Posts Tagged 'bouvier covered in snow'

Photo Essay: Snow-Frosted Bouvier

It’s snowing, again. Last time I checked the thermometer, when I let Barnum out, it was seven degrees Fahrenheit.

As I’ve blogged recently, we fixed my outdoor, snow-worthy powerchair and got my two-way radios working. Then Barnum and I were able to go for a few walks.

Since we’re expected to get one-and-a-half to two new feet of snow fall, in addition to the four feet we already have, I don’t think Barnum and I will be doing much “roadwork” in the next day or two. What’s a disabled trainer/handler and a service-dog-in-training to do?

Enjoy the snow, of course! Bask in the memories of our recent walks!

Here are some pictures of Barnum, the abominable adorable snow-dog, getting out and about, enjoying the snow and freezing temps. (Making use of that water-repellent, Bouvier des Flandres double coat, bred to withstand harsh conditions.)

First, I have to gear up:

Powerchair covered with cold weather gear

Snow-worthiness checked? Check. Layers to put on? Check.

[Photo description: Huge powerchair with black parka, red scarf, red hat, and tan mittens draped over the seat. A green leash, attached to the chair, is looped around the left arm rest.]

Then I have to put Barnum’s gear on him:

Barnum in orange vest on ramp surrounded by snow

I'm ready! Can we GO now, please?

[Photo description: Barnum, a furry black brindle bouvier des Flandres, stands on a black metal mesh ramp with black metal railings. He is dressed in a bright orange vest with reflective strips. He gazes into the distance. The snow on either side of the ramp reaches his elbows.]

Barnum is not so patient while I get dressed:

Can we GO yet? Ive already sampled the snow, and its delicious.

What about now? Can we go NOW? I've already sampled the snow, and its delicious.

[Photo description: Barnum stands in the doorway, looking up. His beard is encrusted with snow, and little balls and flecks of snow and ice stick to his fur on his head and body.]

Okay! I’m ready to go out in the pleasant weather (defined as, “Above 10 degrees Fahrenheit”):

Sharon bundled up for a walk in the snow

Layering for warmth! Oh, and fashion, of course. Soooo fashionable....

Sharon does her pre-flight radio instrument check

Testing, Alpha Bravo Charlie... Receiving transmission? Over.

[Photo description: In the first image, Sharon wears a self-deprecating smile as she sits in her powerchair, a leash in one gray-wool-gloved hand, a walkie-talkie in the other. She is wearing heavy gray sweatpants and a bulging black parka. She has a gray wool hat pulled down practically to her eyebrows, over which is a baby-blue sweatshirt hood. Wrapped around the hood is a huge red-and-black knit scarf. In the second, Sharon holds the two-way radio up to her mouth.]

Then off we went for our walk, which I’ve detailed in the aforementioned previous post.

But Barnum did not want to come inside. After all, it was snowing and well-below freezing, and he’d just been for a walk. Why would he want to come in?

Barnum, King of the Hill, surveys his domain from atop his snowy peak

First, to get the lay of the land. . . .

Branaum, King of the Hill, surveys the other direction

. . . In all directions. . . .

[Photo description: Barnum sits atop an enormous mound of snow, several feet high, next to the house. He is level with the windows of the house. He wears his orange vest, and his beard is white with snow.]

Then, when the gear came off, it was time to zoom around and play! First, run away from Mom. Then. . . .

Barnum at the very end of the snow-covered ramp, running

I think Mom called me.

Running up the ramp

I'm coming, Mom!

Barnum runs on the snowy ramp, head down

Almost there!

Barnum's head and shoulder's, very shaggy, his snout totally white with snow, his head cocked to the side in a very adorable, questioning way

So, you called?

[Image description: Four photos of Barnum running from the very end of a long, snow-covered ramp, to a close-up of his face and shoulders, his eyes hidden by his black fall, his head tilted to the side, questioningly, and the top of his nose and his beard white with snow.]

After a treat and greet, it was off to play some more!

Barnum runs to the top of a very large "snow cliff"

Run up here!

Play bow in the deep snow

And play bow!

Barnum runs down a snow bank

And run down here!

Barnum downhill playbow with snow face

And play bow!

[Image description: Four photos of Barnum playing in the snow. First, up a high cliff of snow, a paw in the air, blurred by movement. Then doing a play-bow, his front half and muzzle invisible in the snow, his eyes just visible above it. Then running down a steep snow bank. Then another play-bow in the gully, one side of his face caked with snow.]

And then, of course, a thorough roll in the snow, with lots of face rubbing. . . .

Side of Barnums face caked with thick snow

I have a little what? Where?

