Backpacking With The Loch Ness Monster

Outdoor ResearchA big thank you to Sean Leslie from Outdoor Research for submitting this blog post to us. Sean is a fellow outdoor enthusiast who loves to share his outdoor pursuits with his wife Karaka and four-legged best friend Nessie!

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To the best of our knowledge, our dog Nessie is a Border Collie mix with some Flat Coat Retriever thrown in for good measure. More often than not, the Border Collie part of her wins out, meaning 90% of the time, she’s a hyper-active, neurotic whirlwind, desperate for exercise and difficult to calm down. She could happily run all day, chasing balls, rabbits, squirrels and anything and everything else she catches moving out of the corner of her eye.

Nessie is the sweetest dog in the world toward me and my wife Karaka, doting on both of us and licking our face when we come home from work, curling up under our feet when we’re sitting on the couch, and wedging herself between us in warm bed and dozing on a lazy weekend morning.

Nessie

But her neurosis makes her scared of anything, everything and everyone she doesn’t know. To Nessie, every stranger is a threat, every noise represents an unseen danger. A rescue dog, perhaps there’s something in her past that causes her suspicion; When we adopted her, her story was cloudy and confused, so there’s no way for us to know.

Nessie displays her fear first by cowering, and then through aggression, trying to scare away anyone and anything that makes her uncomfortable. We learned just how fear-aggressive she could be when she bit a repairman who came to fix our clothes dryer, an episode that resulted in very little blood drawn, but a large fine and many tears for me and Karaka.

Despite our best efforts – private sessions with numerous trainers and specialists, positive reinforcement with copious amounts of treats while she’s around friends and strangers alike, and more – Nessie’s fear aggression is so bad we often have to sequester away “The Loch Ness Monster” when we have visitors to the house, and we’re forced to deny strangers’ requests to pet her when we take her for walks; It breaks our heart to tell people, “I’m sorry, but she’s not friendly.”

Because of the liability Nessie presents in Seattle, the city we call home, walks and runs with her — a Border Collie, she demands lots of both — are high-security affairs, where the leash is tight and we cross the street when we see someone walking toward us on the sidewalk.

Backpacking with dog NessieSo Nessie’s chances to run free and unfettered come almost exclusively in the wilderness. We try to take her to the mountains, to the woods, to far-removed and difficult-to-get-to places where we’re unlikely to see another soul. As outdoorspeople ourselves, Karaka and I love these remote places, too, and our enjoyment of them has multiplied exponentially now we know this is where Nessie can freely roam without fear and where we can confidently allow her to explore and run wild off leash.

We’ve taken her high into the Cascades, to snow-covered alpine meadows in the early season, when we’re unlikely to encounter other backpackers or hikers and she can roam and explore in every direction. In the heart of summer, she’s happily trotted along the trail for miles, up to high-mountain lakes where she can swim to her heart’s content without fear of spotting a stranger to awaken her mysterious fear. And in the fall, she’s bedded down in the tent on her Ruffwear bed, between our sleeping bags, sometimes covered in a down jacket to keep her warm.

Camping with dog - Nessie

We’ve been advised by more than one person to give Nessie up, as her tendency toward aggression makes it difficult to include her in our life the way we want, and finding someone to watch her when we travel too far for her to join us is exceedingly difficult; The number of people she likes – and who like her – is few.

But she’s part of our family, and we love her too much to even consider parting with her. And we also know she needs us; Karaka and I realize full well we represent Nessie’s best chance for a long and happy life. We don’t even want to contemplate her likely fate without us and our constant vigilance. If anything, we love her all the more knowing she relies on us so completely.

Nessie is with us for the long haul, and we are just as devoted to her as she is to us. Perhaps she’ll mellow with age, and perhaps we’ll finally be able to teach her no harm will befall her on our watch. And maybe then she’ll be able to let down her guard. Or perhaps not, and the dog that loves us so much will love only us for her entire life. We’ll love her just as much if the latter turns out to be true.

Either way, for now our time in the wilderness is when Nessie, Karaka and I can relax and enjoy ourselves the most. There she is a loyal, joyful companion, eager to lead us to every river valley, alpine meadow and wind-scoured summit.

And for all our sakes, we’re happy to let her.

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Thank you Sean for sharing your story with us!

26 comments

  1. It’s hard to come by well-informed people on this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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  6. Thank you, Sean, for not giving into the ‘disposable dog’ culture I see every day as a shelter volunteer. Dogs, just like people, aren’t perfect and finding ways to work around their issues – as you’ve done with Nessie – is more than worth the effort.

  7. Janice Jacobsen · ·

    Nessie sure sounds like a great dog for you two. We had a similar situation with our Collie-Lab mix a few years ago, Bowser. Unfortunatly, we had to put Bowser down after he maimed our toddler. As far as I could tell, he was fine after the incident, but our son required a trip to the ER and several follow-ups to the doctor. Aside from the scarring and fear of dogs, our son has turned out fine.

  8. Sean, This is beautifully told! Karaka sent the link to Puget Pets so that Nessie’s “weekday walkers” could read it…I’m so glad she did! You can’t know how happy it makes me to see that someone like Nessie has found the environment in which she truly belongs. This is so often NOT the case with the best and brightest (and most dog-like) dogs. Nessie is the best. I’d trust her with my life. It’s a privilege to be a member of her “club.”

