Sunday, November 16, 2003

Back to the Gopher Park

Took Jake and Tika to The Gopher Park bright and early this morning. It's been a long time. Used to take the dogs fairly often--at least once a month, sometimes once a week, before Rem got sick. Took Rem there alone when I thought he was dying, although he recovered and came back for another week or so after that. Has been hard to go there since.

As I was saying the other week--memories layered on memories--

The morning is gorgeous. Sunny, yet cool enough for me to wear a light fleece jacket even while frisbeeing and climbing the hill. Quiet at the park; a couple of other people with dogs here and there, but only briefly. We stayed about 45 minutes.

Frisbee games: First we did 15 minutes or more of frisbee. Jake will play forever! And he certainly hasn't slowed down for these games, although he doesn't seem to take flying leaps of quite the same old caliber trying to catch the frisbee. Makes me realize that he's *not* running full/flat out in agility most of the time, seeing him stretch out his body, lower his center of gravity, and move his little legs so fast that he becomes merely a low line of red fur burning across the grass.

Tika likes chasing things. She is so much better about returning the thing she's chasing (not when she's chasing Jake, thank goodness) than she used to be. Used to chase the frisbee, catch it, then drop it. She still loses interest in returning it all the way when she starts to get tired and hot, but she doesn't lose interest in chasing it. Maybe that's her way of getting some breathing room, when I give up and go out to fetch it myself. But as I approach it, she reels in her panting tongue; her eyes get wide; she crouches into a ready stance, paws twitching impatiently, and blasts full speed after it when I throw it again.

She doesn't know how to run at half speed, I think!

My Little Girl Grows Up: Realized how much Tika has learned and matured, though. During our initial frisbee session, someone else brought a dog on leash onto the field with a ball-thrower (think Jai Alai). I called Tika to me and she came straight away. (In fact she's usually quite focused on me while playing frisbee, which is a wonderful thing. Not quite as focused as Jake, but that would be hard for any dog but the most obsessive-compulsive border collie.) I held onto Tika while I discussed over a great distance whether the lady's dog was OK with other dogs. Responses were something like "I think it'll be OK" and "Your dogs aren't agressive, are they? It should be all right--". Not the most enthusiastic I've ever seen, but I went back to playing frisbee anyway. Still, she kept the dog at her side on a leash.

On the next throw or so, Tika dropped the frisbee while I was playing with Jake and veered off towards the other dog, picking up speed as she went. "Teek!" I yelled. "Teek!" She slowed, made a wide curved turn, and came right back to me! Who'd'a thunk I'd see the day? What a lovely girl. We just moved further off down the park with our frisbees.

The first year I had her--and I think even the last couple of times we went to the park--I put her on a 20' long lead and let it trail behind her so that if (or, rather, WHEN) she'd decide she didn't have to come when called, I could eventually catch up to her and stomp/grab the line. I needed to do it, too.

This time, I didn't even think about the long line until we'd been out at the park for quite a while. I let them both out of the car off leash, even though we were on a residential street. In the old days I'd have walked Tika on leash to the park entrance because otherwise she'd have been all over the place. I pointed them in the direction of the entrance and let them go, and both raced in and then turned and waited for me (or, more likely, the frisbees) to catch up.

This Way and That Way: After the initial frisbeeing, we went walking up in the wild, hilly part of the park--you know, The Gopher Hill and The Squirrel Trees. They'd both run, then Tika would veer back to check where I was. Every time I changed direction, I'd yell "Dogs, this way!" which Remington used to respond to so well but Tika used to be oblivious to. This time, she turned and changed her bearing promptly every time, not deciding to make her own decision about which way This Way should be. She came every time I explicitly called her, too. (I did have goodies in my pocket; sometimes she came without me calling just to see whether I was a good person to visit--and half the time I was, giving her a goodie just for that respect.)

Jake was a butthead, or else he realy is going deaf. He didn't respond to "Jake, Come!" at all unless he was within about 10 feet of me. Didn't respond to "Jake!" at all unless I really yelled it, which I hesitated to do much, as the park backs up against residences and it was early on Sunday (before 9). But he would occasionally lift his head from whatever fascinating Element of Nature he had discovered to see what Tika and I were up to, and then would come flying across the field or up the hill, his wonderful floppy ears soaring alongside his head.

Life Might Be Good: The third time I went up across the hill, I stopped and looked at the view. I realized that in all the times I've been to the park and gone up and down that hill, I've never really looked at the view. Why? Always worried about where the dogs were, because Rem would get it in his head that he was in control of the situation and the fact that *I* was worried because I couldn't see him and was yelling his name didn't affect that, because *he* knew where he was and he knew where *I* was so why should he worry? -- and Jake would follow Rem -- and Tika would get it into her head to blast away in the opposite direction and try to go out one of the park exits--

And the dogs were SO good today and Tika was keeping track of *me* and Jake was generally keeping track of *both* of us, so I could actually stop and relax and lift my eyes to the horizon and see all of Santa Clara Valley spread out before me to my Heart's Delight. It was wonderful.

Who's the wimp? After some good hill climbing and gopher-ghost chasing (didn't actually see any gophers or squirrels this time), we did more frisbee. Tika was really getting warm. As we headed in the general direction of the car, I tossed the frisbee, she grabbed it, veered off to the side where the shadow of a tree fell across the dew-soaked lawn, and shlumped down to the ground to wait for me to come.

Jake was still going--and going--and going--

There's the difference between a 12-year-old dog and a 2-and-a-half-year-old dog. Huh. Former has endless energy and reserves; latter wimps out!

Took them both back to the car off leash. Risky, if there had been a cat around, but it was a quiet residential street with no cars or people in sight.

Tika HAS come such a long way in so many ways!

But she gets so much hotter than Jake, so much faster, and lasting so much longer. Jake is one studly little exerciser. Most of the way home in the car, Tika was still panting full out while Jake had completely relaxed and settled in, gazing around in boredom.

A ten-minute ride home, then Tika--still panting full out from her ordeal at the park--raced out to the back yard full tilt, careered from end to end a dozen times in case there might be invasive species, and leaped back to the deck, bypassing most of the steps, to see whether I was offering breakfast yet. An interesting study in overheating versus basic underlying energy level, perhaps.

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