Barnum standing against a backdrop of snow, his legs covered with snow, and his face, especially the muzzle and the right side, totally caked with snow and ice

Why are you laughing, Mom?

[Image descriptions: The first photo is an extreme closeup of the side of Barnum’s face, which is completely caked and matted with snow, except for his eye. The second shows Barnum’s whole body, standing sideways with head turned toward the camera. His legs are full of snow balls, and his face is caked with snow, especially around his nose, where some snow balls the size of grapes cling to his fur.]

Eventually I got cold and went inside. Finally, Barnum decided he was ready to come in, too:

Barnum sits outside the storm door, a thick layer of snow on his coat, especially his face. In the relfelction of the glass, Sharon is visible holding up the camera, taking Barnum's picture

Mom! Can you please stop taking pictures of me, and let me in?

And these photos were all taken before the latest storm!

But how can I not enjoy the snow with this funny guy at my side?

Extreme closeup of Barnum's face, side view, his brown eye peeking out from under the snow and hair

My Sweet Snowy Bouvie Boy

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (polar bouv)

P.S. Readers, I’d appreciate hearing from you whether you enjoyed this photo essay, and if I should do more. (Such as some from Barnum’s puppyhood.)

Likewise, to my blind and low-vision readers, does a photo essay hold interest for you if I include the photo descriptions, as I have above, or do you just skip this type of thing? I’m happy to get comments below, or you can contact me privately at the contact page.

Thank you!

t you that winter I felt I’d have died,

but really I’d just have missed

a few more meals, water for pills, maybe pissed

myself or spil

LTD: Roadwork! (Walkin’ and Talkin)’

I have a semi-working powerchair and semi-working walkie-talkies! Not since the clicker and the target stick have technologies played such an important role in dog training!

Obviously I’m exaggerating. Nonetheless, lately I’ve been on a roll.

In last week’s post, I described how I figured out what was wrong with my powerchair. I was waiting for the temperatures to climb a bit so I could finally take Barnum for a walk.

I’m pleased to report that Barnum and I have taken four walks since that post!

Walks are so important for so many reasons — exercise for Barnum, a source of bonding and a mental health boost for both of us, as well as practice for lots of behaviors such as eliminating on cue while on lead, loose-leash walking (LLW), attention and eye contact, socialization and desensitization, and the opportunity to train known behaviors (sit, down, stay, touch, etc.), in a more distracting environment (generalizing).

Vigorous exercise is also a key component of Sue Ailsby’s Leading the Dance protocol that we have been trying to follow. Previous posts focused on number five, “Possession,” and number seven, “Sing a Song.”

Here’s number 10 — “Working off Energy” (referred to as “roadwork” by many clicker trainers):

Work Off Energy – Roadwork adult dogs 4 days a week. Start small, but work up to a mile for small dogs, 2 miles for medium dogs, and 3 miles for large dogs. Many problems will disappear with no more effort than road-working. You can jog with the dog, or ride a bike, or longe him with a Flexi, or use an ATV, or lend him to a jogger who’s afraid of being mugged.

One of the behaviors that has suffered from not being able to walk Barnum has been eliminating on cue. If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you know this is a skill I’m obsessed with concerned about. In fact, I not only blogged about it when we were housebreaking Barnum, but before Barnum even arrived.

On the Training Levels list, the consensus was that getting a dog to relieve on cue, on leash, reliably, is tremendously helped by “roadwork” — as is almost every other skill and behavioral problem. I was so frustrated! I felt like I was failing as a mom/handler and as an owner-trainer.

Now, all has changed! Callooh! Callay! Oh frabjous day! I chortle in my joy!

First of all, I was able to get Barnum to pee (and in one case, poo), in the yard, on leash, before we left for our walks. This is ideal, because then I can use the walk afterwards as a very strong reinforcer.

Tuesday, the temperature climbed from negative numbers to a balmy 22 degrees Fahrenheit. I bundled myself in layers and dressed Barnum in his Premier Easy Walk Harness and hunter-orange safety vest, and away we went.

Barnum in orange vest on ramp surrounded by snow

Barnum's suited up and ready for his walk. You can see how much snow has fallen on the patio table and next to the ramp, which is actually two to three feet off the ground!

[Photo description: Barnum, a furry black brindle bouvier des Flandres, stands on a black metal grate with black metal railings. He is dressed in a bright orange vest with reflective stripes and gazing into the distance. The snow on either side of the ramp reaches his elbows.]

