Tag Archives: Great Pyrenees

Malingering WInter

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

 

Malingering, according to my Shorter Oxford means    to pretend illness in order to escape duty, said especially of soldiers and sailors.  I have a new definition:  lingering in the vicinity with malicious intent, for example, this winter that is still here, lingering maliciously via a wintery mix, two days after the spring equinox.

Now, I’m a big fan of winter in general.  What’s not to like?  There’s the magic of snow falling, blanketing the world, forcing a slowdown, and bringing a quiet that is rare even here in the woods.  I think most people who don’t care for the vagaries of winter are those who have a hard time slowing down and those who allow the weather to limit their activity.  My days don’t change much through the seasons.  I walk twice a day, at least, every day because I feel better for doing so and the dog requires that routine.  Even though he could go for his own walks, he likes to know that I am on patrol as well.  Walking in the winter is actually easier because I can add clothes layers as needed to suit the conditions and I have excellent traction devices as needed too.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Dogs stay cleaner in a cold winter.  No mud.  This winter could have been better with more actual snow and less wintery mix, (freezing rain and sleet ruin good snow for snowshoeing) but it was nice and cold for a  prolonged time.  I have a trail we walk in the afternoon up the hill.  I go fast uphill and Murphy and I both love running downhill in the snow.  I run no matter the footgear, snowshoes, cleats or bare boots.  I run because it’s easier to get momentum and keep it and I figure if it’s slippery (which it usually is, especially where I have already compressed the snow) then the less time my feet are on the ground the less chance to slide suddenly.

 

Ice on a staghorn sumac.  Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

Ice on a staghorn sumac. Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

The crusty conditions this winter made running downhill more of a challenge.  The frozen trail was mostly a ribbon of mini moguls and stepping to the side could mean going through crust to softer deeper snow.  Concentration is key, but I get laughing as I run because Murphy is often right on my heels so I can’t stop.  I think he thinks it’s funny to run downhill in the snow, nearly on top of me.

This winter we had not enough snow that got crusted with freezing rain, frequently, so I walked shod with cleats mostly and finally found some kickass cleats that  allow me to tap dance on icy hills like our driveway this past December.  My new cleats, Katoohla Microspikes, are like tire chains for my feet.  They have come in really handy when I needed to climb the icy hill no matter the conditions to retrieve Murphy from his bark about patrols.

Several times a week Murphy doesn’t come home from the walk and instead does his patrol of the ridge: ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  He’s a Great Pyrenees by temperament and he could do this all night long.  Slow to learn me, I only just realized that we have been playing a game of his devising.  I call it stalking.  I head up the hill and try to circle around behind and get close enough to him so that he has to acknowledge me and come.  He won’t come when I call because he is on a mission, eliminating all denizens from the area.  I usually fail at round one.  He moves farther away or goes silent.  I concede by walking back toward our dooryard.  In December I would do this so as night fell I could more easily see to get back in the near dark.  I have a headlamp but it is still hard to bushwhack in the dark with a small light.  Easier with deep snow to follow my tracks.

Anyway, once I start walking away, I make some noise and then stop.  Within a minute Murphy comes racing up to where I am, winner of the second round.  Sometimes he really surprises me by leaping out from thick trees nearly in front of me.  I yelp and he looks most gratified.  He gets cookies  and praise and leashed and we head for home.  Sometimes if it’s not too close to nightfall we stop and contemplate the universe.  When there is snow on the ground it’s more easy to see where Murphy sits to keep an eye on things below.  I’m sure he is getting most of his information with his nose but I mostly look and listen.  Crouched on the top of a frozen hill in the spooky woods in January I hear the wind waves in  patterns like the ocean waves.  Ah, to be a bird and be able to surf those waves.

Alas, wingless, bound by gravity, still there is fun to be had.  Now that Spring is here we occasionally get a slightly warming day with some melt between  the sub-zero and wintery mix days.  There are patches of smooth ice on the edges of the road still frozen on the morning walks.  I go cleat-less  and run and slide as far as the leash will let me while Murphy checks the pee-mail.  He gets to make his mark five feet up the trees courtesy of the snow banks beside the road.  Later, those that can perceive it will think a giant dog lives here.

