‘Blood’ Moon Eclipse

In most parts of the world the ‘Blood’ Moon Eclipse was visible during the wee hours of the AM today. In Anchorage Alaska it was around 2:15 am that the Eclipse was viewable. Being a total insomniac I simply stayed up a little longer to watch. Kathy G practically bounced out of bed when I told her it was nearing the peak and we set up the camera outside. Reuben who is visiting from Seattle, watched on for a little while while Kathy and I fiddled with camera settings and placement. Eventually, everyone who wasn’t completely enamored with the night sky headed inside to watch Kathy and I try to find buttons with slightly numb fingers from the windows. At some point I got around to putting my shoes and a hat on. Kathy and I are known for standing in the cold night to get Moon photos or the iconic Northern Light shot. Most people and the dogs leave us to the frost within a few minutes.

Thanks to the Gardner’s zoom lens, I managed a few decent shots of the various stages and coloring of the Moon during her Eclipse.

Blood Moon Eclipse

Blood Moon Eclipse

Photographing anything at night is difficult. Shooting the Moon makes this even harder as one cannot use a long shutter speed (Moon is too bright). Add in a Eclipse that changes the brightness every few minutes even more so..Using lenses that were not made to take night pictures adds a bit of a challenge as well…

I like to think I made it work. At it’s ‘darkest’ below.

Dark of the Blood Moon

Dark of the Blood Moon

As the light shifted, the colors brightened. The light specks in the black are stars showing through. All the pictures I took I did not edit past some basic cleaning up, no photoshop, no adding colors and such. Looking at it with binoculars it looked just like the photos!

Eclipse Waning

Eclipse Waning

Partial Eclipse and the last of the ‘blood’ coloring that was visible. Once the ‘Full Moon’ brightness came back , capturing the low light of the eclipse at the same time became next to impossible.

Partial Eclipse

Partial Eclipse

It was an awesome night, I hope my pictures give you a small idea of how freaking cool it was! At 24 degrees, my digits got a little cold after close to 2 hours of standing in PJ’s. But it was worth it!

~ J

 

 

Advertisements

Shaun’s Visit to Alaska

As some of you know, I’ve a guy in Maryland – Shaun, whom I’ve been spending time with whenever I am on the East Coast. I met him during my short living stint in Princess Anne, MD in the Summer of 2013. I had major doubts that I’d see more of him when I ended up moving on from Maryland. Due to my WildernessFusion classes however, I would be on the East Coast every 3 months for the next year. Deciding to see where it might go, I made my trips a little long so I could stay in Maryland before/after class.

My September visit went well, along with December’s. I extended an invitation to Shaun to visit me in Alaska in late December after I got back from my West Coast trip over the Holidays. Flights in late winter/early spring are cheap (not many people want to see Alaska in the messy month of January…). I truly didn’t think he would take me up on it — not soon at least, more like next year or even more likely ~never. Imagine my surprise when I booked a mid January flight for him! He was able to get 10 days off work and experience Alaska in the winter – complete with the Chinook Winds that brought the temps up to a balmy 36 degrees most of the time. Shaun was a little nervous of freezing to death initially, and thought it humorous that the Eastern Seaboard was having a mini ice age while we were above freezing most of his stay.

I picked him up from the airport and promptly bombarded him with the dogs. Kathy & Dave wonderfully opened their home to him and everyone enjoyed getting to know each other. There was however an adjustment period for Shaun for the trials of living with Beagles – he missed lunch a few times due to leaving his sandwich where the four-leggeds could reach. I helped him find a decent pair of boots at REI — on sale even — the second day. I don’t think he took the damn things off the whole 10 days.

Within the first 24 hours we had a nice sunset – albeit around 4pm but still beautiful.

Golden Sunset

Golden Sunset

Dave took us shooting at the range in Chugiak. Shaun thoroughly enjoyed the automatics and the bird rifles where you shoot the clay targets launched into the air.

Shaun geared up for shooting

Shaun geared up for shooting

Dave is a wonderful teacher and very knowledgeable about most anything gun related (or just most anything). Both he and Shaun had a good time going over the different guns. I took photos mostly.

Shaun trying out a Revolver

Shaun trying out a revolver

I did shoot a few rounds, but the AR-15 was way too long for me and I couldn’t hold proper form with it… According to Shaun, it’s ‘fucking awesome’ that I shoot guns. Bows are more my style, but guns are good too once in a while.

Dave overseeing me using an auto-rifle

Dave overseeing me using an AR-15

Back to the automatic! Note how much better his form is than mine… Damn hard being a small person sometimes.

Shaun with the AR 15

Shaun with the AR-15

While the guys were getting the skeet-shooting thing set up, I was taking pictures (surprise ,surprise). The mountains came out for a few minutes while the sun set. Great view and a good day.

Sun on the Mountains

Sun on the Mountains

By the end we were a tad cold as it was around 20 with a wind chill. Shaun managed to actually hit the freaking clay targets. Never even shot this type of gun before, but hits the moving targets more times than not. I hit nothing…

Dave giving Shaun a rundown on the skeet shooting rife

Dave giving Shaun a rundown on the skeet shooting rife

The next few days were mostly cloudy and not particularly pretty. One afternoon Shaun and I took a few dogs to Powerline Trail which is at the base of Flattop. The setting sun lit up our grey snowy world for a few glorious minutes.