    1. Karaka Leslie · ·

      Thanks, Camilla! We are so glad that you are in Nessie’s “club” too!

  9. FleaByte · ·

    What a beautiful dog and a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing Nessie’s tale with us.

  10. Thankfully you all found each other. I loved your story, it took me away.
    You get what you give, and you, and your pack, are blessed.

  11. What a great story, it’s so nice to hear about people who don’t give up on their dog when it gets difficult! So many people are not willing to make the sacrifices they need to for a dog that not’s perfect; we’d have a lot less dogs in shelters if more people were like you. Your story warmed my heart today, thank you for sharing!

  12. Thanks, all! and a big thanks to Ruffwear – It’s so rare to find a place where one can so openly declare love for your dog!

    We couldn’t have predicted how difficult it would be to bring Nessie into our life. But we also couldn’t have predicted how much we’d love her, or how much joy she would bring us – benefits that far outweigh the difficulties.

    It’s great to know there are people who love their troubled dogs as fiercely as we love ours!

    1. Sean,
      What a sweet dog! She sounds like our dog Grace. She is a black Lab and she is 9 yrs old. We got her when she was a puppy 6 weeks old. She has hiked all over the state of Colorado and summitted several 14ers. As soon as she is on the trail and a stranger is coming her way she barks irradically at them. She especially hates people touching her. She goes nuts barking. It takes her a long time to warm up to people. She is as sweet as can be to me and my husband Mike. We always take her far up in the mountains on a remote trail for her to explore without any other strangers around too! She will be 10 in Sept and seems to be slowing down a bit and sometimes passes stangers on trails and doesn’t mind them being there. I guess each dog has their own personality and likes and dislikes and we just love them as they are!

  13. I know those eyes…I had the joy of looking into ones just as soulful and sweet for 16 years. Sysko simultaneously loved and feared other dogs, making him a “push me-pull you” kind of dog. But there is good news for you. First, age will quell some of Nessie’s “ADD” (which can fuel fear and insecurity). And, just yesterday, I heard someone (a trainer, in fact) talking about the “thunder shirt” for dogs, something about it’s snuggy-ness calms high energy/insecure dogs. Worth a shot?

    Nessie is gorgeous and kudos to you for sticking with her…The journey is worth it. There’s not a day that I wouldn’t give anything to have Sysko by my side again, in spite of the difficulties. (Check out my pic below :-)

    1. Thanks, Sherryn. We’ve already started to notice Nessie calming down with age… a bit. And we’ll give the Thunder Shirt a try! Sysko was one lucky dog.

      1. First of all, thank you for sharing your story, Sean. My husband and I also have a dog (a Welsh Corgi-Mix that was a rescue) with similar personality “issues.” We only wish the world could know Elmo the way that we do (he’s a flippin’ amazing dog!!!). I know only too well the feeling you get when you have to tell people that they can’t pet your girl because she’s “not friendly” — I have to do the same with our little guy.

        Secondly, Sherryn is one of my favorite people in this world and her dog — Sysko — was one of those dogs that I will never, ever forget. Not simply because he and I shared a birthday :-), but because of the incredible personality behind his soulful eyes.

        Lastly, thank you for making the decision to stay with Nessie for the long haul. Because, even dogs that are not “perfect” still deserve a loving home that will take the time to try to understand them and give them the best life that they can have. Those imperfect dogs teach their humans some valuable lessons too….

  14. Beautifully written. Beautiful love story. <3

  15. My wife and I adopted a Redbone Coonhound who has lots of trust issues from his troubled past. I can related to too many of your problems. We haven’t taken him backpacking yet, but we we’ll give it a shot this summer. I hope everything goes well for you and your awesome dog!

    1. Good luck! Seeing Nessie so happy to run like mad and explore the woods is a real treat. I wish the same for you and your pup!

  16. Check out a book called Control Unleashed. There is a trainer in Seattle that would be good to see; her name is Grisha Stewart. She runs Ahimsa Dog Training and she works with dogs like Nessie.

    http://ahimsadogtraining.com/

    1. Thanks, Kris. I’ll check it out, for sure! We know Ahimsa, and Nessie has been to a class or two there. But maybe it’s time to sign up for another.

  17. Deb Ward · ·

    Loved your story! Nessie is one lucky dog to have you and your wife. We also got a rescue mix; wish we could hear what happened to her…she’s VERY protective but not fearful. She is almost 9 yrs. old, and we cannot imagine life without our girl. Thanks for sharing your story ~

    1. Thanks, Deb. Your dog sounds to be very lucky, too!

  18. I’ve recently adopted a young female Border Collie that was left behind/lost in the woods from sheepherders. Quite the personality, she’s extremely fun to observe when she’s out in her element, off the leash, in the mountains. Clearly a survivor, she’s a pleasure to watch hunt around, sniff trees, listen for sounds, and just be a animal. I can’t wait for the snow to melt so we can camp as much as possible and take her out for trail runs/rides. She inspires me to be outside as much as possible….which is awesome.

    1. BJ, I know exactly how you feel. I’m so glad our dogs can inspire us to get outside. I’m thankful Nessie loves to explore the outdoors as much as she does, as it gets me out there, too!

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