Fuck the to-do list

The to-do list.

Productivity tool. Brain de-clutterer. Grocery tracker. Chore tasker. It’s the list we all have. Often on our phones, maybe on some paper, post-its, or even kitchen white-boards (maybe even all four). It’s the list we have 20 versions of: one for groceries, one for work tasks, one for home chores, one for home Renos, one for dog training, one for hobbies, one for if-we-have-time, one for restaurants to try, one for thrift store shopping, one for the highest priority items, one for the projects we have been “working on” for years and one for travel packing.

We’ve all been sold on the to-do list. It helps keep our brain decluttered. It keeps us focused on what it is important or urgent. It keeps us productive.

For years the to-do list has run my life. A constant list of things I need to do, need to remember, need to address, need to spend my waking hours thinking about, my sleeping hours stressing about, and at least once a week need to spend time re-organizing.

It has done its job. Helping me get through hectic weeks at work. Helping me stay on track with home chores. Helping me focus on priority tasks. Helping me procrastinate tasks I’m trying to avoid by doing absolutely everything else. It has managed my sanity during hectic moves from one city to another. It helped me launch a business. Without it I would have forgotten many a critical item for a trip. It hasn’t all been bad.

But lately the love is gone. Lately the list grows at a rate I cannot keep up with.
There is a list for my job.
A list for my other job.
A list for special projects for each job.
A list for the regular house chores.
A list for our home renovations.
A list for preparing for ski season.
A list for what I hope to find at a thrift store.
A list of gifts to pick up.
A list for groceries of course.
A list for an upcoming trip.
A list for things I want to write.
I have a to-do list for it all. To-do lists managed my life for the past decade but the lists have taken over. I’ve gotten so good at using the list that I can hardly remember to do something if it’s not on a list.

It’s time for to-do lists and I to break up.

Instead of helping my productivity, today my to-do lists stress me out. My life has gotten too busy to ever have a hope in hell of reaching the end of my to-do lists. By the time I’ve finished everything on one list, I’ve added at least five things to other lists. Now, instead of keeping me productive, my to-do lists just tower over me menacingly like evil characters in a cartoon. They are always there, never ending, always telling me to “be more productive”.

There is always something to do, so I shouldn’t sit around enjoying my coffee in the morning, I should get more done!

There is not enough time in life to get my to-do list done and frankly, that’s okay.

I’m done trying to do it all. I’m over trying to be productive all the time. I’m ready for weekends at home spending time doing anything but items on my to-do list. I’m ready to forget things I need to get done and then realize the world will not actually end if I don’t get them done. I’m ready for projects that go unfinished and time wasted. I’m ready to go at it without a to-do list.

Fuck the to-do list.

A little gigantic adventurous life

Buffy passed on January 20th, 2022, leaving behind the broken hearts of those who loved her and a quiet celebration from the many cats she had tormented throughout her life.

As a young puppy, Buffy loved to explore, play and learn. She also loved to challenge herself physically by climbing the walls of her pen while her person was away so that she could conduct scientific experiments in their absence, such as: What happens to a plant when you shred it? How much dirt is in the bottom of a plant pot? Are books chewable? If you open the bottom of a flour bag, will the flour spill out or stay put? How many paw prints can you cover the floor in?  For scientific rigour, she even repeated experiments multiple times until her person realised that she needed a high security prison set up to keep her in her pen, and the experiments had to cease, for the moment.

While the pen eventually disappeared, her curious and scientific nature did not. As she grew up, she continued experiments in whatever setting she found herself. Confined to a wire crate with a plastic bottom, she decided to discover if she could dig through the bottom all the way to China, or perhaps her favourite park nearby. It was an experiment driven by a desire to explore and help the world. After all, travel would be so much easier if we could just tunnel our way there. However, it ended with only the destruction of the plastic crate liner and the carpet and subfloor below it. Her efforts cut short – she was never given an opportunity to get beyond the subfloor.

Eventually she retired from scientific experiments and switched her interests to landscaping. Upon moving into a new home with a backyard lined with bushes, she worked to trim the bushes, grabbing mouthfuls of the branches and ripping them off. She was a new landscaper, and the uneven trimming of the bushes showed her lack of skill, but she kept trying. When a new tree was planted, she decided it really didn’t work for the flow of the yard and she grabbed onto it, entering into a tug-of-war match against Earth itself that she won when she ripped the tree out of the ground.

No one ever appreciated her experiments or her landscaping skills as much as she did, but that never seemed to bother her.

In the human world she found herself in, she got frustrated by her inability to use words to communicate like the people around her did. One day, she decided to try and develop her own words in hopes of conversing with her bipedal companions. Being part husky, this wasn’t against her nature, but she was only part husky and the words she made sounded more like growls than howls. Nevertheless, she didn’t care what anyone thought and she would greet everyone with the more-growls-than-howls, sometimes scaring people away who thought it meant she was about to bite them.

Buffy once trained as a search and rescue dog. She learned that her nose was a powerful tool and she could use it to find people and objects left behind. This was an exciting trick which seemed to always result in a terrifically fun game of fetch and tug. Although she never officially joined a team due to her person’s work requirements, she did continue to practice this skill. For years on hiking and skiing adventures she would find discarded tissues, old socks, even a pair of underwear she happily returned to her person. However, her person never seemed quite as excited about taking these finds from her as she had been in the past. 

