Does this dog have the best job ever?

Remember how you felt when you found out that someone actually gets paid to taste ice cream flavors? Or test video games?

That’s how your dogs are going to feel when they find out that some dogs get paid to sniff poop!

Meet Crush, a sewage sniffing dog from Environmental Canine Services. She and her handler, Aryn Hervel, have traveled to my part of northwest Washington state a few times to track down the sources of fecal coliform bacteria in our water ways.

Unregulated agriculture is a huge part of the problem, but Crush is trained to alert to the smell of human waste specifically. Last week, she was in Whatcom County, sniffing samples of water taken from watersheds with high levels of contamination. By letting us know which samples contain human poop, Crush is helping officials locate sources of septic tank failures or sewage leaks.

Your dog’s pretty jealous, right? I mean, I play nose work games with my dogs, but never with actual, aromatic human poop!

Nose work has gotten very popular recreationally because it reinforces what your dog was born to do, and it’s entirely reward-based: when the dog finds the hide, she gets a treat!

Fearful dogs can gain confidence through nose work; dog-reactive dogs can take nose-work classes, since no other dogs are in the room while they search; and obedience school drop-outs (or flunk-outs) can even excel at nose work, since obedience commands are discouraged in the nose work arena!

Training should always be fun for both the dog and the handler. Crush is super lucky because her handler adopted her from a shelter at four months, and found a way to turn the nose work game into a career.

What have you done that’s fun for your dogs today?

Positive TrainingThis post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is play and trying out new training games. The Linky Link will be open through Sunday.

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Girls like flowers

After 14 springs in Washington state, I guess I don’t have to go to the tulip fields every April. Fortunately, Mia and I saw some color in the beds along Mount Vernon’s newish Skagit River Walk.

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Goldilocks and two other bears

Not dog-related, but I saw Grizzly Bears!
bears_2

Rocky and Coco, Atnarko River, Oct. 2015

I first learned of grizzly bear rafting tours a year ago when I drove through Bella Coola, British Columbia, with my mom, but it was July and the bears weren’t out yet. Rob and I returned for a one-day whirlwind trip with one goal: to see grizzly bears.

It’s possible to get there by ferry, but it takes about 20 hours along the inside passage from Port Hardy, B.C., (and first you have to get there). Rob and I flew one hour on a small Pacific Coastal plane from the Vancouver Airport and were met by a staff member from the Bella Coola Mountain Lodge, which also operates the bear tours. Fraser Koroluk and his wife, both biologists, own the lodge and Fraser is the bear guide.

Arriving on the banks of the Atnarko, we were hit with the pungent smell of rotting salmon carcasses; familiar to me, less so to Rob. Fraser paddled us and four others down the Atnarko. Pink salmon were still spawning, and we saw the occasional chinook under our raft as well.

The most bears they’ve seen on a tour is 20, and that was last summer. Sometimes, they don’t see any. About 10 minutes into our tour, just as I thought we might be one of the unlucky groups not to see any bears, there she was, standing on a log. I felt like everyone on the raft saw her at the same time, but Fraser was concentrating on paddling, so my breathless, “Bear,” alerted him.

Goldi

Goldi

He’s been calling her Goldilocks, because of some light brown coloring near her face. A single female, Goldilocks likely had mated with a few boars over the summer, and was now eating as much salmon as possible to get fat enough to survive pregnancy, birthing cubs and nursing them during hibernation. Egg implantation in female bears is delayed, so if they don’t gain enough weight, they won’t get pregnant.

Since the lodge has been doing these tours for about 14 years, the bears are tolerant of rafts of people floating by, and Fraser is careful to keep a respectful distance.

After watching Goldi devour several whole salmon carcasses and wander back into the woods, we continued downriver where we found Coco and her two-year-old cub Rocky on a gravel bar. Other tour groups have witnessed lively wrestling matches between mother and son (which is how Rocky got his name), but they were moving a little slower on this day.

Coco and Rocky

Rocky

Rocky log

Even though Coco won’t have more cubs until Rocky is grown and on his own, they also have to eat as much salmon as possible before hibernation – this gorging phase is called hyperphagia. While Coco swam between gravel bars looking for salmon, Fraser observed that Rocky seemed a little bored.

In addition to my utter joy at watching grizzly bears in their natural environment, I really appreciated Fraser’s expertise about grizzly bear life cycles, and these bears in particular. It was also another reminder of the importance of healthy salmon populations.

Monday Mischief

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D is for Dedication

Tiptoe with Two Dogs
Dedication is putting your camera on a tripod in front of fields of tulips, setting the timer to take 10 photos after 10 seconds, then running through the mud with two large dogs to pose. Do this 10 times or so, and you might end up with one photo where both dogs are looking at the camera.

You might also end up with dirty jeans, mud soaked through your socks, and a car interior in need of detailing, but it’s so worth it.

Here are some outtakes.

Dedication also is a commitment to give your dogs the best life you can, to nurture their good qualities and help them through their challenges. We’ll talk more about that on Monday, when E stands for Every Day.

For more about my journey to discovering the benefits of positive reinforcement, read my book, Bark and Lunge!

D

Reclaiming my sidekick

mia and me daffs

Rob’s been taking Mia to work a lot. Since he works on a college campus, Mia gets to visit with all kinds of people while she’s there. Many of the students miss their own dogs, so they’re pretty excited to see her. Also, Rob takes her on long walks.

My office is nowhere near as fun. Someone usually gives us a “Beautiful dog” in the parking lot, but aside from that, there’s no one to talk to. (Why do you think I need to bring her?)

But outside my office… I have daffodils.

mia and me daffs_2

AND I just discovered on Tuesday, there’s a duck pond in the industrial complex behind my building. With picnic benches. This changes everything.

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