There are lacy ice-edged, frozen puddles to crunch along and later in the day, if it warms enough, slushy snow to squash beneath my feet.  Running downhill then has a lot more slide to it.

While waiting for Murphy to catch me up on the trail loop I discovered a big old pine tree drum.  I was breaking dead branches off the bottom and the remaining bits have several nice tones depending on my striker so I stop as I walk by and drum on the hill sometimes.

It’s all fun and mostly I’ve had a good winter, even trapped by the ice storm over the winter holidays.  I got chains for my truck so I could climb the ice hill so no worries there. Still, I have about two days of wood left in the garage and I will need to move some of my last cord of wood that is stacked (and covered, luckily) outside.  I had hoped that more snow would be gone but now it looks like I’ll have to hack out the pickup and clear out the back so I can load wood and move it.

So for many, maybe most, winter is lingering with malicious intent, but I’m still playing here.  Yippee!

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

 

 

Ambivalence about November

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I have a love/hate relationship with November in Maine.  November has long been my favourite month.  I love the ice in the wind presaging snow, the bare trees revealing their spooky branches against the grey skies, and I love Thanksgiving, the best of all holidays that is all about food and no co-dependent expectations.

Alas, it is also deer hunting season so the woods that are normally the domain of the wildlife and Murphy and me have hunters with guns who think that the deer belong to them, as if they are anyone’s.  We wear our blaze orange to signal that we are non-combatants in the deer war but I worry that Murphy will encounter some stranger in our woods and be misunderstood in a deadly way.

Looking buff in his hunting vest

Looking buff in his hunting vest

The thing is, that Murphy is a Great Pyrenees mountain dog by temperament and, ever vigilant, he is serious about keeping all unauthorized intruders from our hill of woods.  Worse, with the cooler weather he has more energy and the bare trees and drier air allow for barking to carry nicely across the valley.  All summer he stays out all night because it is cooler and is quiet but come November, when I tie him outside after his dinner, he barks non-stop until I decide that neighbours need a break.  It’s my compromise, he gets to bark some but not past 8PM.

Then, there is the chance now, until there is a lot of snow ( another reason to wish for lots of snow) that Murphy will not come home from the afternoon walk in the woods and instead do his bark about thing.  Basically he stays at the top of the ridge and roams from one end to the other, covering 100+ acres, barking.  Ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  I’m fairly sure that he could keep this up all night.  It’s the Pyr way of avoiding actual close-up repelling of evil-doers.  Any bad-ass predators will hear him and hunt elsewhere.

So, a couple of times a week I get an additional walk, near dusk, up the hill to entice him home.  He won’t come if I call him of course, because he KNOWS that what he is doing is far more important than any agenda I might have.  Ah, the independent Pyrenees.  So I try to position myself so that he will be moving toward me.  I act suspiciously, make random noise, stay still.  When he is within twenty feet or so I address him conversationally and usually he’ll come over as if to say, hey, Lynn!  You’re in the woods too!  I hook him up, praise him for his excellent job patrolling, give him a couple of treats I happen to have in my pocket and suggest that it might be time to come home.  So far I have always succeeded although a couple of times I’ve walked back in the dark with  the dim circle of my headlamp lighting my way.

Smarter than the average human am I because I have learned not to call out to him as I close in because, like as not, he’ll go into silent running mode and it is just not possible to find a dog that isn’t barking.  Yet another thing to be ambivalent about because if he’s quiet the neighbours aren’t alerted to him on patrol.  It’s a fine line I walk between allowing enough activity within his genetic parameters to allow for well-adjusted dog behaviour and controlling enough so that he complies with societal regulations.

We, that is, I, bend the rules.  After all, I’m the one who has to live with the Captain of the Palace Guard.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

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Yay! Winter! and knitting! and new camera coolness!