Sunset view from Flattop Base

Sunset view from Flattop Base

With the Sun below the mountain peaks the world became every shade of grey with black and white as the ‘colors’.

Back & White peaks

Black & White peaks

With the warmer temps from the Chinook Winds, the snow was slushy and one would sink beyond the knee if one stepped off the packed trail. It was a good workout, made pretty by the Moon showing her light now and then.

Moon over Powerline Rd trail

Moon over Powerline Rd trail

Even more crappy weather a few days later meant very little hiking was had. The warmer winds melted all the snow and it turned everything into a slick, ice-coated mess. Even going into town was more than we wanted to deal with some days. Dave’s company had some Aces Hockey tickets that weren’t claimed. Shaun and I experienced our first Hockey game – with Alaskan Amber Beer. It was more fun than I thought I’d have, they really do slam each other against the walls and get into fistfights!

I introduced Shaun to Anchorage Sushi – lets just say we ate a lot, A LOT —  along with some of the bars in downtown. Bars in Anchorage are a tad different from what they are in Maryland, particularly the run-of-the-mill tourist ones. Shaun had a great time and I enjoyed getting back to some of my old haunts. Sadly, the scene in Anchorage for dancing has greatly deteriorated and not much was found.

The wildlife was showing up in style for Shaun’s visit. Moose, Eagles, Owls hooting and of course the Lynx. We saw 4(!!!) crossing the road — Kathy was green with envy. Before everything turned completely slushy, Shaun and I took a couple of dogs to the Conner’s Bog dog park. Shaun was pretty close to decent sized moose. River collected snowballs in her fur – poor thing could barely walk by the end.

The weather often concealed the views, but beautiful Sunsets were still happening.

Breath taking Sunset from the driveway!

Breathtaking Sunset from the driveway!

We made big plans to go to Fairbanks – and more importantly the Chena Hot springs outside of Fairbanks. Originally, Kathy & Dave were coming along with all the dogs. I’m not sure who was more horrified by the prospect of 4 adults and 4 dogs in the same 4-Runner for 800 miles of driving – Dave or Shaun. The weather turned nasty and plans had to be cancelled, much to their dismay. Later in the week, Shaun and I decided to drive up without the dogs for two nights. River was not pleased…

Headed to Fairbanks!

Headed to Fairbanks!

We started out in rain that lasted up until the Valley. Then the skies cleared in places and sunlight was had!

Sunlight on Snowy peaks

Sunlight on Snowy peaks

The road to Fairbanks is a pretty quiet place, only a few stops along the way to gas up or get snacks. In the winter, the number of people out gets close to zero for most of the drive. Sadly I had forgotten the cable to plug in a phone for music… no CDs this day and age in the 4-Runner, and you lose the radio stations (the ones worth listening to anyway) pretty quick. It was a rather quiet drive. Probably a testament to our early-stage relationship that after 800 miles (round trip) in silence or conversation, we weren’t sick of each other!

Pines in the snow

Pines in the snow

The clouds came back, creating a black and white view of the landscape.

Right outside of Cantwell, we spotted a small group of Caribou! I was driving, leaving Shaun to scramble for the camera or phone or whatever might capture the Caribou as they trotted away.

Caribou!

Caribou!

One young buck got separated from the group and went back the way he came, snorting and tail up in the air.

Caribou Tail

Caribou Tail

Shaun had a great time snapping photos, including candid shots of me driving…

Me driving

Me driving

Winding through the snowy hills.

Winding through Hills

Winding through Hills

We stopped at a few lookout areas to get photos and stretch our legs. Shaun’s plaid shirt camos him right in with the hills.

Shaun blending in

Shaun blending in

It was still Chinook weather, a balmy 30 degrees with a breeze.

Joannie looking out

Joannie looking out

King of the selfies took this ‘acceptable’ shot of us – as I think of it!

Together on the AK Hwy

Together on the AK Hwy

Being a solar energy type of guy, Shaun really enjoyed seeing the various Wind Turbines and other green energy that Alaska has and continues to grow.

Wind Mills

Wind Mills

About an hour from Fairbanks, the sun was officially setting, lighting up our otherwise grey world with bright colors.

Sunset outside of Fairbanks

Sunset outside of Fairbanks

Every few minutes the detail of the colors changed — Nature’s slide show.

Pink Clouds

Pink Clouds

Another random photo of me – the setting sunlight giving my rather pasty face color!

Candid Driver

Candid Driver

Sunset selfie on a smartphone.

Sunset Selfie!

Sunset Selfie!

After getting a quick dinner in Fairbanks, we made it to Chena that evening, more than ready for a hot soak. I cannot describe the feeling of being in a large outdoor hot-spring pool in Alaska during winter, other than ‘blissful’. We soaked for a good hour or so before stumbling out in a daze of overheated goodness. The hot springs tend to really take it out of you. Sadly there was too much low cloud cover to see the Northern Lights in the valley where the Chena resort is, but our time spent wasn’t hindered in the least. We had gingerale and hard cider to kick back with while watching Game of Thrones.  The next day – after sleeping in, another long soak!

Chena Hot Springs

Chena Hot Springs

Even with the low clouds it is a beautiful way to soak the aches out.

Shaun disappearing into the Steam

Shaun disappearing into the steam

The large outdoor pool is more like a large pond. When the steam blows over it, you cannot see the rock walls or even the buildings sometimes; it leaves one feeling like they are in another world.

