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You Bring the Good with the Bad

Nick and I glared at Nias, then at each other, then back on that little monster who had found himself a deliciously sweaty sock and was dangling it menacingly over the San Rafael River. "Don't move," I whispered. But before the words left my mouth, Nick lunged toward his sock, splashing water everywhere. Nias sprinted further away, laughing at our lack of agility."Nias! Come get a treat! Don't you want a treat?"I begged in desperation. Nias slowly poked his head out from behind a bush, the sock hanging from his mouth. "Nias...come here, NOW!" His jaw seemed to open about a centimeter before deciding that the sock far outweighed any sort of stale treat I could offer him. He clenched his jaw, and sprinted across the river.

For those unaware, Nias is our 2 year old Australian Shepherd. He's a manic, anxiety-ridden 45lb dude who’s favorite toy in the world is smelly socks...or clean socks or couch pillows or hard-covered books that are not placed quite right on the coffee table. We got Nias when he was a puppy with the specific, perhaps misguided, thought that it would be easier to train him from his puppydom than adopt an older dog who may come with bad habits. Although Nias shined in every obedience class he's been in, I never felt like he made a great transition from his perfect classroom behavior to the real world.

Last weekend, Nick and I spent a night in the San Rafael Swell, an overwhelmingly beautiful geological feature located in south-central Utah. We arrived to camp at the Wedge Overlook area just around sunset, but stormy clouds were fast approaching so we hurriedly began to cook dinner. The temperature began to drop, more than we expected. Almost immediately, Nias did not like that other campers were in his direct line of sight. He began huffing, then growling, then barking whenever they made a slight shift in their camp chairs. Once he realized his leash was restricting him from further investigation, the whining began. My head pounded as his annoying whimpers continued through dinner. "Let's hurry up and take him for a walk," Nick suggested. The walk did make things better. Despite Nias' frequent leash pulls which we have grown accustomed to, he is a much better boy when he's on the move. With Nick holding Nias back as not to flung himself over the cliff, I was able to stop and take some photos off of the Overlook. We hurried back to our campsite and the three of us snuggled up in the van. Initially, he seemed perturbed that the night was ending so soon without much adventure, but eventually curled up by my hip and settled in for the night.

Wedge Overlook, San Rafael Swell

Juniper tree, Wedge Overlook, San Rafael Swell

The next morning began with a short mile hike near the campsite to a separate overlook. Nias was bursting with energy, pulling and barking at many campers waking from their slumbers yelling, "GOOD MORNING, HOOMANS". We decided to take him off trail just slightly in an area without many people and throw a stick around just to see if we could let him expel some of his pent up energy. It sort of worked.

Manic eyes

After a cold breakfast, we loaded up and drove further down into the canyon for a hike along the San Rafael River. The drive into the canyon was gorgeous with stunning vertical cliffs lining the road. The day was crystal clear and the sun was beginning to warm the valley floor just slightly. We even stopped to look at ancient pictographs along the route. We kept Nias in the car since quite a few children were gathered in the area. By the time we took exactly 5 steps away from the van, Nias began to bark. I like to think he was warning us that dangerous 5 year olds were nearby so we could keep our guard up. I'm honestly unsure if Nias hates or loves children. He always barks at them, but I almost think it's because he feels the instinctual need to herd them. Regardless, it is rather irksome.

We continued down the road until we crossed the river and parked at a desolate trailhead. At the trailhead was a small horse corral that an overnight camper was using to hold about 4 horses. Nias gazed intently at the animals, waiting for an attack he was sure was bound to happen. He quickly led Nick and I in a big circle around the corral so as not to give the horses a reason to leave their grazing. Once we were finally out of "harm's way", Nias gave a big shake and we began the hike. We trekked about 2.5 miles along a trail that hugged the river. The trail was flat and the air was cool which made for an exceptionally relaxing time. I tried to keep this calm feeling even when Nias would find a soft chunk of horse poop to ingest. I remember this used to really bother me. I always felt like I had some sort of a reject dog that loved poop or that I did something wrong in his early training or that I wasn't feeding him the right type of nutritious food. But now after seeing quite a few other dogs that get in on this action, I don't let it ruin my day too much.

When we reached our turn-around point, Nick suggested we walk down to the river bed. We noticed a sandy spot across from us so we took off our shoes and splashed across the shallow water. We basked in the sun for all but 2 minutes until Nias found his mouth on Nick's sock. We did eventually get the sock back. Miraculously, it was returned fairly unscathed aside from being slightly moist due to dog slobber. Nick and I settled back into our calmer demeanors and laughed at how ridiculous our dog is. We sat for a while soaking in the warmth of the sun, tossing sticks into the water for Nias to chase. After seeing Nias struggle finding a particularly large branch, Nick said, "Oh Nias, you bring the good with the bad." I smiled and thought about how I couldn't agree more. Seeing him scamper and splash around the water was such a joy and definitely worth all the poop eating along the way.

On our way out, we ran into another couple with a similar sized Aussie. Typically, when we see others approach, we'll put Nias back on his leash because we can't always tell what type of dogs or people will set off a barking tangent. As we got closer, the couple asked if Nias was friendly. Since Nias did not appear fearful or threatened, we nodded and let Nias sniff the other dog. The coupled responded, "Wonderful! Our dog is friendly too. She loves people and never barks!" Nick and I smiled politely then called Nias for us to continue on our way. Once we were out of earshot, we started laughing hysterically. Nias barks, hates children, steals socks, chews pillows, and eats poop. But he also is our loyal protector, most agile running partner and favorite snuggle buddy. Oh Nias, you definitely bring the bad, but also so much good.


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