New snow on rose hips

New snow on rose hips

Already this winter is better than last.  Just after Christmas we got a couple of dumps of snow, nearly two feet of powder, good enough for snowshoes.  Best of all it stayed cold for a while, but then , that dreaded warming and quite a bit of the lovely snow melted, alas.

Winter is  my favourite time of year.  No need to have excuses to be inside listening to music, creating, designing, or escaping in a good book with a cup of tea in front of the fire.  Meanwhile the necessity of dog walking means that I still get out twice a day, one early morning, before breakfast, down the road, and the other, afternoon, in the woods, up the hill.  I sense that, when I’m out at this time of year, that there are not a lot of others out, braving the weather.  Too bad for them; for me the feeling during the day is like late at night, tranquil, when most of the world is asleep.

Last week Murphy and I did a weekend road trip to Bonney River, New Brunswick to help my cousin with some computer things.  I brought my snowshoes but I couldn’t really let Murphy off the leash because the ice on the Magaguadavic  River (those who know call it the Magadavy) and the smaller Bonney River where we walked in the woods was not reliably frozen, so I trudged for miles in my big Sorel pacs.

THe preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

The preferred boot for slogging through two feet of snow, rated for -40.

 It’s a good workout to walk behind a dog through the snow.  From Calvin’s we walked partway down the road, looking for a place to get off and into woods.  There is a good place a bit more than a mile or so toward St. George where the old railroad used to be, but in the winter there is not a place to park so we were limited to the nearby area.  I found a ATV trail at the back of a blueberry barren that looped to the near side of the Bonney River opposite the old railroad bed.  I almost let Murph off the leash but the moose tracks had me worried.  He kept stopping and gazing off into the deep woods and I had visions of him long gone on the trail of a cranky moose.  Not a good mental picture.
Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

Murphy meticulously examining the tracks of a moose

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The not quite frozen Bonney River

The Saturday of our visit was snowy all day.  I had hopes that there was also snow three hours south but it turned out to not be.

Sunday warmed up enough that under the snow was boggy melt, enough that Murphy could drink the water pooling in our footsteps.

My helpful data entry gig lasted until noon on Monday, then a last lunch and we headed back as the temperatures were going down, again.  Home in Maine, most of our snow was gone, the driveway a sheet of ice and so cold that my little woodstove could barely keep the temp inside above 15C.  Upstairs my thermometer read 9C, inside one morning.  A hot water bottle  helps keep my feet warm.

The morning walks are a challenge when it is this cold.  My extra long scarf wraps around my face but that means I can’t wear glasses because they steam and then ice up.  I wear long fingerless gloves inside my heaviest mittens, wool socks inside my felt pac boots, full length down coat and two hats.  Thus garbed, I can walk for hours if I want but my vision is a bit blurry and the two hat thing is not my best look, so I decided to make a heavier proper earflap Fair Isle hat.  I found a good pattern on ravelry.com, The Juneau Fair Isle Hat, by Jenny Dolan that I used as a starting point.  I liked the I-cord edge and I’ve done enough two-stranded hats and mitts that I thought I could come up with a decent, warm hat.

Meanwhile, I bought a new book at my LYS (Local Yarn Store, to non-knitters) about using up stash yarn.   A Yarn Stash, is like the the loot in the secret caves of the thieves that Ali Baba followed.  I have heard there are knitters who buy only enough yarn for a project at a time, use it, then get more.  Weird, I say.  I have yarn that I bought in the 70’s (I think that ‘s the oldest) and have accumulated enough that I could probably knit my stash for a couple of years (doing nothing else) before I needed more.  But there is always something more.

My LYS is the fabulous Heavenly Socks in Belfast, Maine.  It’s a dangerous place for yarn lovers.  I have the same affinity for yarn stores as for fabric ones.  (reference my post: A change agent, lamenting change, May, 2011).  Colour, texture, possibilities.  Best of all, most things you knit can be unravelled and knit again, changed, mistakes corrected.  It’s a most forgiving art and my default activity when I  have a problem to solve in another arena.  Knit for a while and suddenly the how of constructing a pocket that works from two sides, or some other problem, becomes evident.