Soaking

Soaking

Shaun had never been in such a place and was pretty enchanted with it.

Happy Smile

Happy Smile

He had a pretty hard time not smiling the entire soak.

Selfie attempt 1

Selfie Attempt 1

We had my Olympus Tough Camera — which is apparently hot-spring proof and not just water-proof!

Selfie attempt 2

Selfie Attempt 2

A better self shot picture! Having the whole place to ourselves most of the time was awesome, but also meant that any couple shots were left up to us to take…

Contrast Shot

Contrast Shot

The camera has a few different settings, including a high contrast one. I gave Shaun the camera, and like most boys with a new toy – he got a little carried away…

Underwater Selfie

Underwater Selfie

Of course when you give your guy the camera – the random shots of you happen…

Underwater shot of me..

Underwater shot of me..

My response of course was this.

Classic Joannie

Classic Joannie

Shaun had a LOT of fun with the whole underwater photographing thing.

Getting Hot

Getting Hot

He got this rather interesting one of me out of the water but as seen from underwater.

J on the rocks

J on the rocks

Towards the end, we were pinking up quite well. Not wanting to be too hot spring-drunk (its a thing, trust me) for the drive back, we decided to do the geothermal tour before driving. Chena Hot Springs is run only on their geothermal and generator energy. No power lines or anything of the sort go out to the Chena Valley. All the food has to be trucked in unless they can grow it. The history of the place is pretty interesting – having had many types of owners and managers – including the State at one point. The owners hope to one day run the resort completely on green energy and be able to supply most of the food they serve themselves. For now, it is a smaller supplemental project with promise.

Being the only two people on the current tour of the geothermal energy, Shaun got to ask many detailed questions of the operations and how the various steps worked. He got a few photos with his phone, like the one below. It was very interesting to me, but sadly I understood very little of the way the various machines worked. I also enjoyed seeing Shaun light up at the different types of green energy and how it works.

Greenhouse at Chena

Greenhouse at Chena

After the tour, we meandered around the resort, checking out the various tourist attractions – which include an ice museum, sled dog kennels, a small Reindeer herd and cross-country ski trails!

Then it was back on the road, bad weather was supposed to move in that night. Shaun helped drive the first leg as the roads were still in good condition. Around the halfway point the clouds had caught up and were dumping snow/sleet. When the 4-Runner hit ice and slid all the way across the highway it became my turn to drive. Shaun handled the ice impressively and we escaped without damaging the Gardners’ car! The rest of the drive was slow, very slow going. What radio we did have in places reported the highway being shut down behind us and ordered all none-essential personnel to get off the road.

Made it back in the wee hours of the morning — in one piece but strung out. Most of the snow was gone in Anchorage, but ice was coating the roads and driveways. The rain/sleet washed all the gravel and sand from the driveway and I had a heck of time getting all the way to the house. Shaun enjoys telling this story – I seem to have made an impression on him while handling the 4-Runner sliding backwards down the steep driveway and road, once resulting in doing a 180 spin – controlled I might add. Two bags of sand and 4 attempts had us parked in the driveway. We basically slept the next day away and only went out to get this photo during a small cloud break.

Sunset Rainbow

Sunset Rainbow

A day or two to recover and to let the roads clear; I took Shaun, Pete & River out to Portage Glacier with stops along the beautiful Seward Highway. It was very windy along the Turnagain Arm, but sunny in spots. The Sun was beyond bright and beams of light danced on the choppy water.Sun on the Water

Sun on the Water

The Seward highway is a beautiful drive – summer or winter. Mountains, water, jagged rock face, big sky feel that makes any sort of sun/moon activity even more enhanced. The wind often whips through, funneled by the mountains on both sites. This particular day it was blowing at around 50mph and brought the temps to about zero in windchill terms.

Sun-kissed landscape

Sun-kissed landscape

Beluga Point is one of my favorite spots.

Shaun on Beluga Point

Shaun on Beluga Point

At Beluga point we climbed about on the rocks, almost got blown off a few times during the process but the view was well worth it! It was a interesting challenge to keep the camera steady enough while maintaining my balance to get a nice shot.

Braced and taking shots

Braced on Beluga Point

Within the valley where Portage Glacier is, the air was calm. We were the only people around which meant Pete & River got to run free. The Glacier is receding and not terribly impressive – but still a gorgeous area.

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier Entry

Portage Glacier has been receding for the last 20+ years, you can barely make it out in between the mountains, and chunks of it float out into the water. It is still a pretty stop along Seward.

Mossy Carpet

Mossy Carpet

After Pete almost fell in the water, we went for a short walk around the park. Mossy carpets and trees were everywhere – only visible in January since all the snow had melted. The dogs had a great time romping about and the silence of the park was wonderful.

River on the trail

River on the trail

Shaun had a great time seeing what Alaska looks like without snow.

Shaun looking more like a woodsman

Shaun looking more like a woodsman

Green gems hidden in the woods.

Moss Evergreen

Moss Evergreen

We walked to the Freestone ponds, which are gravel pits that Girdwood uses. The icy blue water turns ordinary gravel pits into blue enchanted ponds…

Freestone Ponds

Freestone Ponds

I looked for pretty rocks (something I am sorta known for) and snapped pictures. Shaun was a good sport and posed for me.

