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Yellow Labs and Brown-Headed Cowbirds

March 18th, 2009

The young pup is almost two and half years old now- a big, strong yellow labrador with a heart of gold.  I know everyone thinks their dogs and pets are pretty special, but I swear this furry guy is unlike any animal I’ve ever known.  I’m thinking about having a round of tests performed on him to consider breeding.  He’s not a show dog or champion field trialer, but he has good lineage and beautiful form.  His personality is amazing in so many ways, and if he could contribute to the breed I think that would be a good thing.   Have you hugged your dog today?  More importantly, how about your kids?!  For some folks they’re the same…

Yellow Labrador Retriever in a field of Bluestem

Interesting that you can actually clone your dog these days for the princely sum of $150,000 dollars.  Can you imagine?   Perhaps if money was no object someone could consider that, but it seems, well… ethically selfish to me I guess, among other things.  It’s a free country, but you can help an awful lot of people with that kind of money.  I do understand loving an animal that much, but it’s hard to rationalize spending so much money for that purpose.  Of course I  say that, but based on how I feel about my own lab-  if it didn’t cost very much I might consider getting another pup just like him too.  Heck, twenty or thirty years from now who knows what we’ll be able to do.   For now I just appreciate that he gets to be part of our family. 

Don’t you just want to give him a big hug?!

yellow-labrador-retriever

 

Maybe I should’ve titled this ‘The Dogs We Love and the Birds We Don’t” or “Cute Dogs and Ugly Birds.”  On a different note it’s about time to take the bird feeders down, and as if on cue the Brown-headed Cowbirds showed up for a party to pick through what was left.  Okay, maybe they’re not ugly, but they sure act that way.  Research has shown that they can impact songbird populations negatively through brood parasitism.  They’re the only species in our region that sneaks into other birds’ nests and lays their own eggs.  So a hapless goldfinch or flycatcher ends up feeding and raising a cowbird usually instead of their own young since the cowbird is bigger and has a voracious appetite.  

Well over a hundred species of birds end up raising cowbirds in this manner and there’s quite a debate regarding how destructive or natural this is.    We typically see them grouped up in spring while they migrate through in flocks.  Soon they disperse to look for a host nest, and we only see or hear them as solitary birds.  What a strange critter and survival mechanism- kind of looks like an unruly mob!

cowbird-party

Running Through Bluestem

January 17th, 2009

Well the blast of colder weather is giving way to normal winter temps.  I love being outside and training with a little snowfall on the ground.  There was a couple hours of flurries, just enough to brighten the landscape.  It looked like a big snowstorm was coming, but after a while the snow dwindled to tiny flakes again.  The Little Bluestem around the field really brightens the view. 

Falling snow across field of Little Bluestem

The Bluestem also makes for great hiding places.  Yesterday I went out for some training with the yellow lab- it was a cold, breezy 11 degrees F, but he had a grand time, and I did too. He’s been cooped up inside (with the rest of us!) for too long,  and was getting antsy.   They’re such strong, muscular animals that they really need exercise, and he loves running in the field. 

Yellow Labrador Retriever training in winter field

 The orange colored “dummies” I throw for him are difficult to find sometimes, but he has an amazing ability to figure out where they are even if I don’t help direct him.  Sometimes I’ll have him sit at the edge of the field while I meander through it, dropping training dummies in various places so that he doesn’t see.  Then I’ll come back and send him off in one direction to look for them- he’ll start a search pattern like he’s running in the above picture, and use his nose to find them.  We are not at the point where he will follow my hand signals, but he will come back towards me with a certain whistle, and then head out again on command. Eventually he finds them all.  The big pup runs back with such enthusiasm! 

 2-year old Yellow Lab retrieving

Today is bright and sunny, and my younger brother is in town.  He came back from the middle east last month, and has taken time to see the family members- he looks really good! 

Yellow Lab at 15 Months

January 23rd, 2008

     It’s hard to believe the yellow Labrador Retriever is 15 months old now.  Actually, it seems like he’s been part of the family for a very long time.  He and the young boy are best friends, and just love to romp and play together. 

We don’t get out as much right now when it’s incredibly cold.  Well, perhaps the dog does, but we don’t train as much as when it’s warmer.  The cold doesn’t bother him a bit however, and last week we even did some retrieves in the cold water of the pond.  He didn’t mind and was ready for more.   