The stash-busting book had a tip that I wanted to try.  There is a newish item in the yarn stores called a Zauberball that has long colour changes that fade into each other.  Zauber means magic, and the book suggested making a magic ball from coordinating colours of yarn, creating a variegated ball that would stripe fairly regularly.  I had just finished a fabulous pair of socks with yarn from Good Karma Farm so the small leftover ball was the inspiration.  I don’t have lots of sock yarn so I doubled anything that was fingering weight or sport weight to match the knitting worsted weight that is most of my stash.  I lined up the colours on my desk then started roughly measuring lengths and knotting them together.  The beauty is that if you knit plain, all the knots will go to the back.

I made a BIG magic ball.  First, to try it out, I knit a scarf I saw on Ravelry, Wingspan Scarf.  Of course, my yarn is thicker than most so mine is a bit like a long collar.  Because it is garter stitch the knots show everywhere but I sewed a shell button on every knot, used big shell buttons so that it can be buttoned up and beaded the pointy ends.  I also did the yo, lace-ish version; helps with the buttons.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

Angora, mohair, alpaca, and a bit of acrylic chenille in olive, purple, taupe and gold.

It’s kinda old man, 1940’s colours but I like it.

Then Hat or another pair of mitts?  I went for the hat so I could stop the two hat madness.  I knit the hat in 2.5 days, using my magic ball and natural worsted from Briggs and Little  in NB.  I started with the ear flaps and figured my gauge from them, calculated how many stitches to add and unlike the pattern, I moved the earflaps back a bit.  I also made the earflaps longer because they didn’t seem long enough by themselves, so now they are super long.  Because of my stitch count I used a 16 stitch repeat pattern that was 15 rows for the main pattern but it was getting too deep so I started decreasing with the pattern, lost six more stitches in the plain rows then did regular decreases with a tree pattern.  Someday I’ll make a plain hat (Hunh!) I finished the top with a flower, purple with green mohair leaves.  the flaps and a head band are lined with purple stretch velvet.  I paired purple mohair with a purple worsted for the cord edge and made a loop and button closing at the points of the earflaps.  The flaps are too long to have ties.  And I think flaps always look cooler, loose.

Somehow I have once again channeled my inner Mongol horde ancestry with my take on the ancient warrior of the steppes hat.

I used the timer on my new camera for the first time today.  What a revelation!  It has a face recognition feature.

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

Modelling my Mongol Warrior, Fair Isle Hat

The countdown to snap doesn’t start until you look at the camera.  How amazing is that?  No more rushing to get in the pic .  I wanted to take a picture of the back and had to look at the camera before I turned around.  The only hard part is figuring out where to stand so that I am in the frame.  Murphy participated as well because he was jonesing for his second afternoon walk and wanted to make sure I did not forget.

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day?   You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember?  Then there's cookies....... isn't that NOW?

Hey, Supreme Leader, remember that patrol thing we do every day? You walk your loop and I occasionally surprise you on the trail, remember? Then there’s cookies……. isn’t that NOW?

So now I have a super warm hat and scarf that is sort of matching, and still enough magic ball to do another…… and that didn’t even dent the stash, so  much for stash-busting.  Still I  put the idea to good use and learned more about my camera.  Now to stash bust my fabric…… that might take a decade!

Captain of the Palace Guard

Murphy the Vigilant, sits up straight, squarely on his haunches, ready to spring into action.

A Great Pyrenees (a.k.a Pyrenees Mountain Dog) would not be my choice for an easy dog to own.  I know my style.  I like the easy-going, tractable gentle giants that need regular exercise in the form of long walks but spend most of their time impersonating lumpy rugs.  Size, without aggression as a deterrent is what I appreciate.  There are thousands of dogs looking for homes because their humans didn’t know what they really could handle in a dog companion and chose based on looks, only to find out later that the work involved or the energy level of the dog did not suit.