Shaun by the Pond

Shaun by the Pond

Pete quickly had Shaun throwing a stick for him, even though we tried to keep him out of the frigid water, Pete insisted on swimming for his stick. I love this shot of the them – a man and his 4-legged friend.

Pete retrieving

Pete retrieving

River was not to be left behind, and splashed through many of the shallows.

River exploring

River exploring

I love the blues and teals of the water here. I could stare at it – possibly forever.

Glacier Blue Water

Glacier Blue Water

I looked over at one point and saw Pete as he appeared to be standing on the water – he was perched on a rock just under the surface.

Pete walking on water

Pete walking on water

Closeup of Shaun.

Portrait

Portrait

The Sunset on our way back was absolutely breathtaking! The high peaks are volcanoes that aren’t always visible from the Turnagain Arm.

Mountains & Volcanoes in fading light

Mountains & Volcanoes in fading light

I drove up along Potter Marsh Rd so as to get the best view. As the Sun sunk lower, we had a few minutes of intense orange and yellow light, looking like a streak of fire.

Fire in the Sky

Fire in the Sky

Overall, the trip was fantastic. I never did get tired of having Shaun stay – something I tend to have a problem with in terms of people in my personal space. I wish the weather had been a little less messy – more clear skies and Northern Lights – but I figure if Shaun can have an awesome time during terrible Chinook Winds weather, he’ll love it if he comes in the Summer! Hopefully he will experience the Midnight Sun soon.

Smiles

Smiles

Having a long distance relationship that spans 4 times zones isn’t easy, but while its working – we have fun. Strangely enough, Shaun is only the second person who has come out to see me in Alaska – even though I offer it to many people. His willingness to just ‘do it’ was a pretty big turning point in how I viewed our relationship (fun when I am in town – to ‘real’). I don’t get to have very many people who like me grumpy first thing in the morning – let lone find it endearing while giving me coffee.

It’s all about the People you meet along the Journey, and if you never go, you’ll never meet them ~ J

How does River survive the cold?

So upon my FB status of ‘negative temps’ in Anchorage and how River and I arrived back in the state, a few people were curious as to just how River is able to join me in the outdoor adventures of cold and occasionally sub-zero Alaska. Well, see, her being a Long-Haired Dachshund really, really helps! Her Short-Haired cousins DO NOT LIKE THE COLD. If you end up with a ‘naked’ Dachshund as I tend to call them, for the love of all, get it a SWEATER, a heating pad too if you live somewhere cold. And be warned, they will steal your blankets.

Due to her coat, River is able to handle temps down into the teens without much help from me for a quick potty walk – I usually only bundle her up for weather 20+ if we are going to be outside for a long time/romping in the snow. She gets a jacket if it’s a cold/freezing rain as well – which was common in Seattle’s winters.  The jacket also helps with the snowball clumps that stick to her fur. If it is below say 15 degrees F, She will get ‘layers’ if we are going to be out for a while.

The Evolution of ‘Bundling River Up’.

River had a basic ‘winter coat’ that I brought with me from Tennessee in the winter of 2011 when she finally joined me in Alaska – Below you can see how short her fur-coat was the first few months!

River's 1st 'warm coat' 2011

River’s first ‘warm coat’ – 2011

Below: River in the early days of ‘layers’ with one of her training – demo dog shirts.

River in Layers 2011

River in layers – 2011

By the next year, I had found a new jacket and coat on sale for her- the coat was a bit too big so I improvised with safety pins. It was quite eye-catching, if I say so myself! River had also grown a much thicker fur coat – which helped immensely

River in her new and improved 'layers' 2012

River in her new and improved ‘layers’ – 2012

Her jacket hoody up – makes me think of a gnome.

River in her jacket 'hoody' 2012

River in her jacket ‘hoodie’ – 2012

When it isn’t cold enough to warrant both layers, she sports her hoodie.

River in just her Jacket 2012

River in just her jacket – 2012

River’s newest jacket/base layer is the best fitting one yet – probably because it cost the most… Roughwear is well worth it if you have need of such things. Finding jackets long enough in the torso, deep enough in the chest and short enough in the leg cuffs for a Dachshund is no laughing matter. River wore just this one while we were in Taos, NM with temps of -4 F. She did just fine during our hikes as did the late Rosie who also had one.

River's newest jacket - 2013

River’s newest jacket – 2013

River has a great time adventuring with me regardless of the weather; this summer it looks like I will have to find her a life jacket for the boat we are going to be on in the Gulf of Alaska. My baby seal 🙂

Below: an epic shot of my Super Rat flying over the snow. Ears up, tail out, paws stretched!

River flying over the snow - 2011

River flying over the snow – 2011

Hey, if my Mini Dachshund can tough out the cold, you can too!

~ J

Alaska for the week & River

Back in Alaska for about a week this time, just a quick trip. I Came back for a doctors appointment (went well) and more importantly – to be with my RIVER. Ohh how I have missed her. My little River Rat. Also my Super Rat. And my better half… I am enjoying the cloudy and cool weather here. The fresh air (no nasty chicken houses or gross fertilizers here) and the ability to soak in the bathtub once more!

