Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing you a warm and wonderful holiday
and all the best wishes for the New Year!!
The Berner Life

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mountain Rock Stars

Back in early October we thought it would be fun to take the dogs on a hike in Yosemite National Park for a few days.  Why we thought this would be easy and go off without a hitch is a mystery to this day.  Have we not READ this blog???  That being said, we had prepared in advance by training Bodie to wear a doggie backpack that he actually didn't loathe and seemed to wear with pride on our training hikes to Starbucks the weeks prior.  We booked a room near Yosemite at a trendy lodge that was surprisingly dog friendly (for an extra $75, of course) and made our way to the mountains.
While Yosemite is a beautiful place to hike, it doesn't exactly welcome canines with open arms.  They tell you to stick to paved roads and can't go in meadows or dirt trails.  Anyone that has ever been to Yosemite will tell you it is 99% meadows and dirt trails.  One does not travel all the way to Yosemite to take photos of the gift shop parking lot.  This was going to be my go-to response to any ranger who questioned me as to why I was standing the middle of a meadow with two dogs, having gotten there via a dirt trail.  Luckily, thanks to California's budget cuts, I didn't encounter any such ranger so didn't have to use my snappy one-liner.  This also meant my husband didn't have to bail me out of jail, either. 
Our first trek was to Mirror Lake which, ironically, has no water in it this time of year.  I guess renaming it "Big Rock In Dirt" for part of the year just doesn't have the same appeal.  Nonetheless, it was a pleasant enough walk that was mostly on a paved road ("See Mr. Ranger?  I'm complying!!") and the dogs were enjoying themselves immensely.  Occasionally we would pass another dog-walker and Leila would go on Red Alert but would stop short of actually putting on the after-burners and dragging me in the opposite direction.  She even stopped and watched in a combination of interest and horror as a line of horseback riders traveled by.  But there were just too many new smells and sounds for her to waste time fearing other creatures.  "I'll get back to hating you a minute, horse; I smell squirrel poop!"
One of the many great things about Yosemite is the tourists there from all over the world.  A majority of the busloads of camera-toting wide-eyed folks we met up with were from parts of Europe, although we detected many a twangy Southern and Midwest accent scattered throughout the group.  One thing the jolly folks from DeMoines and the smiling Londoners (and one delightful couple from Dubai!) had in common other than being so very sweet and friendly was their utter fascination with Bodie and Leila!  Up at Glacier Point, there were ooohs and ahhhs coming from people not even remotely looking at the view.  I heard so many people say "They are so lovely!" and "They make me miss my dogs at home" and if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me "What kind of dogs are those?" I could have put a sizable dent in their $75 lodge fee.  One woman was so tickled to see them she had to take a photo of herself with them.  One couple from Germany explained that they had two just like that back home.  It was all quite fun but I couldn't help wondering if Half Dome and El Capitan were getting just the slightest bit jealous.  Bodie, always the ham, was a tail-wagging tourist hugger, enjoying all the attention immensely.  Even Leila, the Greta Garbo of the Berner world, was getting in on the action, determined not to let a little thing like a fear of strangers get in the way of a series of head-pats and ear scratches, oh no.
Back at the lodge, we were provided two warm and cuddly dog beds that neither of the pups would so much as glance at.  Instead, they chose to immediately hop up on our beds, having obviously not read the memo stating that animals should not be on the lodge furniture.  Wearing their best "Hey, I'm on vacation!" expressions, one dog hopped up on one bed, the other on the opposite bed, and us four humans had to work around them.  I think the adoration of the tourist paparazzi has gone to their heads!
The next day we wandered into our favorite meadow (via a dirt path, no less) to get photos in front of Half Dome for our Christmas card.  Just our luck for once there was no one in sight, not a gushing tourist, scolding ranger, no one.  Except for a few deer in the distance we had the meadow to ourselves.  Ordinarily this would be an ideal arrangement but this time I wanted to see another warm body so we had someone to take the darn picture!  Instead we had to use the self timer on the camera, perched on a tripod, and then try like hell to get the dogs to NOT look at my husband who has now run back into the picture and instead concentrate on the tiny blinking red light on the camera way over there.  Yeah, you can only imagine how well THAT turned out!  Safe to say the outtakes are many.  When Leila finally got bored with it all and lied down, we knew we were going to have to make do with what we have.  That was about the time we saw the ranger truck drive by so we high-tailed it out of the meadow and back into the truck.
We probably could have seen more of Yosemite Valley and hiked more trails if we had left the pups at home, but it would not have been nearly as much fun (and law-breaking!).  And in addition to the beautiful scenery and majestic mountains, some tourists got an added benefit of seeing actual celebrities while on their trip to California, at least in Bodie and Leila's minds! 
"Rocks?  What rocks?  We're the only rock stars here!!"