I ended up with Murphy inadvertently, a bit like how I bought a rug once at an auction: I didn’t mean to be the last bidder but suddenly I was the lucky owner.  I was surfing Petfinder.com just to see, another something I don’t recommend for the soft-hearted.  It’s too sad to see all the dogs who just want somewhere to belong and someone to have as their person.  Saddest are the older dogs.  It’s just wrong to give a home to a dog for eight years and then abandon the dog when it’s older and needs it’s secure home the most.

I was torturing myself, three months after having to put down my thirteen year old Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper.  I saw the posting for Murphy that said he was a Great Pyrenees/Lab cross and I thought the independent stubborn Pyr might be tempered by the tractable, obedient, companion Lab so I fired off an inquiry.  My experience in BC was that the process to adopt was a slow one.  Some agencies were nearly unreasonable with their criteria.   I really didn’t think much would come of my query, but the wonderful people at Almost Home whipped into action, checking my references and did a home inspection to see what it was like here.

I thought the lack of fenced yard would be a deal breaker but turned out to be not a problem and we were told that Murphy liked cats and got along with the cat and dog where he was staying.  I had great references from my vet in BC who had helped me with Jasper through his last very difficult year so I got approved and went to pick him up.

Almost immediately I though I’d made a big mistake.  Murphy was ten months old and had very little training.  He jumped up on things and people and used his paws aggressively to get more attention and was generally unruly.   I didn’t let on but I wasn’t sure I could do much with him.  I can say now with authority that with consistent training any dog can become a good one within their genetic trait parameters.

At first he was on a short leash in the house because he wanted to chase the cats.  That lasted for a couple of months until Mozart finally decided to take back his place as top dude and stopped running.  Now they are best buds and sleep together and guard in tandem as well.  I worked to get him to stop the pawing for attention, jumping up on people coming through the door, going through any door first or without permission and worked on making him wait for his food.

Murphy shares his bowl with Mozart (who prefers to drink from the dog bowl.)

I’ve come to realize that while Murphy may not be a purebred Great Pyrenees, he has all of the traits and characteristics of one.  There is nothing Lab-like about him except for his ears.  He doesn’t retrieve or even play with toys and he doesn’t like to swim.  He doesn’t even like to get wet.  No, Murphy is a guard dog, a guardian.  Three thousand years as a breed, Pyrs are ALWAYS guarding what belongs to them. Great Pyrenees will never be at the top of a dog intelligence list but they should be.  Those lists are made by humans who value tractability and instant obedience to commands.   Pyrs are incredibly smart but genetically predisposed to work without direction so they always think they know better  and follow their own instinct first in any situation and only listen to their person after being hammered with a command many times.

Pyrs can guard a large area, much larger than the twenty acres that we live on that luckily blend into other woods.  Murphy needed to be tied at first because any activity on the road below would have him charging down to repel possible intruders.   After a year I started allowing him  off the line when someone was in the yard.  Our closest neighbour can be seen down the hill and  across a field with a line of trees marking the property line.  They were helpful enough to call whenever he went there so I could collect him and bring him back to be tied.  Eventually he learned to stay in the yard.

Maintaining one of his good vantage points

The magic year is two.  Starting then Murphy began to show signs that he could (sort of) accommodate the lifestyle we had here.  Lucky for him we don’t live in Suburbia with the fenced-in postage stamps, nor do we live close to farmers with those lovely chickens that make such a lovely squawking noise (at first).  As a guard dog he has a high predator instinct and any animal that doesn’t belong here is the enemy and fair game.  Too late I learned that because of their nature, Great Pyrenees should be heavily socialized at a young age with other dogs.  His arrival coincided with my mother’s hospitalization and death so he didn’t get that needed contact with other dogs at the right age.  He’s ok with other dogs but I never know.  Some he loves and some he wants to kill and all dogs he leans on, asserting his dominance.  If they growl he takes that as an invitation to fight.  I have a feeling that Pyrs are naturally alphas, mostly, which requires a strong hand.  He’s better off the leash than on but is not reliable with the voice since he knows better.  It takes all of my strength to hold him when he is stubbornly determined.  I only outweigh him by twenty pounds.

