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neva: backcountry buddies dog training

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

I watched longingly as the gentleman opened his car door at the trailhead and let his chunky yellow dog plop out. Tail wagging, gently bouncing in place with excitement, the pup’s eyes were steadfastly trained on his human. The man paid him little attention as he gathered his day pack and rummaged around for a hat. He didn’t have to pay attention, because the dog was right at his side making slight adjustments to avoid getting stepped on – like a good dance partner.

“Why can’t Neva be good like that?” I said this to Jeremy and to myself EVERY TIME I spotted a good dog, because my dog was not a good dog. She was a crazy dog. It felt like most people had a good dog without even trying, and we had a maniac despite our best efforts. We had Neva.

We had been determined to train Neva, our second dog, from the beginning when we brought her home in late May of 2015. Springtime in the mountains was the perfect opportunity to introduce Neva to all of the world that would be her doggy life with us. She met other dogs, played in the snow, hiked on trails, learned to swim, got tons of exercise, and grew into a leggy, athletic, smallish Labrador Retriever. We trained Neva ourselves following the guidance of “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days” by Dr. Sophia Yin, because yeah, we wanted a perfect puppy.


meeting banjo (and getting a treat from jeremy)

relaxing in the flowers

biting pants seemed like more fun than actual hiking

this one actually retrieves!

testing her first night in the tent (on the deck)



Neva landed far from perfect, but we would have been happy with a half-perfect or even a quarter-perfect dog. Training Neva proved difficult from the start, which made loving Neva harder than I thought it would be. We got there eventually. We put a lot of time and effort into Neva, but she never seemed to be anything other than crazy. At almost two years old, our biggest issues with Neva were 1) she would run off when she wasn’t on leash and 2) she pulled on the leash as if she were running off anyway. That’s a bit of an over simplification. Bred for hunting, Neva’s nose catches every scent on the air or ground and her instinct is to track every single one. Add to that the fact that her excitement level would shoot from zero to 100 mph in an instant and we had ourselves a dog that we didn’t know how to handle. This made time in the backcountry particularly difficult.

A friend suggested trying an e-collar – a stimulation collar which can be adjusted to a range of 100 different levels used for training dogs – used more like a tap on the shoulder to get their attention. She had great success with her own dog, Gretel, on the e-collar. We went ahead and bought one, but waited to try it out until after our friend emailed us her “notes”. I was nervous about using the e-collar incorrectly and potentially making Neva’s training even harder. Turned out the notes were instructions written specifically for Gretel by a professional dog trainer. There was a thorough analysis of Gretel’s behaviors, reactions in certain situations, and needs from her person. I read through the instructions several times, coming to the realization that what I needed was not the e-collar, but the dog trainer, Backcountry Buddies.


the e-collar



I checked out the website and Facebook page, and read reviews before contacting Backcountry Buddies. I exchanged emails with Claire describing Neva’s behaviors and our goals for her training. [Note: Claire is not the only trainer at Backcountry Buddies, but she was our main point of contact.] In Late January, Claire came up to our house for an hour to meet Neva, administered a few behavior tests (to check for aggression – Neva isn’t aggressive, thank goodness), and gave us a consultation. She assessed Neva’s personality and told us that she thought Neva could benefit from their program. Claire described how the program works: two weeks of intensive training for Neva at Backcountry Buddies without visitation, then if after two weeks Neva requires more work, they keep her for another week of training at no additional cost. There were also warnings, like if the dog became unmanageable due to separation anxiety, we would be called to come get her and receive a refund. Before leaving, Claire showed us a few basic training exercises to practice with Neva to prepare her for camp if we decided to send her.

We had a good feeling about Claire based on her ability to read Neva, and how confidently she worked with the pup in such a short time. Neva was already very much in love with Claire. After we reserved a spot for Neva, Claire sent “homework” instructions for Neva and us in the month preceding camp and we submitted our down payment for the Board and Train 14-day Obedience 2/Adventure Prep.