In truth, before we left, I told my personal care assistant (PCA) that I planned to go for just a half-hour test drive, and which route we planned to take. I said if we weren’t back within 45 minutes, to get in the van and come look for us. The chair is working, yes, but those batteries are still not reliable and had not been tested in very cold weather, and I didn’t want to risk getting stranded in the cold and dark while temperatures dropped.

I hadn’t known if I could make it to the street at all, because my monster chair just fits down the ramp, with no room to spare. Yet once on the ramp, I turned the knob to “turtle,” and toddled safely down the walkway.

Half an hour went by much too quickly. Barnum really needs a lot of work on his loose-leash walking, and he also needs much more exercise — an hour, at the very least. Before the chair batteries went on the fritz, we were doing at least one-and-a-half to two-mile walks (at a fast clip). But you gotta turtle before you can rabbit, right?

We did manage to get some decent training in for the beginning part of the walk: I was able to click and treat Barnum many times for walking by my side. He even ate the cheese! However, when my cheese supply was gone, and I switched to kibble, he turned up his squishy, black nose at it. Still, it’s progress for Barnum to pay attention to me, at all, or accept treats, on a walk.

I was pleased with the powerchair’s performance, too. The roads were thick with two to three inches of snow muck. Yet the powerchair did excellently, overall. In fact, at one point, a car slowed down to pass us, and slipped and skidded a little as it tried to accelerate, whereas my chair motored right along. Woohoo!

We only had two problems.

I’d chosen the least hilly route I could, but since I live in the hills, there’s no way to avoid at least one major slope in any direction. The path I chose had just one serious hill. Leaving, it was downhill. Coming home, it was uphill — and at the end of the walk, near my house.

The thick sludgy snow, combined with the steep incline, made for difficult driving. I had to careen back and forth to keep my momentum and to try to find the least snowy path. My erratic movements were hard for Barnum to predict, and at one point, I accidentally hit him in the snout with my footrest. Poor guy!

But we made it up. I was ecstatic. We rolled into the driveway less than 40 minutes after we’d left, and as I was removing my leg rests to store in the van (because the chair is too big to navigate the ramp with them on), I saw my PCA’s face peek through my bedroom curtains. I was glad she knew we were home.

After I entered the yard and closed the gate behind us, I let Barnum off leash. He bounded around happily in the snow, as if he had never taken a walk at all. Then, I did something stupid. I flew down the ramp, pumping my fist and shouting, “We did it! We did it!”

I couldn’t help myself! I was having a Leonardo-DiCaprio -“I’m-king-of-the-world!” moment.

Of course, my right wheel went off the ramp. The axle came to rest on the ramp’s two-inch-high safety lip, and the wheel was buried deep into the snow that is piled several feet high on either side of the ramp. I attempted to rock the chair out of the rut, but it was well and truly stuck.

I tried getting some momentum with the wheels. At first, the one in the snow just spun in space. Then it stopped spinning. Oh dear. Neither of the wheels spun at all when I moved the joystick. I checked the controller display panel, and saw that the switch was off. I turned it back on, and the display panel simply blinked in distress.

Nooooooooo!

I bellowed to the house for help, but my home is super-insulated, and nobody heard me. I just had to hope that sooner (rather than later) my PCA would notice I was still outside.

I sat and watched Barnum playing. I tried to be patient, but I was getting a bit chilly. (Later, I discovered the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit when I was waiting.) Eventually my helper poked her head out the door.

“I’m stuck!” I yelled.

She came out to help, and I tried to back the chair up to help, but it was pointless. We decided to put it in free-wheel mode so it could be pushed. (Powerchairs have a safety feature of locking the wheels unless they are released to roll. When it’s in “push” mode, the motor disengages, so you can’t drive and free-wheel at the same time.) There’s a lever on each wheel motor. Sitting in the chair, I pulled the lever on one side up, and pushed the lever on the other side down.

Then I realized what I’d just done. The levers should have both been either up or down. The lever on the side where the wheel was caught must have been pushed up by the ramp’s side when the chair went down. I pulled both levers up, which engaged both wheel motors, and wahla! The power was on again!

Left purple powerchair wheel and motor, with snow slush

A lot of the snow had melted off the treads by the time I took this. Notice the free-wheel lever, with the up arrow for "Drive," and down area for "Push," written in yellow.

[Photo description: Large, black knobbly tire on the bottom of a purple powerchair. The entire wheel well is coated in wet snow. The snow on the treads is partially melted off. Behind the tire is the drive motor — a black canister, parallel to the ground, with a lever sticking out, and yellow writing indicating that when the lever is up, its in “drive” mode, and when down, is in “push” or “free-wheeling” mode.]