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

49 Happy Clams and 1 Snapping Turtle

How long is a dog's memory?  Do they remember things year after year or is every morning a clean slate?  Sometimes I swear it is the latter, as every morning when I get out of bed, my two greet me like I just returned from a six month trip to Siberia.  They enthusiastically jump around, yowling and barking, tails furiously flapping, as if to say "oh thank GOD you woke up!!!!"  At first it was kind of endearing, now it's just downright annoying, as I am the poster girl for not-a-morning-person.  But there are other times when I wish they would remember an experience from last year (heck, I'd even go for last week) if it ended on a good note.  I thought of this as I packed up the SUV with water, biscuits, bowls and poo bags and prepared to head west to the coast.  Yes, it's time once again for the Bernese Mountain Dog Rally at Farmer John's Pumpkin Patch in Half Moon Bay.
Now, it would be really great if my two remembered the time we attended this rally last year, not because they had such a banner time, but because they actually SURVIVED it.  You may recall, my two have a bit of a socialization issue with other dogs.  Namely, they hate other dogs. I figured, "Hey, maybe they won't hate other dogs that look like them!"  They did.  But they managed to hold it together so I thought perhaps they would do much better this year, being older and more secure, right?
Yeah...not so much.
Bernese are by breed a happy sort of dog, almost "dufus" in nature.  When we pulled into parking area where the dogs were all running around playing and having a grand old time, we were met immediately by a large fluffy Bernese the size of a Volkswagen Beetle who proceeded to stuff his snout into the open doorway of the SUV to say hello and see if we perhaps had any food.  Needless to say, Leila took great offense at having her personal space invaded and went into a frenzy, content in the knowledge she was currently shielded by the truck seat and two children.  As soon as they moved, all bets were off.  We did manage to shoo away the VW and after much coaxing and biscuit-waving, get Leila out of the truck.  While other Berners ran and frolicked, my two immediately dove behind the hay bales.  Oh yes, this was going to be a fun trip!!!
Figuring out that Berners are tall enough to actually SEE them over the hay bales, Bodie soon grew tired of hiding and decided to venture out and do a reconnaissance fly-by into enemy territory in the hopes he wouldn't get eaten.  He did not.  Meanwhile, Leila managed to find a bunker behind my husband and happily tried to blend in with the sunflowers.  She did not either.  I finally managed to draw her out from behind the hay bales where she happily sat in the corner of a 90 degree angle of hay and got head pats and attention from humans.  All was well until another happy Berner came over to join in the love fest and Leila realized the error in her plan: she was now cornered.  Forget that the other dog could care less that she was there, she suddenly snapped at it with all the viciousness she could muster, which was rather inadequate at best.  A nearby poodle eyed her as if to say "Seriously?  That's all ya got?"  But still, I was horrified that in this midst of happy-go-lucky wandering dogs, mine had turned into the Hound of the Baskerville.  Bodie came over to offer moral support, unsure of exactly what his action item was.  I finally gave up and went to make a fuss over other dogs, embarrassed by their behavior.
While the "other dogs" merrily romped, climbed on tables, drank at the community water bucket and posed for a group photo, my two wanted nothing to do with them.  Bodie occasionally took an interest from afar at a passing pup, even extending his nose to get a whiff of the passerby, but as soon as he was acknowledged, he would bob and weave like a football running back to escape an introduction.  Leila would follow me as I walked the field, nervously glancing left, right and behind her as if preparing for an oncoming zombie attack.  When I made my way back to the SUV and opened the hatch, she defied gravity by levitating into the back with lightening speed, her jumping position only viewable with a slow-motion camera.  As much as her stand-offishness pissed me off, I loved the gaggle of happy bouncing black and white, the zaniness of the controlled chaos that was the pumpkin patch at that time, and the incredibly friendly and personable dog owners that were having a great time letting their Berners frolic. 
Time to start preparing for next year!!  I'm sure my two will be much better by then!!  (insert eye roll here!)
Stay tuned......
Many thanks to John and Eda Muller of Farmer John's Pumpkin Patch for hosting this wonderful event.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Inversion Layer