River is thrilled to have me back! I took the picture below of us today while I worked on the computer 😉

River Happy

River Happy

She has been in most excellent care of Kathy & Dave G. Playing with their Beagles and all in all, making herself quite at home. She sleeps on their bed (with the rest of the dogs) and even has a set of stairs so that she can come and go off the bed, since its a tad too high for her short legs! Kathy even handled the dental work River needed (originally I was going to wait till I had a chunk of time to arrange it myself). Kathy & Dave are AMAZING!!!

River & toy

River & toy

I took these picture of her a few months back at Kathy & Dave’s house – seemed like a good time to show them off! And yes some of them are in Black & White – I rather like the effect.

River Sitting-Pretty

River Sitting Pretty

River – while not thrilled at being apart from me, was living it up doggie style and is no worse for the wear. Clearly I am the one with separation anxiety here…

Warning: Worlds cutest Dachshund below (If I may say so myself here..).

Portrait of River

Portrait of River

I sadly will be returning alone on Sept 3rd, due to my classes on the East Coast – but have complete faith that I will see my River again in the same health and spirits as she is now – which can you really ask for more? ~ J

Alaska and July plans

Damn its July already? Wait what happened to the Road Trip pictures that happened with Jackie in June?! Yeah about that, they are coming… I know I am terrible. But I have a valid excuse this time..NO INTERNET!

Okay back to now, Alaska, yes I am in Alaska. I know I was in Maryland, on a farm, living and care-taking and such. But now I’m in Alaska working and earning money for a bit since I have to eat or at least be able to feed River and put gas in the Black Dragon. Priorities here.

I arrived in Anchorage today? Yesterday? Yeah was today, the 8th of July. At 2am so I’m a little confused and then slept for like 6 hours and then napped and now I awake and very confused. I’ll be in town working with dogs, helping my friends – 4 legged and 2 legged till around the first week of August – probably fly out the 9th, back to Maryland. See I am still ‘in’ Maryland as that is where my stuff is currently at.

Jackie is overseeing the Farm in Princess Anne to help keep the mowing under control and to just be around since we have a fair amount of things in the house. Big thanks to him for that. River is of course with me and absolutely LOVING the cooler weather here. Being back with her Alaska Pack is pretty high on the ‘great things in life list’ right under chasing Squirrels I think.

Since I now have internet I will try to churn out all those picture posts that are on a serious back order now…

~ J

Travel Dates: Summer ~ Where is Joannie? (River too)

I’ve mentioned that I will be traveling a lot this Summer and want to see everyone that I can! I’ll be visiting quite a few different states and have varying ability to meet up with people depending on the time and place. So please get in touch with me to make plans if you will be around when I am in town. River will be along for the ride on just about every part of the traveling except for the New Jersey part, she will hang out with the family most likely for the two weeks I’m in the woods (sadly they won’t let me take her with me).

My first trip is back to Anchorage AK from July 6th to at least July 23rd. I will be house/dog sitting – so no overnight camping but I will have ample time to hang out and do some day trip activities!

I’ll be back in Seattle just long enough pack the car and collect Reuben to drive (yes drive) to the Farm in Tennessee hopefully arrive the 1st of August. Because of a time crunch the drive and the quick visit to the Farm will be just Family since Reuben & I have to get to his class in New Jersey by August 5th. On the way to NJ we are hoping to meet up with Reuben’s older sister, and you miss Amy M.  Reuben will fly home to Seattle soon as his class is out and I stay another week for mine. My class will be over by August 18th and that is when all the East Coast people (friend & family I expect to see you!) will have their shot. I plan to spend a day or two in Ocean City M.D and then head back to TN. Once back at the farm friends all over TN I hope to see you and spend some time with you! By end of August I should be back with River and the car in Seattle.

Alright again: I’ll be in..

  • July  = Alaska till the 23rd
  • August 1st to the 4th = My farm with Reuben
  • August 5th = Reuben’s East Coast family visit
  • August 5th to 18th = Tracker classes, Reuben flies to Seattle on the 12th
  • August 18th to roughly 21st = with East Coast people
  • August 22nd ish to August 28-29th = Farm
  • August 30th = Joannie & River drive to Seattle (anyone want to join?)

As you can see we have a lot going on, probably won’t be a whole lot I can alter especially the dates that include Reuben because he only has x amount of time from his job. After Tracker, I am somewhat more flexible BUT still time (and the big one) money are not on my side in the least. So I am crossing my fingers that you’ll be around when I am in town and that I get to at least get in a hug and a hello.

Message me or give me a call so I can be sure your on my list please! ~ Joannie

All My Dogs ~ Dog filled days of training with Joannie

For quite a while now I’ve been gearing up to write this post about Dog Training and some of my best pooches (and acquiring permission from their owners). It’s a little overdue, but here we go!