But while we’ve been spending more time indoors perhaps, I’ve found that I need a ready supply of “chewy toys” on hand.  Now a lot of dogs like to chew, no question. 

I’ve met few dogs that have the single-mindedness of this Labrador when he sets to work on chewing something.  And it doesn’t last long!  I bought one of those indestructible chew toys at a pet store the other day… it’s already in pieces.  I don’t know what the best thing is, but we’ve found that thick rawhide chews last the longest.  Maybe 2-3 days each, but that’s better than most of the other items.

Do you have a favorite item that your dog, or your Labrador can chew… and that lasts?   I’d love to know.   Oh, I bought him a nice thick real bone to chew on… about 18 inches long.  He doesn’t chew that much, but likes to carry it around a lot- and he has a penchant for dropping things from the top of the stairs so he can run down to chase it.   Well, he did that the other day with the big hard bone… Crash!  That got my attention… I heard the bone hit the wall across the bottom of the stairs… he just looked at me as if to say, “Wow! That was cool!”

As much as he loves to run and play, he’s also a gentle, good-natured dog.  No pretense… just an honest dog that loves to follow you around.  Oh, and eat whatever you do… he’d be a regular garbage disposal if I let him. 

He’s a loving, goofy animal that seems to fit in pretty well around here.  Doesn’t say much for me perhaps!

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 15 months.

Training the Lab

October 13th, 2007

Few thoughts for today as we all catch up with things put off until the weekend.  But who am I kidding… among all the things to do we still must find time to relax and enjoy each day.  :) 

The Yellow Lab is eager to make a retrieve.   In the field I put a couple of pheasant wings in different places.  I’m marking the path for a blind retrieve…. which doesn’t mean a whole lot to him at this point.  He races towards the mark I give him, but then tails off in one direction or another before he quite gets there.  Instead of being as “direct” as he was last month, I think he’s feeling his oats lately… he loves to choose his own path.   I’ve got to work on that- although he does make the retrieve, it takes him longer now, he runs from one side the other, sometimes back, and wastes energy.  Sometimes I struggle to understand “how” to get him to do things… it’s part of his education, and most certainly it’s part of mine!

Marking the direction of the blind retrieve

He has grown to muscled youth with a vigor I can only look back upon.  The pheasant wing is in his mouth on the way back from finding its hiding place.

Yellow Labrador Retriever returning from retrieve

 

The pond was foggy on several days this week- I love the mist on the waters, and it makes me wonder what lurks in the deep?

Morning fog at the corner of the pond

Happy Birthday Pup! Yellow Lab is 12 Months

October 1st, 2007

     A big Happy Birthday to the Yellow Labrador today!  He was born on this day last year, and is leaving his puppy days behind.  He doesn’t mind however and is getting to be a big dog- I don’t even know his weight.  I took him to the field yesterday with some other Labs for dove hunting.  He has never met another Lab until yesterday… or a female dog.  Suffice it to say he was very excited!   He did okay though,  he found the birds before I did, but wasn’t really sure what to do with it the first time.  After that he made a decent retrieve, but is still a little mystified about the whole process.  I didn’t have a chance to work with him with real birds yet this year, but hopefully he’ll pick it up quickly as the season goes on.  But he’s just a great friend and fun to be around.

The Yellow Labrador Retriever at 12 months. Happy Birthday!

 

  It was time to turn the garden under, clean it up, and prepare it for next year.  We cut down all the stringy vines, and pulled up the old vegetation.  After trimming everything back (except for one lonely tomato plant), I carted all of it off to a pile that I can burn in the months ahead.  So then it was time to lay compost on top of the garden.  The tractor was really helpful, especially since the fence encloses the entire garden.  We could lower the bucket over the fence for filling it up, and dumping in the compost!  Newspapers do the trick over top of weeds and such.  We put them down and I used the tractor to scoop our compost and dump right on top.  The compost is really just leaf litter and grass clippings that have been in a pile for the last 3-6 months.  Hopefully it will help keep the weeds down, and we’ll add more leaf litter as top dressing over the fall and winter months.

The tractor helps with dumping, hauling and just about everything else!