By design, dogs seem to be sturdy little creatures.  Four solid legs, ending in four feet appropriately proportioned for the size of the beast, gives four points of contact with the earth in which to balance and stay upright.  They are like little coffee tables, weight evenly distributed, feet and legs working in unison to propel them forward and rarely if ever tipping side to side.  Although the last time my coffee table propelled itself forward was after I had had one too many glasses of wine, but that's a story for another time.
That being said, even sturdy feet seem to need a break now and  then.  Even dog spines need to be stretched out and relaxed every once and awhile, just like us after a long day.  Maybe that's why dogs like to sometimes lie on their backs.  It stretches the spine in the opposite direction to relieve pressure and it feels good.  Most dogs lie on their backs and kick their feet up, sometimes wiggling from side to side to itch  an area on their backs they usually can't reach otherwise.  Leila will do this occassionally, writhing back and forth and kicking her feet like she's riding and invisible bicycle upside down.  Then she'll immediately flip back over and glance around to see if anyone actually witnessed her momentary loss of inhibitions, embarrassed by this rather unladylike action.
Bodie, on the other hand, is the king of the Inverted Downward Dog.  Whether it's to relax his back, take the stress off his feet, or just to release his inner exhibitionist by pointing his boy-bits skyward (what is left of them, that is), Bodie will stretch out on his back and stay there.  There is no wriggling, no itching, no bicycle riding.  Although sometimes there is snoring.  He doesn't care if I have clean folded laundry on the floor, am just about to vaccum right there, or even if I have company over....he walks over, flops down and there you have it: a shameless display of doggie-crotch.

I'm not sure if he thinks there is a tanning bed there or not, but there is no denying his comfort level with this yoga position.  He will stay that way for extended periods of time, sometimes falling asleep.  He doesn't care if there is a noisy action movie on the TV or if Leila is in the room as well, he just tunes out and turns on.  In some ways I envy his ability to get so comfortable that he can sleep in such an awkward position.  Maybe it's not awkward for him, just for the rest of us trying to avert our gaze from his display of manliness.  That's always the fun topic of conversation when I have company over, especially kids.  Good thing he has a hairy tummy!  And if there is an obstacle in the way like a shoe or a matter!  He'll drape over it or even up the side of it.  For those poor souls sitting on the couch at the time, good luck standing up.  An upside-down Berner that is half-way up the front of the couch takes up a lot of real estate!  Tread lightly, lest you step on something important!

Whatever the reason he likes to invert himself, be it relaxation, exhibitionism, or just to have a different view on life, Bodie likes the idea of lying on his back whenever possible.  Some think he is waiting for the inevitable belly-rub, but I'm pretty sure it's just to embarrass the daylights out of me.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ho Ho Ho-ly Crap, Who's THAT Guy???

The holiday season is upon us!  Everywhere you look there are signs of festive decor in shops, on houses, even on cars.  Kids are busy hammering out letters to Santa, moms are baking Christmas cookies, and everyone is gearing up for a festive evenings of making merry in anticipation of the Big Day.

My two dogs are suitably unimpressed.

I wanted to get a good photo of the dogs in the spirit of the season to commemorate their second Christmas with us.  I was not going to even attempt to stick fake reindeer antlers on them as that would obviously end in disaster (remember the fun with Leila's graduation hat?) and frankly it's rather creepy.  On a routine visit to the pet store to get yet another 40 pound bag of dog food, I spied a sign in the window regarding having your pet's picture taken with Santa today with the proceeds going to a local homeless animal charity.

Given Leila's ongoing abject fear of strangers, this was a project so destined for epic failure that I simply could not pass it up.