Most of you probably know that upon moving to Anchorage in 2010, I signed on with PetSmart to put my teaching and animal skills to use as their Dog Trainer. I was sent off to ‘training’ so I would know the PetSmart style and theory, was assessed to be able to teach and handle puppies to adult dogs for basic training and behaviors, then a few weeks later I was starting my own classes. I’ve heard a lot of differing ideas about the education the company uses for its trainers… It’s a great place to take your new puppy or adult dog to bond and learn basic training skills given that the trainer is good. But in my own opinion, if you think that as a potential dog Trainer you will learn how to train dogs and how to teach people to train their dogs…  Just from the Petsmart education training, you’re not going to be happy, nor will your dogs or your clients for that matter. You cannot learn in less than two weeks what you need to know about dogs and teaching people of all kinds. Their program is geared towards individuals who already have dog behavior knowledge and want to further their skills.
Luckily for the company,  this wasn’t a problem for me and once I found my feet I was on fire. My time with the company was great learning experience and I really enjoyed most of it and working alongside with many of my co-workers. Sadly the other girl in my intro class didn’t fare very well with her own store and moved on to a non-dog related field. Trainers in the corporate world is like teachers in a public Highschool, you can have some truly amazing ones hidden in among the decent ones and often obscured by the awful few. I observed that keeping a good trainer in a corporate pet business is not easy, for multiple reasons; mostly the policy dance that you have to do with your managers, higher-ups and even other employees. Like any company there is a rule and a policy for everything, but as the Trainer you’re not selling dog food – you’re selling yourself in your ability to train. Your ‘merchandise’ is not squeak toys and grooming services, it’s the dogs themselves. And putting a policy on a dog doesn’t work out as smoothly as a lot of people seem to expect. Every dog is different, every owner is different, heck every single class I taught was different. Maintaining a base curriculum was easy, but actually teaching the owners how to deal with their dogs and ensure the dogs were ‘getting it’ was a whole different story.
In my experience with teaching people how to train their horses, the horse was always the easier part of the pair; it was finding the perfect way to get the owner where they wanted to be and, more importantly, where their horse needed them to be that was the real challenge. Dog training certainly follows a similar approach but perhaps with even more emphasis on the human side of the training.
In horses, we have a saying that goes: “Give me your horse for two weeks and he’ll be trained, but the owner who hasn’t changed themselves will undo everything in just two days and they’re back at square one.”
I found out that where dogs are concerned, I could have the dog for one week, and an owner who didn’t change along with his dog could have the dog back to where she was within about a minute. I wish I was exaggerating.

Below: Filson the lovable Chocolate Lab on the day of his Puppy Graduation.

I put my focus into what would stick with the dog no matter where the owner was, and how to get the owner on board. The ideal Petsmart dog is a puppy/adult dog who just needs the basic – Sit. Down. Stay commands; Puppy behaviors, basic socialization, structure and how to type stuff. Not dogs that are in need of rehabilitation or behavior modification. I felt that I could work with the rehabilitation and behavioral modification cases and had many dogs and took many a client who needed a little ‘more’. I didn’t please everyone (if I had, I’d have known I was doing it wrong) but I have a rather long list of very happy dogs, and whom I can only hope are equally happy owners. I retain many fond memories (few photos too) of lovely puppies who ‘graduated’ and turned into wonderful companions for their humans, like Filson (above photo) – who has the silliest grin with the most striking eyes all at the same time! Along with a few ‘rescues’ who were not sent back to the pound or given away because I was able to help them. While puppies are fun and cute, saving the live of older, abused or ‘special’ cases rank among my highlight moments.

I taught 8- and 6-week group classes for dogs and puppies of all ages, breeds, sizes, sexes and levels of training. I also did private sessions with the owner(s) of the dog, as well as one-on-one sessions with just the dog and myself.

Below: Two wonderful Standard Poodle brothers – Zeus & Odin

Below: Oscar Myer & River

They made quite a pair! Always on the same bed or mat, Oscar had to see River do the commands I introduced to him before he would even attempt them! Oscar’s owners often referred to me as his “other Mom,” and River didn’t seem to mind sharing.

I worked with quite a few Dachshunds (mainly due to River showing off) and on most Wednesdays you could find 3 or 4 running around. Oscar (Pictured above) was a long time one-on-one session that I worked with. His owners said that he could only do training every week if River was with him too. Dachshunds tend to love other Dachshunds and they had a blast together. Oscar, who barely sat on command when he first came in, learned all the basics and then some. Other classes thought River and Oscar were both MY dogs and didn’t see much difference in their level of training, which always caused Oscar to puff out his chest in pride!

Below: Pete the smooth-haired Border Collie ~ My pride and joy!

I met Pete when he was barely 4 months old. He was boarding while his owners were traveling, and I was asked to work with him during his stay. He was super smart and a quick learner. He had a major tendency to jump up and pull on the leash along with other basic puppy behaviors. After his week was up, he went home and the next day I got a phone call from his owners. Fearing the worst, I met with his ‘dad,’ Mr. H (we called the owners ‘pet parents’). I was already preparing the “it was only a week” speech, as I’d had to recite it with a few more extreme owners in the past who wanted a robot and not a dog. Before I could even begin, Mr. H walked up and shook my hand saying how impressed he was with Pete and me. Slightly taken aback I thanked him, fawned over Pete and we immediately came up with the next plan of training, since Pete is a high energy dog who needed a job.

Below: Pete & fellow Border Collie friend – Denali

Over the next year and a half I worked with Pete and sometimes his dad. Pete advanced to becoming the star of the training classes and I began to use him with other dogs for social and training exercises. Pete complemented River, who also worked with other training dogs, as he is larger and more energetic. Rather than playing in camp with the other dogs, Pete grew to be more and more in favor of being out working or waiting around for me to be done with paperwork. He held himself to the same level as River who got a free pass to just about anywhere in the store, and often ‘hung out’ in the training room on her bed instead of in camp.
Once 2 o’clock rolled around Pete would start looking for me, and no longer wanted to play with his Conch or Frisbee.