On March 1, 2017, we drove Neva down to Westminster and got her acquainted with her new surroundings. She paced about in anxious frenzied excitement. Claire went over a bullet list on her whiteboard of our goals for Neva’s training, asking if there was anything else to add, then ran through her training plan based on the progress Neva may or may not make. We must have given Claire the impression that Neva was a completely feral remedial maniac because she didn’t seem to have high expectations. Our attitude towards our dogs has always been one of pessimistic realism as opposed to delusional wishful thinking (people who think their dogs are angels when, in fact, they’re assholes). Even though it was a relief to drop Neva off and let someone else deal with Crazy, by the end of the day I was already missing her.


dropping neva off with claire at backcountry buddies



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twenty

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

March 3, 2017: I updated my spam filter a few days ago and it seems that it wasn’t letting any comments through at all. I only found out after some readers let me know (please, if you run into any issues, don’t hesitate to drop me a line so we can try to fix it). I think it’s working now, but we’ll spend a little more time on it this weekend. Thanks for your patience! xo -jen

In the beginning, when Jeremy and I were newly wed, our wedding anniversary felt like an imposter. It wasn’t the day that was most important to us because getting married didn’t change much in our lives with the exception of the car insurance discount (the discount was awesome). Our special day was and remains November 1, 1992 when we decided we liked one another enough to be a couple. As we progress through life, that first kiss in the mechanical engineering building and that 13-person, 1-dog wedding in my graduate advisor’s living room begin to merge in retrospective. We now count our life together in decades rather than years.


anniversary dinner at frasca (last night)



Today marks our 20th wedding anniversary. Something about nice round numbers – because I am partial to decimal – grabs my attention. I assembled some photographs of us from the last couple of decades, which was no small feat prior to the smart phone. How time flies. Instead of making me feel old, it makes me feel very, very fortunate.

horse flats, california (1993)

strawberry peak, california (1994)

lassen volcanic national park shortly after getting married (1997)

redwoods national park (1997)

kaweah gap in the high sierra, california – name ring a bell? (1999)

single cone, new zealand (2003)

wine country, california (2003)


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travel: steamboat springs, colorado

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Anyone who has happened upon this blog between October and May (sometimes June!) will have probably noticed that we like to ski around here. It’s hard to avoid when Colorado boasts about thirty ski resorts (give or take a few). Multi-mountain ski passes are popular because a single pass offers unlimited access to a handful of mountains plus a few free days at a sampling of other mountains. This year we have the Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus which allows unlimited skiing at Copper Mountain, Winter Park, and Eldora (our local hill), as well as some bonus lift tickets at other mountains including six days at Steamboat Ski Resort. Jeremy and I had only ever visited Steamboat Springs in summer, and briefly… but Steamboat always gets the goods when snow falls in Northern Colorado. The resort has even trademarked “Champagne Powder”. We had to see what all the fuss was about.


elevation map of colorado (warmer colors correspond to higher elevations)



Nestled in the upper valley of the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs rests at the base of the Park Range. As ski towns go, Steamboat is an actual town with services, a bustling pedestrian-friendly main street, cheerful residents (numbering around 12,000), and more terrific restaurants than you could shake a stick at. While the town has spendy options, folks aren’t there “to be seen” so much as to simply enjoy mountain living. It’s a good vibe.

The day we arrived, Steamboat was reporting seven inches of fresh powder overnight and continued snowfall throughout the day. We parked in the Meadows Lot (free) and caught one of the frequent (and clean) shuttles to the base area. From there, we hopped the gondola to mid-mountain and a lift to the summit where we began exploring a foot of untracked new snow in the trees. This was some of the fluffiest fluffy fluff I’ve ever had the pleasure to ski. Okay, Steamboat – you get to keep “Champagne Powder”.


from the lift – all that new snow

jeremy bounces his way through the aspens



We skied until our legs were jelly and took the gondola back down to the base area, not wanting to waste our energy on blue and green groomers as we had already scoped out more potential powder stashes for the following day. Once in town, we checked into the Rabbit Ears Motel – a good option for folks who are budget travelers. We got an especially good mid-week rate and AAA discount. While the lodging was decent, I think it may have been a little too budget for our tastes as we had almost no room for the both of us to sit down and work. Neva’s doggy daycare person suggested The Nordic Inn, which is a little nicer for a little more coin. From the motel, we walked several blocks to Sake2U – a popular spot right on the Yampa River – for a fantastic sushi dinner. Any day you can ski and sushi is a GOOD day.

sake2u under pillows of snow

hamachi (yellowtail) poke over seaweed salad with enoki mushrooms

kombat roll: spicy tuna, spicy salmon, spicy hamachi, with three tobiko and house fire sauce

ama ebi (sweet shrimp)

hamachi sashimi



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