As soon as we got to the table where the Santa photo set was set up, Leila put the brakes on.  Forget the fat guy in red, she was already giving attitude to the kind ladies who were trying to guide her over to the corner and set up the photo.  She immediately sat down and arched her head back in an attempt to yank the leash out of the gal's hand.  It was painfully obvious that she wanted no part of this trio of weird people she did not know, so my kids jumped to the rescue and tried to coax her in by going in themselves.  Bodie sauntered right up and happily accepted the ear scratches and pets from Santa.  His attitude has always been "Rather than one for me and one for her, give two to me!"  He's no fool.  We managed to drag Leila to within the general zip code of the scary man sitting in the chair, but keeping her there
proved a challenge.  My daughter kept reeling her in like she was deep-sea fishing, but Leila kept a safe distance by keeping my  daughter between herself and Santa.  Finally the photographer lady realized this was as good as we were going to get and started clapping her hands and squeaking a toy to get the dogs to look in the direction of the camera.  Leila had a look that could only be interpreted as "Clap all you want, lady, but I'm not taking my eyes off this creepy guy!!!"  Bodie sniffed around knowing full well there were treats in this guy's pocket and could care less about a squeaky plastic chicken being waved in the air.  Finally the lady snapped the photo and we were off to the checkout stand to pay for it while it printed.  Leila sensed the worst was over and bolted from the set like she was shot out of a cannon.

When we returned to the Santa table to claim our memorable moment, the photographer told us that she accidentally cut off most of my son's head in the photo so we were going to have to re-do it.  I hated to break the news to Leila who was already hiding behind me in case the scary red Santa spied her again.  "Sorry girl" I told her.  "Just one more time, you can do it."  My son led Bodie back to the far side of Santa chair while my daughter tried to maneuver Leila back towards the Den of Horror.  Leila shot us her best "Oh HELL no!!" look and immediately tried to escape behind the giant green cardboard backdrop, pushing it over in the process and almost crowning Santa on the noggin.  By now a small crowd is forming to watch the antics of Santa trying to cajole a terrified 82-pound sissy.  By this point I feel I should probably intervene rather than snap photos and wipe tears of laughter from my face, so I get down on my hands and knees and push her still-seated butt across the linoleum floor towards the seated Santa and my daughter.  Meanwhile, Santa has given Bodie a treat that he happily devoured, so Bodie is sitting in front of Santa, back to the camera, just as I taught him, in order to score some more.  As I scoot Leila into the frame, I use my other hand to scoot Bodie around so his face is facing the camera. This is no small task, mind you, since Bodie weighs over 90 pounds and I'm still trying to hold onto Leila so as not to lose the progress I have made thus far.  Leila refuses to look at Santa, figuring that if she doesn't see him, he is not really there and all is well.  Her pleading eyes watch me and the photo ladies as if to say "Hurry up and get it over with!"  I roll myself out of the frame just as the lady snaps the photo and says "I got it!"  Applause erupts from the audience.  Bodie scores more pats from Santa and Leila exits, Stage Left.

The photo is printed and when the helper lady pulls it off the  printer, she starts to laugh.  "Uh....." she says.  "I think we need to take it again.  Santa has had a slight wardrobe malfunction."  I look at the photo and Santa's fake belly has shifted and is oozing out of the front of his jacket and into his lap, looking very Cinemax After Dark, if you know what I mean.  "Put that away, Santa, this is a family show!" I pipe up. By this point the ladies cannot contain themselves and are in hysterics.  Yes, Leila, your greatest fear has returned...we have to do it again.

This time Santa decides he had better remain standing.  After tucking his belly up and securing it in place, we tried to trot the dogs back in.  Even Bodie is starting to get fed up with this project now.  Tired and cranky, the dogs are panting with tongues hanging out approximately five feet, it seems.  Moving at light speed, we get Bodie into place and then whisk Leila over towards Santa while keeping her attention on me by waving a treat at her.  She hesitates for just a second and that's all the opening the photographer needed to snap her little Kodak Easy Share camera to capture the moment.  "I think we're done!" the lady says, and Bodie bolts from the corner, done for the day.  Lump of coal will be just fine, sir.