Below: The four hellions… Kathy & Dave G. Dogs, 3 Beagles and a Beagle/Shepherd mix – all rescues.

Okay, only one was actually a hellion but still… ever heard more than two Beagles baying at a time, indoors? …You’re now deaf.
Each dog had their own unique set of issues, and the youngest being 6 years old meant that their habits were well ingrained. The old guy out of the bunch was about 12ish years during our training, I believe — but progress was still made!

Below: Beagle girl Blondie

Doesn’t she look cute? Just so hug-able, sweet and cuddly.. I think not! Okay, she is now… but that is beside the point!

I’m convinced that all Beagles come with over-sized puppy eyes, floppy ears, and those adorable faces for one reason only — to keep their poor unsuspecting owners from murdering them. Whomever gets a Beagle thinking he is going to be Shiloh (book turned movie) all over again, and be a great pet for their city life… needs to visit a few Beagle rescues to get a true feel for what they are getting into. A house dog who is content to hang around and ‘behave’ most Beagles are certainly NOT, nor are they usually family or first dog material. In fact, if you have kids, get a Lab! Seems like most people are under the impression that Beagles are pets or at worst, a hunting dog – just like a Lab, right?
But no, Labs are BIRD dogs. They don’t actually hunt (at least not on purpose), they retrieve – i.e follow our commands.
Labs enjoy taking orders from people. Beagles are flush hunting dogs, i.e. Rabbit dogs — they chase, we follow. End of story. No commands included.

Thankfully, Kathy and Dave are well aware of the Rabbit sniffing Beagle’s true nature and took poor Blondie in from a family who thought Beagles were indeed good pets for kids and simply couldn’t care for her. Having had Beagles all her life, the motley four were Kathy’s second set of rescues. I know she is either crazy or a super big-hearted human being.
Fast forward to around March – April of last year (2011), with Kathy standing in the dog collar isle trying to figure out all the different gadgets and if any would actually help the Beagle dogsled team with her who liked trying to drag her around. I wandered up while putting items back on the shelves to ask if she needed any assistance. I got a brush off of ‘No I’m good, thanks’ with an undertone of “Get the H*** away from me!” — sadly common these days from people used to companies not quite getting what good customer service is and making their employees shove store policies down the poor customer’s throats.
Used to such reactions, I meandered off but stayed within sight in case she should change her mind. A few moments later, Kathy noticed (her words as she told me the story months later) that my shirt is a different color blue than the other employees and that mine also has ‘Dog Trainer’ across the back. Deciding that I didn’t seem overly pushy or suave sales like, she chanced a question about collars and I helped the best I could, explaining what the different gadgets are good for. I tried to keep things short and not ramble so it didn’t feel like I was just trying to sell her something she didn’t want. She hesitantly asked about the training that I did and I gave her the brief overview and explain some of my background with teaching, plus where she could find more info if she didn’t want to talk to anyone since she had that ‘I’m not a fan of box stores’ vibe. She said she had all she needed for now, so I gave my name should she have more questions and forgot about her within a day or two of work figuring I’d never see her again.

Below: Beagle boy #1 and Beagle boy #2 = R.b + Boogey.

So you can imagine my surprise when a month after meeting in the collar isle, out of the blue I have the two females of the Beagle crew along with Kathy and Dave in a fairly full Wednesday evening class. I later found out that Kathy got a ‘feeling’ about me that day in the collar isle which never quite went away so she decided to give me a shot. According to her ~ best thing she could have done!

Over the next year, Blondie (Beagle girl) became a regular in my personal sessions along with Pete, Oscar and quite a few others. I eventually worked with all four of Kathy and Dave’s dogs in group classes, one-on-ones, and personal training with just me and the dogs.

Below, Pete, Blondie and River on the ‘Jungle Gym’ holding a wait command.

Kathy’s dream goal was to be able to walk all four dogs together on leash without issues, i.e lounging, barking, tangling each other up and such. She didn’t think it was really possible, but mentioned it as her ‘Holy Grail.’ I just smiled and said that actually, four dogs on a leash would be easy; it was all the ‘other’ stuff that might be hard. Of course she thought I was joking.

See, Kathy wasn’t new to training classes, different types of training or anything that goes with it. Like many other people, she thought (particularly with rescue dogs) you could make major headway, but always have a few things you just couldn’t change. After all, these weren’t puppies or simple re-homed dogs. Every single Beagle (and Beagle mix ~ Miss Cassidy) were rescues.
Neglected, often abused and abandoned dogs are very different to retrain, more often than not. Treats won’t cut it, nor will simple praise and punishment. Kathy hung in with me and was able to stomach hard-to-hear truths about dealing with animals — that the kinds of things you might learn from your elders, and which everyone tends to agree is the right way, is actually not actually going to work at all — and we ultimately prevailed. Kathy likes to blame me for her success but I think most of the credit should be hers and Dave’s.

Below: Dave with his pack of four calm Beagles in wait by the small live critters (a Beagle owner’s nightmare).

You could usually hear whenever Blondie was in range — she howled and bayed and quickly would get the other dogs  into a pack frenzy of scents and sights. A simple sit was next to impossible unless one wanted a wrestling match with a snarling, blood-curdling little fiend. To say most people would rather just drag Blondie away from the excitement instead of trying to calm her down and reason with her was an understatement.
Cassidy was EXTREMELY shy in public, R.b usually refrained from moving his cute paws at all, and Boogey tended to follow Blondie’s lead with the barking. Each dog had a closet full of behaviors from their past that reared its many heads at less than ideal moments.

