Saturday, December 6, 2008

What we did on our Thanksgiving Vacation, Part Two.

Some of the Fort Washington Park regulars decided to try Van Cortlandt Park last Saturday. Parked at the stables, and went for a walk in the Northwest woods. There is a dog run in Van Cortlandt, but the Northwest woods are separated from it by a highway, and I've recently had two mounted PEP officers indirectly indicate that they tolerate offleash activities in that area before 9am--and though patrols are few afterwards, beware--horses can move a lot more quietly than you think. If you're asked to leash up, comply immediately.

Van Cortlandt has large and little trafficked areas to explore, so local dog owners have a tendency to focus more on the wooded trails than the dog run--but the run is a godsend for people with dogs whose recall needs a bit of work. It also has an agility course, but first things first.

Into the woods.

We met up with another doggish hiking party--the big Golden is Teddy Bear.(click larger images to enlarge)

His companion (the Black Lab, didn't catch his name) was just as handsome, but not so cuddly--you can see how he might feel a bit surrounded. We avoided any serious misunderstandings, and went on our separate ways. Plenty of room for everybody.

The quick brown boxer jumped over the--oh never mind.

We decided to try the agility course at the dog run--it's a large run, and most unusually for New York City, still has a grass surface. None of the dogs had any real agility training, so the course really served to demonstrate how differently each dog approached the same problem--how to cope with their humans trying to get them to do stuff they don't particularly see the point of.

Example: We want Max to go through the pipe. He wants to chase the ball. We throw the ball through the pipe. He runs around to the other side of the pipe to intercept it. Which demonstrates lateral thinking. And in an agility competition, would put him in last place.

"You have that look again--like I'm supposed to be doing something other than chase balls. It's what I do, man. Get with the program."

Smarties, it must be said, kicked ass at the agility course. Collies and other herding dogs tend to rule this event--their specific type of intelligence helps them to pick it up quickly, and enjoy the challenge. Even if they think it's a bit silly, as Smarties seems to be thinking--but hey, a treat is worth a trick or two, right?

How does that polka song go? "It's time to fall off the barrel...."

I think the humans in our party all know now how our algebra teachers felt when we asked them how what they were trying to make us learn would be relevant to our lives.

But Duke was much more successful in training Marc.

Jack likewise showed an aptitude for getting up on this piece of equipment, which is known, perhaps a bit mundanely, as a "dog walk"--only you're supposed to keep walking, Jack. Oh well, hold the pose.

After we got back to the parking lot, a few of us stayed for a few more minutes, to explore the stable area. The Van Cortlandt Riding Stable has been around a long time, and has a wide variety of horses living there--also quite a few dogs. There are almost always a few unchaperoned pooches rambling around the place, going where the muse takes them. Some are there to guard the stable, others seem to be companion animals to calm down the horses. The nice thing about this tradition is that the horses become very accustomed to having dogs underfoot, which means that they don't get startled when they see them out on the trails--a nice thing to know if you're riding one.

This little female Jack Russell acted a bit territorial towards Max as we passed, but hey--it was her territory.

Max saw horses for the very first time in the Northwest Woods of Van Cortlandt Park--he looked at these huge animals in disbelief, and smelled their hoofprints intensely. He's seen horses quite a few times since, and his reaction is always interesting to me--a mixture of awe and fascination, mingled with a quite understandable apprehension. He even growled a little at two horses we met near Montauk Point last winter, who barely seemed to notice him.

But the more time he spends around horses, the less fearful he seems--he's trying to figure them out--friends or foes?

There was a very calm sociable little pony (all 500 pounds or so of him) who seemed as interested in us and the dogs as we all were in him. He smelled my hand very gently (I must confess, having been bitten by a horse when I was little, I'm a bit apprehensive of equines myself). I let Max make his own introduction. He got a bit startled at one point, but overall, he seemed to be leaning towards 'friend'. Smarties leans a bit more the other way, but she was likewise fascinated.

There's all kinds of intelligence in this world. Including horse sense.


Caroline said...

Great trip report!

For the record - it was Smarties' idea to stand on the barrel.

Chris said...

Yeah, balancing on top of those barrels isn't really part of any agility competition I've seen. Though perhaps it should be. :)