The lady gives me the photo and both dogs have glowing green eyes like some sort of cyborg canines from space.  Seems only fitting, since by now Leila no doubt has phasers set to "stun."  I thank them all and as we proceed to the parking lot, I can still hear the laughter behind us.  My kids are cracking up and I am trying to figure out where to buy my dog supplies in the future since I can no doubt never show my face in that store again.  At least we were able to leave without Leila laying waste to the entire backdrop or chewing off Santa's leg.  I guess it's back to the drawing board with Leila's fear of strangers.  As long as they are not wearing red suits and sporting big white beards, we might have a fighting chance.

Anyone have any fake reindeer antlers I can borrow?

Stay tuned.....

 My sincerest thanks to the kind folks of PetSmart and the volunteers of
Delta Animals Safe Haven for their understanding and great sense of humor.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Berner Life Outtakes

Ask my eleven year old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up and she'll tell you "A wildlife photographer"!  An admirable profession to be sure, but by no means an easy task.  Certainly she will need to upgrade from her trusty Canon Powershot and unless her portfolio is going to consist of a series of animal butts as they run away, something with a faster shutter speed may be needed.  Many of her shots have been used in past blog entries here, but as she and I have both found out, getting the shot you need from two Bernese puppies can be more comedy than commodity.  Case in point:

Slow shutter speed plus shaking dog = turbo head!

Trying to get two untrained pups to pose for a
portrait?  Yeah, right!!!

Are puppies supposed to twist that way?
Either yawning or voicing extreme
displeasure when I tried to get the remote.

Sometimes Bodie comes up to inspect
the camera at just the wrong moment.

Really bored with the whole
stair-climbing adventure.

Leila always has a comment regarding the
picture with the stuffed toy.

Always trying to make a new angle

Take a picture of Dad with the dogs!
Dad?  Where'd you go??

Look at the camera, guys!
No, THIS camera!!!!!

I'm sure they have many more memorable Kodak moments for me, probably at the time I least expect (or need) them!!!

Stay tuned......

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Gathering of Berners

Every year, a pumpkin patch in Half Moon Bay, CA holds what they call a "Bernese Mountain Dog Day" where Bernese owners and their pooches visit the farm for fun, frolicking, and quite possibly Halloween pumpkin purchasing.  "Farmer John" as he calls himself (which is fitting since his name is John and he really is a farmer) states on his website that last year they had about 100 dogs there!  I really wanted to attend this event with my two, but given Leila's lack of personal skills, I was really not sure this was going to be possible.  The last thing I needed was for her to get all neurotic and freaky and undo all the months of other-dog-training we have been doing.  On the other hand, what better place to get in the middle of the fray with a gaggle of her peers?

Put on your big-girl dog-panties, Leila, we're going socializing!

Now, Half Moon Bay is a good hour-and-a-half drive from my house, so as we sailed along the freeways (two kids, the hubby and me, and two happy drooling canines) I had plenty of time to think about all the awful things that could go wrong after we arrived at this place.  I had visions of the half-hour it took me to get Leila out of the back of the truck when we went to the snow that one time (another lengthy drive I thought would end in disaster) or her being so intimidated by the other dogs running around that she dashes off into the Pacific Ocean and we have to drive all the way home with that wet-dog smell.  Neither vision was very appealing, given the time and gas it took us to get to the coast.  But I was pretty much committed now and seeing how this was all my idea, was praying for the best!

The town of Half Moon Bay loves Halloween.  Famous for their pumpkin growing, Half Moon Bay sports pumpkin patches on every corner.  In order to entice tourists and locals alike to visit their grounds instead of  their neighbors, over the years each patch has gotten more and more elaborate by introducing corn mazes, bouncy houses, face painting, train rides, pony rides and whatever else can capture a youngster's attention.  As we rolled into town, my kids' attention was 100% captured as they pressed their faces to the windows to check out farm after farm that rivaled the fanciest of Las Vegas Casinos.  We turned on the coastal highway and made our way to Farmer John's Pumpkin Patch which was not as splashy (thankfully!) but still decked out with festive fall decor.  As a result, I felt good about the jaunty Halloween-print bandannas I brought to put on the pups so they played the part.  My husband, definitely not a fan of dressing up pets in any form (with particular emphasis on reindeer antlers at Christmas or little chihuahuas in doll dresses) gave me the Olympic version of an eye roll and groaned "You're not going to put scarves on them, are you?"  I corrected his obvious fashion faux pas by shooting over a look that would freeze fire and announcing that yes, the dogs are going to wear their Halloween bandannas, thank you very much.  If I had to battle the throngs of old ladies at the fabric store in order to purchase two little pieces of cotton fabric, they were not going unused!