To say I’m proud of my adopted pack is falling quite short. I’m also impressed with how much Kathy and Dave grew with their dogs (its really not easy to change a couple of decades of training). On the last official day of their training, both Dave and Kathy calmly walked their 4 dogs, all at the same time, all around the store. No choke chains, no prong collars, no yanking leashes or dragging dogs. Simple calm, collected, controlled and relaxed dogs (and owners!).

Below: Cassidy playing with River

Cassidy bloomed into a young, confident girl who could boldly strut around without hiding from children, even allowing them to pet her. Overall, she is relaxed and visibly happy with a Shepherd’s grin on her muzzle if she thinks you’re not staring.

Camping trips, vet visits and home life are a completely different animal these days, according to Kathy. Dog fights and bullying are gone and peace can be found even with 3 1/2 Beagles (I can attest to this fact as I house sit the hellions occasionally). The pack loves River, and hate to see us leave them when the Parents are back.

Below: A Beagle Graduation! All our hard work comes together ~ the dogs just wanted their snack and a nap.

As often as I could, I worked with my training dogs together to help further their social skills, focus, and ability to differentiate their command from the other dog’s commands; to encourage friendly competition, a natural “pack” feel, self-control during excitement, stress and food; and to just provide overall fun for the dogs (and me!).

Below: “Wait on your bed” 4 Beagles – Blondie, R.b, Boogey and Cassidy, River and Pete.

Below: Another on your bed, with Pete, River and Denali. 

Denali is a ‘rough’ coat Border Collie and a bit more dainty then Pete. Otherwise, both are fine purebred Borders. And yes, Pete’s ear is always like that – it’s part of his charm!

Below: During camp (where dogs just play in large rooms with a caretaker) I went in to help a young Heeler mix calm down so she wouldn’t have to have a time out.

I was often called to help the Hotel with a dog or two. One of the main reasons people sought me out for training was to get their dog relaxed or social enough to be around other dogs while remaining calm. As you can see in this picture, even during playtime my ‘regulars’ tended to gather around me and just be with me. Pete often requested that he be glued to my hip and aid me with whatever I had going on that day.

Below: Pete and I taking a lunch break back in the hotel.

As you can see from his serene face, Pete was exactly where he wanted to be. Next to his ‘dad,’ I was Pete’s preferred person.

Quite a few pet owners and employees would asked me if Pete was looking for someone to bond with since he was so attached to me. The staff had a running joke for the last oh, eight months I worked there that Pete was in love with me, was my boyfriend and all sorts of other silliness. But to address any concerns; Pete’s Dad is his human, and they have an amazing relationship.
Due to his owner/Dad’s work, Pete needed a job; all Border Collies MUST have a purpose outside of the usual companion/pack relationship they have with their person. Sometimes it is not possible for the owner to ensure that extra purpose bit themselves, and another can take that role without hurting their bond. So I became Pete’s purpose, and job. Think like a mentor in a karate film. Needless to say I love him like my own, and if Pete didn’t already have a great family, I’d have begged and pleaded to take him with me.

Below: River ‘working’. My training cart moved with me from playroom to playroom and all the dogs knew that they couldn’t rob it without permission. River rode around on it like a boss!

Like River, Pete took his role in the training of people and other dogs seriously and viewed it very much as his job alongside me. My associates came to expect that whenever I was making calls, doing paper work or some other mindless task I would have a dog or three nearby, either simply waiting for me (Pete or River) or practicing their control and focus on stay. It may look like all ‘treats and toys’ in the pictures, but I asked a lot out of my two best dogs and keeping a command for over an hour with temptations around and my own focus on other things was a regular occurrence.

My last day with my dogs was quite heartbreaking as I said goodbye to people and dogs (the dogs were the hardest ~ sorry fellow humans). The worst part was that the dogs knew something was up, but I couldn’t explain to them that I was moving, and that to them I would just suddenly disappear. Most of the dogs were quieter or more shy than usual; Pete in particular was suddenly not bouncing around with his favorite stuffed dragon, but just leaning next to me while I worked the week leading up to my last day.

Pete & Joannie

I was told that for weeks after, dogs who were used to seeing me all the time moped around… and Pete was looking for me through doors and windows for months 😦 Quickest way to make me tear up for sure.

The Beagle pack also went through the River & Joannie withdrawal, and interestingly enough Blondie was the one who searched my room and claimed River’s bed. Luckily I get to visit and see my extended four-legged family very soon! I very much doubt that my dog days are over, and am in fact looking to expand my client list in the areas I visit often and live. But mostly I just want to see happy, healthy dogs with owners who enjoy their companionship. Both in Anchorage and Seattle!

~ J

To list all the dogs and put up all the great photos along with their stories and how far they have come would be a whole book. I have not purposely left anyone out, and all the dogs are dear to my heart. Many thanks to the owners of my furry friends who gave me permission to photograph and write about their dogs. All photos are property of Joannie Miller & the Owners. This is by no means a review of Petsmart Inc. and only reflects my personal experience. The Trainers within the company are like any other public teaching institute and include some truly gifted individuals.