Fields of Color and Retriever Work

September 28th, 2007

    What a beautiful morning!  It’s cool and crisp, the moon was shining brightly before the sun rose, and a glowing mist rose gently from the pond and fields.   I can’t help but become invigorated by this kind of weather.  I wonder if there are places to live where the temperatures are cool all year long?!  Soon the leaves will be covering the grass with a carpet of color, and we’ll be raking and mowing.  And we’re already thinking about pumpkins and decorating for the season.  

I love how the ground fog rises in the grassy fields… almost glowing with the first rays of the sun.

 Mist glows with the rising sun on a country morning.

The young pup has been working to earn his keep this month.  He’s doing really well on multiple retrieves, and loves to be in the water.  Now we are working on hand signals in the fields.  He follows my signals when he sees me, but I have a hard time getting him to look or turn around when he’s making a retrieve.  We’re also using a whistle, but he is so intent on his retrieve that nothing seems to intrude to his focus.  In the fields, if he runs past or away from a mark/bumper, he will turn and begin a search pattern with his nose.  He hears me yell or signal usually and changes direction.  It’s amazing to watch!  In the water he has even started swimming in circles or from side-to-side if he doesn’t see the bumper.   I’ve been working on trust in our relationship… meaning for blind retrieves, or the ones he doesn’t know that marks/bumpers are out there, he needs to run in the direction I tell him.  Then as he gets out, he is supposed to turn to look at me on my signal, essentially asking, “Okay Boss… where to now?”  He has finally learned trust in that he will take off in the direction I give him… but he doesn’t really look back.  He starts searching about 50-100 yards out, and listens for my signal or yell.  He always finds the mark/bumper, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  Not bad for 11 months old however!  He has a lot of heart.

The Yellow Lab makes a water retrieve

Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

September 12th, 2007

    The young pup is a rambunctious fool!  Well, sometimes so am I… but we won’t go there right now :)   The Yellow Labrador Retriever is growing up so fast, and he’s just bursting with unbridled energy and enthusiasm.  Admittedly, he’s getting a little harder to control, but we work on obedience training regularly.  He listens very well, but tests the limits at every turn… I hold him accountable every time and he seems to respond very well.  We are still struggling with “heel” however.  He does heel, but gets ahead and becomes distracted at times.  I probably don’t work on that skill enough, so we’ll have to fix that, and any tips or insight would be appreciated.  He seems to like pictures though!

Picture 1 - Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

   His retrieving work is coming along very well.  He’s a total nut some times… The other day I had him sit/stay while I walked closer to the pond, then called “come” and he came running like a bulldozer, leaped off a small stump and went sailing about ten feet through the air like SuperDog!  “Whump!” as he landed and crumpled to the ground… I was concerned that he would hurt himself, but he jumped up ready for more as I shook my head.  And this dog loves water like there’s no tomorrow. Here he shows off his style running up the hill from the pond.

 The unstoppable Labrador Retriever!

    We have also been working on hand signals for marked and unmarked retrieves.  Put him sitting half way between a pile of bumpers, and give the “back” or “over” signal to the pile.  Off he runs and brings it back… not too bad, but he doesn’t like giving up the bumper.  We’re working on that aspect too…  But I placed one about 75-100 yards out, then gave him the “back” to retrieve… he started searching, nose-to-the-ground, about half way there, and ran the wrong direction left.  I whistled and gave him an “over” and he took off the other way… as he got close to the line of the mark/bumper, I gave him a “back” and he turned and went out like a pro!  He found it and brought it back, and I was amazed… sheer luck at this point, but he is a really smart dog.  As usual, he simply lacks a good trainer!  But we’re both learning as that goes, and it’s pretty neat.   

Picture 2-Yellow Labrador Retriever at 11 months

 

    The other morning we were surprised by a large flock of Canada Geese passing through.  They honked and honked while landing, and as I walked towards them to get a picture they flew off, scolding me for interrupting their choice parking spot!  They’ll be moving around a lot more in the months ahead.

Canada Gees flock after landing on the pond one morning.