We get to the parking lot for the farm and the employee directs us to a parking area walled off with hay bales.  We turn the corner to the clearing and find a place to park the SUV.  The parking area was a sea of shining black and brown...Bernese dogs running everywhere!  My kids started squealing with glee and both dogs started barking, although I don't think it was a "gleeful" bark.  A "WTF????" bark was more like it.  I could tell already that it was going to take some creativity to get Leila out of the truck again.  After a little coaxing and friendly shooing away of other dogs who came to inspect the SUV, we finally manged to encourage (read: yank) Leila out of the back of the truck.  It was crazy-amazing to see so many dogs in various shapes and sizes, but all looking the same, with their fluffy black tails and white blaze of forehead, not the mention the shining white Swiss Cross on their chests.  We started to walk to the back area where we could safely let them off the leash.  Through clenched teeth my husband whispered to me "Good call on the bandannas!"  That made me laugh.  Even if this trip turned out to be a total bust, at least I was vindicated on that front!

The nice thing about Bernese is that they are friendly, happy, goofy dogs.  They are the stranger in the car ahead of you that pays your bridge toll.  They are the coffee-drinker that holds the door for you at Starbucks when you are trying to exit with two Venti toffee-nut lattes in your hands.  They are silly, inquisitive, smiling representatives of the canine world and here in this crazy gathering of distant cousins, none of them are fighting, snapping, even barking.  They are all just playing and milling around like old friends at a high school reunion.

Then there are my two.

While not being aggressive, my two dogs are clearly set to DefCon 1.  Leila's eyes are so big she looks like she is drawn from Japanese anime.  Bodie perfects the art of bob-and-weave so he can avoid the oncoming greetings of other dogs.  At least the two have each other and when they run off to the outer fringes of the clearing to get away from the herd, at least they are together.  Some dogs pose for their picture on a table.  Mine hide under the table.  A handful of dogs are bellying up to the big tin bucket of water for a drink, mine are sneaking up behind me and licking my hand so I can pour some of my bottled water into their foldable water dish I had the sense to bring along.  It was then I notice that although they are not socializing in the party-sense of the word, they are not fleeing in terror either.  Maybe it's the feeling of familiarity when you show up to a party where everyone is wearing the same outfit, or maybe just tired in the heat of the October sun.  Either way, they seem a bit more interested in these other dogs and yet, keeping a respectable distance.  Even Leila has a spring in her step which is probably her way of saying "La la la, I can't see you!" in pretending the other dogs really aren't there.  Hey, whatever works for her!
All in all there were maybe about fifty dogs there, all dancing around and trying to get their owner's attention.  There were a few pulling carts like their ancestors did before them.  One was so fluffy and fat her looked like the canine version of a pot-bellied pig.  Even a  few little cuddly puppies that relished all the attention they were getting and made me nostalgic...was it really only a year ago that my two were that size?  The dog owners were all friendly, chatty folks and over the din of laughter you could always hear the question "Which one is yours?"  I could usually find mine within a minute or two, first checking under a table or at the outer edges of the cornfield.  Yep, there they are!

We made our way to the pumpkin side so the kids could pick out a couple of good jack-o-lantern candidates and climb all over hay-bale pyramids and tractors.  After a brief stop for lunch we made our way back across the bay and headed for home.  It didn't take long before kids and dogs were all asleep in the back, exhausted from all the running, jumping, laughing, and in Leila's case, hiding.

It was such fun to see so many Bernese in he same place.  And thanks to their bright garish bandannas, at least we came home with the right ones!

Many thanks to John and Eda Muller of Farmer John's Pumpkin Patch for hosting this wonderful event.  Sadly, the Muller's own beloved Bernese passed away just a few weeks before the event date.  We send them our best wishes and hope to see them next year as well.