The Continuing Education of the Great & Mighty Bear

Our dog Bear at The Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 22, 2023. Original: _Z722950.NEF

Since he’s been doing so well in the less crowded part of the preserve near our house, I’ve been taking Bear onto some more popular trails while still avoiding the congested areas where I know a number of other dogs might be present. On this occasion we started off near my favorite saguaro, The Green Elephant, on the Latigo Trail then went up to the Vaquero Trail to visit Witch Hazel, then continued up to where I took this picture at The Amphitheater (its actual name and unlike the others not just a name I made up to help me navigate to my favorite places in the park). At this point I knew he was ready for a water and snack break so I got out his water bowl and a bag of baby carrots. It makes me laugh as he eagerly gobbles them down as I can hear Ellie shouting down from heaven, “No Bear! Carrots are vegetables! Make him give you real treats!”

A Bear in the Desert

Our dog Bear stands beside the trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 26, 2022. Original: _Z722100.NEF

There are lots of mammals in our desert but you actually had a chance of seeing a Bear on the trails the past few days as I’ve been taking the pup into the section of the preserve closest to our house. I want to get him more exposure to hikers and especially cyclists than we typically get in the neighborhood so this is a good opportunity as there aren’t nearly as many people as the other parts of the park. His on-leash behavior still needs some work but he is miles better than he was when we adopted him, I would have never attempted this back then both because of his behavior and because he was overweight and not used to long walks.

His weight is looking good these days and he’s a champ on the trails, so naturally leading me down the path that I think the mix part of this black lab mix must have made for a good sled dog. I found the collapsible water bowl we got for Ellie so we take frequent water breaks as though it isn’t hot, it certainly is dry.

Today when I had him step off trail and stay beside me to let a cyclist go past, I stayed for a moment as I could hear another cyclist coming. As he passed and saw how still Bear was, he said “What a great dog!” and while I didn’t look at the pup, I felt some serious side-eye as I’ve only ever said he’s a good boy.

I haven’t been out for any photography this week but what a joy it is to spend time with him in this beautiful place.

A Desert Rarity

A top-down view of our dog Bear and my orange shoes while on a walk in our neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 9, 2022. Original: _ZFC4304.NEF

I’ve been lucky enough in my handful of years here to see several Gila monsters, black witches, and Sonoran desert toads. Last week I was able to photograph another rarity in our area: a sidewalk.

Bear’s Turn

Our dog Bear chomps on a favorite ball while wearing an Elizabethan collar on October 1, 2022. Original: _Z727029.NEF

It’s a rite of passage to photograph the pets in an Elizabethan collar, now it’s Bear’s turn as he developed a small sore on his leg and kept licking it. We have both the traditional clear cone of shame and this more comfortable inflatable one, even though he can reach his leg with it he stopped licking and his sore is healing. He’s been very tolerant of it and hasn’t let it interfere with important activities like Ball Chompin’ Time!

Dignity

Our dog Bear flops on his back to show he wants a belly rub on November 25, 2022. Original: _Z727673.NEF

If you’re looking for a joyful and faithful companion, a black lab mix might be a good option. However if you’re looking for dignity …

Relaxing

Our dog Bear relaxes by the swimming pool on August 27, 2022. Original: _Z724694.NEF

Bear relaxes by the pool after a late summer swim. Ellie had her classic spread eagle pose but Bear’s signature sit is to tuck a paw underneath. The other night I went out on the back porch to watch an approaching monsoon, Bear indicated he wanted to join me but I was a little hesitant as I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about the storm. However I also didn’t want to have to put up with the most serious side-eye from the other side of the sliding glass door so I brought him out and had him sit beside me. We watched in silence as lighting constantly lit the mountains until he rolled over and asked for a belly rub. Not much later he fell asleep in the occasional darkness, when the storm finally passed I woke him and we went inside and I had my answer as to how the pup feels about thunder and lightning.

Trixie of course was buried under several layers of blankets in our bed.

The Classroom

Our dog Bear swims in our swimming pool in front of a cactus and other plants on April 10, 2022. Original: _Z721275.NEF

Though most of the same plants are blooming now, this picture is from early April as I haven’t taken many pictures of Bear in the pool since then. It’s not that he hasn’t been in the pool as the pup loves to swim, rather that as soon as the water got warm enough for my delicate sensibilities, I started swimming with him. And that’s when I discovered he seemed uneasy with me in the pool.

As long as I stayed by his side he was OK, if often giving me some side eye, but if I swam out on my own he’d immediately come after me and start tugging on the sleeve of my shirt or gently tugging on my wrist. I got a lesson in just how much it freaked him out when I wanted to get a little exercise so I looped his leash around a deck chair so I could get swim some laps. He dragged the chair across the porch and to the pool’s edge until I got out and assured him I was alright. My wife took him inside but he just stood at the window and barked until she took him out of sight.

So in addition to using our pool time on the weekends to work on his understanding of the Come and Stay commands, and then Drop It and Leave It, I added some exercises to convince him I was a good swimmer and he could just relax and play. By mid-summer he was doing much better, but then there were a few weeks with no swimming when I got sick and then my wife got sick and then a monsoon washed a lot of dirt into the pool.

When the swimming resumed I was fearful of a relapse but the opposite happened, he was now completely at ease with me being in the pool and since then we’ve spent long sessions just goofing around, with me hoping the exercise will tire him out but discovering which one of us has the most energy. Our pool time has become as treasured to me as my long walks with Ellie were, time to forget the stress of the world for a while and revel in the joy of the two of us.

The Desert Bear

Our dog Bear sits near desert plants at the end of the street in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 27, 2022. Original: _Z724553.NEF

I haven’t been up for a sunrise hike lately but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been up, just a bit too knackered for a short drive to the trails. I have kept up my usual wanderings around the yard at night, yielding sightings of Sonoran Desert toads each of the past two nights, and two tarantulas in the previous weeks. Our sprawling cactus out front has gone nuts this year with a dazzling display of flowers, but since they only bloom at night I have to try and grab a few shots in the morning if the bees aren’t too active, which is why I’ve been getting up early.

That’s meant I’ve been up a few times when my wife took Bear on his sunrise walk and I was able to join them for the first time in months. While he still needs improvement with people and dogs he feels like a different dog compared to when we adopted him, the training has helped tremendously. I had him pose at the end of the cul-de-sac as the sun rose with Troon Mountain in the background.