to the social pressure saying that this is "cruelty". But I tried it on myself first, and now? I think the people saying a radio collar is cruel don't know what they are talking about. You could use it in a cruel fashion, but you can also use it so that it is a long-distance leash. And, it works. Klinger and I are still working on the deer thing, but he behaves marvelously well. I can take him on the street, and I know that when I say "sit", he will, so I can keep him safe from the cars. We haven't seen the deer when we've been riding for the last month. But, I think he will listen, and obey, when next we meet them. We got over people and chipmunks with very little problems, and strange dogs, too, for the most part. If I'm not there, he still runs out in the street to greet them, but at least if I am there, I can stop him from doing this.

So, I get my bike out, and the dogs go crazy. They love to go running. We ran for 2.5 miles today, with the temp about 15' Fahrenheit, and it was windy and miserable cold. And, they wanted to keep going. I was freezing my hands off. My nose and cheeks weren't doing so well, either! Sara slows down after the first mile - she's got short legs, ya know, so I don't get so much riding or fun after that. But, it's still good, we all have fun!