With human muscle power, as well as the chair’s engaged motors, we were able to return me to the center of the ramp, and I made it home. Barnum continued to play in the snow.

However, I really wanted to be able to communicate from a distance from now on, if I’m out — especially if the chair is not working optimally, the road and weather conditions aren’t great, and/or it’s nighttime. This is where the two-way radios come in.

In an early post, I talked about how my ability to communicate with other household members declined significantly when Gadget died. Betsy’s solution was a doorbell, which had its pluses and minuses. Betsy bought us an intercom set for my birthday, last year. I was very excited about this new bit of assistive tech. Unfortunately, over a year later, we still can’t use them because they are still outgassing horrible plastic fumes. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tolerate them.

This year, for my birthday (are you sensing a theme?), Betsy bought me walkie-talkies! Ever since I’d moved to the country in 1998, I’d thought it would be a good safety precaution to have a cell phone for an emergency. However, neither town where I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts has cell phone reception.

The two-way radios were our attempt to circumvent the cell phone issue. Betsy bought radios with a 24-mile range “under ideal conditions.” Hilly, tree-filled countryside is not “ideal conditions,” but I normally only go a couple of miles at the most for my walks (my ultimate goal is to be able to make it to the center of town, which is about five miles), so we thought these would be powerful enough. Betsy assembled them Tuesday night (I was burnt-out on figuring out technological gizmos), and left them to charge overnight.

Wednesday, my PCA — who is a firefighter — very enthusiastically showed me how to use the radios. We each put one in our pockets, I donned my layers for the cold, and Barnum and I set out.

I checked in periodically with my PCA to make sure I was still within range. All seemed to be going well. I’d brought extra-large bags of hot dog and cheese cubes, and Barnum was eager to be clicked and treated for loose-leash walking for the first few minutes. Then he lost interest completely as his stomach filled and the terrain got more enticing.

We had to do a lot of stopping and starting, because any time the leash got tight, I turned to the right (his leash is clipped to the left side of the chair), and stopped. Stopping without turning is too slow in terms of giving Barnum the information, “What you have just done is causing the fun to come to an end.” Apparently, the stopping and starting, as well as the thick, slow ground, discharges batteries severely.

At one point, I pulled to the side of the road for a passing car, causing my left wheel to get stuck in a couple of feet of snow. I couldn’t tell where the drop-off was between the road and the gully, because there was so much snow. I radioed based.

“We have a situation,” I told my firefighter PCA, in a joking tone.

“Understood. A situation. What’s your location?”

“Well, um, I’m on Jennison? And um, my tire is stuck in the snow? And . . . Oh, a UPS guy has stopped. I think he’s going to help me. Hang on.”

“Standing by. Over.”

Indeed, the UPS driver very quickly and neatly popped me back onto the road. I guess if you spend all day, every day, hauling around big packages, you get strong.

Another lesson learned: Don’t drive into a hidden snow bank.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until we got to the hill that leads to my house. With the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, the snow was not just thick, but extra sludgy and sloppy. I normally have to do a lot of starting and stopping to train LLW — once Barnum loses interest in treats — but going up that hill, if I stopped, I lost the tiny bit of momentum I had. The chair crapped out repeatedly (that’s a technical term, meaning it stopped and the power lights flashed), and I had to turn it off, wait a few seconds, and turn it back on. (According to Wheelchair Junkie, the way I’ve treated my batteries constitutes abuse. Yes, I guess that would be battery battery.)

I really could not afford to have Barnum pulling in any direction but the one I was going in, and I couldn’t take care not to clock him with erratic driving. So I gave him as much leash as I had and had to let him do as he pleased while I focused on getting home.

Trainers aren’t kidding when they talk about how reinforcing pulling is, in itself, for dogs! Just those few yards up the hill with the freedom to pull, and Barnum tried to pull the rest of the way home! (Two steps forward, one step back, anyone?)

But we made it. I even managed to go length of the ramp without careening off this time. I let Barnum off leash to play in the yard, as he tends to get the “zoomies” after a walk and likes to gambol in the yard, especially when it’s so comfortably freezing outside. Pictures to come.

On the third day, God didn’t rest, and neither did I. We went for an hour-long walk. Finally! We’re approaching real roadwork. This is when I discovered that the radio’s range sucks. Past about an eighth or a quarter of a mile from my house, they couldn’t hear me back home.

We had no untoward events, unless you count that I was kind of flattened the next two days as a result. I got to take a lot of goofy pictures of this heroic conquering of the winter landscape, as well. I’ll try to get that up as a photo essay shortly.

Love and other outdoor games,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (snow-dog)


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