We have a daily routine and that, I think, is what helps him to be good.  First, in the morning we patrol the road on leash.  This can be a really slow walk because Murphy’s idea of a walk is to stand and smell and look.  There’s a lot of standing on our morning walks so I sometimes bring something to read. Then I get breakfast and he begins the daily guarding.  Lucky for Murphy we live on a hill so he can get a good vantage point.  At some point in the afternoon is the time of the big walk off leash.  Sometimes we drive a couple of miles to Northern Pond but lately, beginning in hunting season and because of reduced daylight in the winter, we go up the hill and looping through the woods.  He could take himself whenever he wants but waits for me to go with, even though I rarely see him while on the trail.  Ann does a walk most days as well and we generally go separately so that Murphy can have two walks.  He starts to bug her first because he knows she usually walks before I do.  After the afternoon walk, if there is still daylight he can hang out, untied but I remain vigilant because if he gets on a barking jag close to night he could be barking all night.

Murphy in his hunting vest.  Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Murphy in his hunting vest. Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Then it’s food time.  He can eat/snack whenever he wants on meat cereal as I like to call it; there’s always some in his bowl.  Mostly he likes to eat a bit when I do.  He lets me know it’s time to eat in the late afternoon and I feed him his ‘meat in a catfood dish’ that is a mix of ground chicken bone and bits from Mainly Poultry mixed with organic beef liver, grated apple, green bean, and carrot and some raw eggs all with wild salmon oil on it.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Sometimes he turns up his nose at it and other times he asks for seconds.  I let him eat what he wants because he’s not a chow-hound.  I sometimes have to remind him to clean his bowl.

Where Murphy excels is as a guard dog.  If you needed a guard dog that you didn’t want to have to order around, and you have lots of room, a Great Pyrenees could be your dog.  He stations himself in various places around the property, always with an eye to the likely place from whence danger will come.  When one of us is outside working he moves to within twenty feet and turns his back and again watches.  He is constantly vigilant and serious about it.

As a breed Pyrs are barkers, but not gratuitous ones.  There is the regular utility bark that can go on for hours whose purpose is to alert all predators that the area is under the protection of a badass big dog, aka BFD.  Murphy does a bit of this in the morning but mostly he likes to do that utility bark after dinner and at night when the denizens of the woods are out and about.  After dinner I tie him and let him bark for a while until I figure the neighbours have had enough.  In the summer he prefers to stay out all night and he’s smart enough to realize that can only happen if he’s quiet.

Murphy has several alert barks.  I can tell the difference between the bark that lets our neighbour Caren know he’s keeping an eye on her down the hill, the ‘someone I’ve never seen before is driving up’ bark ( he continues that one until one of us comes out to take charge), the ‘friend is driving up’ (UPS guy with treats)bark, the ‘hey! I’m tangled up in the woods’ bark, the ‘critter I want to kill up that tree’ bark, and the ‘I’m here if you’re wondering’ bark.  If he’s not tied and I hear the ‘someone is on the road who doesn’t belong’ bark I come running out because it sounds like he’s ready to attack, but most times that bark is emanating from Murphy, comfortably lying down with his paws crossed.