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 10 Months

July 28th, 2007

The “pup” is a now a 75 pound package of unbridled energy.  His personality is really coming through, and I’m very pleased that he’s such a good companion.  He has a mischievious streak… he loves to “retrieve” almost anything, whether inside the house or out!  He loves nothing better than finding a stuffed toy or shoe, or even a dish towel.  He walks up with his prize in his mouth, beaming with pride at what he’s found.  I tell him “Oh, thank you!” and he turns his head, not wanting to relinquish his new toy.  So I try to channel his energy outdoors… he loves chasing a tennis ball, and bringing it back to be thrown again and again.  This morning we walked around the fields and he put his nose to work.  He loves to swim as well, and will retrieve almost anything across the pond.  He actually tried “leaping” through the water towards a training duck… and finally settled down to swim steadily when he found it didn’t make him go any faster.  He also has the most intense stare… he doesn’t bark or whine, unless he really needs something like water, or to go outside.  Then it’s just a slight whimper.  Sometimes he awakes earlier than I do and is really hungry… I’ll hear a little high pitched “Aarrf!” and know he’s ready for breakfast.  Perhaps all Labradors are like this one… I don’t really know.  But I do know he’s one of the most gentle and good-hearted dogs I’ve ever been around. 

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 10 months

Yellow Labrador at 9 Months

July 3rd, 2007

Well the “pup” is growing bigger everyday… where’s the little puppy I brought home?!  He’s about 71 pounds now… amazing.  Last time I weighed him he was only 57 pounds- I think at 7 months.  He’s not going to get a lot bigger- his sire was about 85 pounds.  The “English” style Labrador Retrievers tend to be smaller than the “American” type of labs, but also a little more blocky and full-bodied.  He’s a charmer… and so full of energy now it’s incredible.  I took a week off from training retrieves in the pond.  Yesterday we started again when I launched a decoy across the pond. I didn’t intend for it to go that far- probably close to 100 yards.  He charged right in and swam almost to the other side, picked it up, and swam all the way back.  First time to swim that far!  I wondered if he would see the shoreline a few yards away on the other side, and get out of the water- maybe even run back on land. But he didn’t even think about it… at least not yet!   It’s not all cake and roses however… he’s getting more rambunctious, and testing me at every step.  He listens and does pretty well overall, but I need to be more consistent with his obedience training.  We have two other dogs, and when I let him run around he just goes nuts playing with them.  It’s important for him to run and get the exercise though.  My goals for the rest of the summer include dedicated training sessions with introducing decoys and multiple retrieves.  If all goes well, I should be able to take him on his first duck hunt in late fall.  He’s such a loving dog though, and very smart.  He’s got me pretty well figured out!

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 9 months

Pond Swimming, Swallows and Turtles

May 16th, 2007

A day spent cutting grass… after yesterday’s rain a cool front came through so the opportunity was perfect to get more things done outdoors.  But there was time to see the sights and take the dog swimming for a few retrieves.  He loves the water now and dives in with abandon.  I threw the orange bumper way out in the pond today and he swam for it… but missed it and swam in circles several times!  He almost swam across the pond, but came back at my call and finally saw the bumper floating in the distance.  He was ready for more when he finished.  

 Yellow Labrador Retriever swims for the training bumper.

We have a pair of Barn Swallows that migrate to South America and back and return each year in mid-April.  In May they begin to nest… using the same nest each year above the garage on top of some outdoor lights.  I don’t know how many years they’ve been coming, but it’s at least 5 or 6 years now.  Once they begin nesting they become a little pesky and swoop at you when you stand too near the nest. But their flight is beautiful to watch and they eat many insects each day.  Last week there were five barn swallows all flying around the garage area… I’d like to think they were last year’s young birds returning to say hello.  In some places they can become a problem, with many birds building nests.  But we’ve only had one pair and that’s just fine with me!

 Barn Swallow perched on roof while watching the nest.

The Barn Swallow nest above the garage.

We have several turtles in the pond, but I’m not really sure of the species.  Missouri has quite a few different turtle species if you want to see them here.  We did see a Snapping Turtle last year, walking through the grass to look for a place to lay eggs.  The turtle in this picture is about 10-12 inches long, and probably a Slider or Missouri Slider, especially with the small indentation in the side of the shell at the rear.  I took the photo from a distance with the telephoto lens… when you walk anywhere near them, they slide quickly back into the water.

A pond turtle basking in the sun on a stump.

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