For all his serious attitude about his job, Murphy is a loving, cuddly bear of a dog with a sense of humour.  He’s grown on me and I’ve adapted my routine to accommodate his basic nature, enough that I would almost entertain having another Pyr as a dog companion.  I do feel like a princess in my realm with the captain of the palace guard ever vigilant on my behalf.   Alas, I’ll never be able to take him to a dog park and he can never be permitted to freely wrestle/play with another dog because, like a grizzly bear, he can escalate to fight/kill mode in an instant.  Still, it’s a gift of some magnitude to be able to communicate with such an intelligent, steadfast and loyal being.  Now if only I could get him to associate the pain of porcupine quills with that enticingly slow animal that frequents our demesne.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB

Necessity-inspired creation

Early morning walk before the plow has been by

Whenever my morning begins, it starts with a cobweb clearing walk down the dirt road on which I live, accompanied by my Great Pyrenees Cross, Murphy.  This is a part of our routine that I established early in our association to substantiate my authority.  We always walk using the leash at that time, so I (mostly) determine where and at what speed, and he is mostly compliant by necessity.  He gets a longer afternoon walk (or walks, if he plays his cards right and persuades Ann to take him before I do) off-leash so he can roam freely and run in the woods and he’s free to go wherever between times.  This is my compromise for his basic nature which is to be a highly predatory guard dog.  Lucky for Murphy we have acres of woods and all the closest neighbours are out of sight and downhill.

We used to do the early walk up the road to the end of the town-serviced part, then into the neighbours’ woods where I let him off-lead.  Unfortunately, he wouldn’t always meet me at the end of the loop to leash up again, and would find his own way home, which he knew very well. This way would sometimes lead him through the neighbours’ yard where he would give a quick chase of the cat if it was in the yard, and he might loom at the ninety-plus-year-old woman who lives there, if she happened to be at the door.  This behaviour resulted in banishment from those woods, so now we go down the road in the other direction, most of the way to the main road, and return.  It’s not more than a mile but it can take as long as forty-five minutes because of Murphy’s nature.

In Murphy’s mind we are on morning patrol, checking the neighbourhood for any untoward activity.  Doing any ‘business’ is not a major part of his agenda.  He is checking out who has been by in the night and what is going on downhill from our domain.  So a walk with Murphy involves a lot of standing around while he sniffs with great particularity and then maneuvers to get the perfect angle so as to leave his mark.  The first half can go faster but the return is excruciatingly slow.  This is probably exacerbated by the fact that by the turnaround point I’ve woken up and figured out what my day will entail and I’m ready to get on with the making of porridge and coffee so I can get the rest started.  So my pace quickens as his slows.  He always falls behind ( my other neighbours have commented that it looks like I’m dragging him on the walk) and I’m constantly exhorting him to ‘come on, let’s go.’  If I stop he will often sit in his upright guard dog position and begin to actively sift through all the scents coming from all directions.

He really is not happy walking and sniffing and I get bored standing around so last summer I started bringing my iPod Touch with me so I could read while we stood.  What do you call a walk that is mostly not walking?  This has improved things.  I’m not constantly pulling him and nagging to move and what’s not to like about reading while walking?

Now it’s winter and my fingerless gloves are not enough in the sub-freezing temps in the morning so I paused my other knitting projects to make some iPod mittens.  I just needed access to my thumbs to turn the pages, so I made these with a slit in the thumbs and then picked up stitches and knit a flap over the hole so that I won’t get any draft.  I can keep only one thumb out and tuck it in my mitt while I’m reading.  I thought of making it so that the whole thumb would flip off but I thought that might make it too easy and as a result, drafty, so that’s why this slightly odd, but functional style.

iPod mittens, Flying Geese pattern

I tried them out this week.  It was −10C for our morning walk.  I have a full length down coat and wool felt-lined pac boots so I can stand around all day and be warm.  We sauntered down the road, Murphy examining with great attention to detail and me reading.  At one point he stopped to pay attention to whatever scents were wafting up the hill toward us across a wild field.  I stopped and continued to read not really paying attention.  I might have stood there five or ten minutes; engrossed in a book, I lose track of time.  I finally noticed that we hadn’t moved in a while so I turned to look at Murphy and he was sitting, looking down the road from whence danger would come, the quintessential guard dog.  I burst out laughing.  Was I stopped for him, or he for me?  He looked at me as if to say, well, are you ready? And we resumed the walking part of the walk.

Just the tip of my thumb is all that I need to page my iPod