Buffy’s sense of exploration was a perfect fit for a new home at the base of the Canadian Rockies. Instead of attempts at digging her way to China, she now explored upwards and left most of the ground where it was, a development her person seemed to approve of. She summitted numerous peaks and found the reaction she got from her human companions odd every time she put her toes to the edge of a summit and looked down the mountainside. They always overreacted, shouting and grabbing hold of her as if she might step off the summit. Alpine lakes provided the best swimming spots on hot summer hikes and she never hesitated to demand a never-ending number of sticks thrown in to retrieve. She often wondered why they left the lake at all since it seemed like the perfect place to exist, sometimes her person wondered the same thing. On backcountry hikes, she carried her own food and even hiked 10 kilometres out of the backcountry with an injured paw because she refused to be carried. Once home, she happily let the humans carry her in and out of the house for potty breaks, but she would never let that happen in front of the wildlife.

Buffy also developed a skillset in skin treatments. She made sure that no mud puddle within her vicinity ever went unexplored for its skin rejuvenating properties. Often she even found mud puddles in places where there should not have been mud puddles, like the desert. She seemed to truly believe in the healing power of mud, ensuring that she always covered most of her body in it before she got back into any vehicle to be chauffeured home. It never seemed to help with her hotspots, but she did it anyway.

Although Buffy’s main interests may have seemed to be scientific experiments, exploration and fun, her true love was her people. She had bonded early with her first human who seemed to love her, despite her experiments sometimes bringing her human to tears. Then she adopted another several years later once she discovered she could get him to play fetch and tug for hours on end. She was always ready to follow either of them anywhere they went, even to the veterinarian or the pet wash, which were her least favourite of locations. 

Buffy spent her final years in Revelstoke, where she experienced the deepest winters of her life. She never met a pile of snow that she didn’t stick her head into or rolled on to leave her own version of a snow angel. Needless to say, winter walks were slow. She enjoyed cross country skiing with her people, but lived for days out in the backcountry. She had perfected her backcountry travel, never wandering off the skin track, power napping at snack breaks and impatient with anticipation as her people transitioned to go back down. Chasing after her people, her normally painfully slow people, in chest deep snow was her favourite activity of all time. Those who skied with her had no choice but to learn fast transitions in order to meet her demands. The moment anyone started to transition, Buffy would rise from her rest, limber up, stretch, and become incredibly impatient, eventually barking until they started to ski. Although her barks may have annoyed some, for her partners, she just embodied the reason they were there, to have the most fun possible in the snow.  

Buffy lived a true life of adventure. She lived for mountain summits, alpine lakes, swampy muddy baths, powder days, and backcountry adventures with her people. Her life was full and although she certainly would have wished for more of it, she made the absolute most of her 9 years in this realm and has surely started to conquer peaks of her own in the next while she waits for her people to join her again, ready to greet them with her more-growls-than-howls. 

Buffy, October 21, 2012 – January 20, 2022

Time for something new.

Buffy, laying peacefully in long grass, enjoying the sun on her face, at one of our campsites years ago.

I took a long pause from this site. In fact, just a couple months ago I wasn’t sure I would even renew the website or the domain. Since I started my own dog training and behaviour consulting business, most of my effort went into that platform. I focused on writing educational content for blog posts and creating social media content to market the business. There wasn’t really a place in my life for this website/blog/sharing space anymore.

Then things changed this year.

Buffy, my k9 soulmate, the dog who brought joy and light to my life every day, passed away suddenly. She was only 9, the kind of 9 that you really think must more be a 5-6 year old dog. It came out of nowhere. One January morning we were playing tug and fetch in the snow, four days later I was holding her, telling her I loved her while she left me. One day maybe I will share more about that horrific week, how I tried everything I could, begged the specialist to operate anyways, but I lost the battle. There wasn’t anything to do. Cancer took her and the worst part about cancer is that you can’t beat the living shit out of it like every cell in your body would like to.

I have felt quite loss without her. Cody is still with us and I’m grateful every day for that, but like with people, every relationship with a dog is unique and he can’t fill the Buffy-sized-hole she left behind.

Once I could handle it, I took to writing. Slowly pulling together stories from our life together, while also reflecting on everything she taught me. Writing has been the only thing that has felt right, that doesn’t require me to convince myself to do it even if I don’t feel like it.

So I’m re-starting this space to share some of my writing. I want to share stories. Stories about Buffy. Stories about adventures. Stories about others. I want to share the wisdom I learned from her. I want to share how I’m trying to incorporate more of her wisdom into my life.

Follow along for stories about life, adventure, dogs, and Buffy. I promise you’ll learn something, or at the very least read some funny stories.

How a shock collar WILL change your relationship with your dog, but not the way you may think

Buffy, enjoying some off leash time on an easy hike.

I wrote an article last November about shock collars and how they are not appropriate for adventure dogs, or really any dog. But here I am again, writing another article about this topic that is somehow controversial (I say somehow, since the science on its harms is clear). So why am I writing this again? 

Well, Wednesday May 27th, I woke up to some bad news. While scrolling on my Facebook page I saw this article on Outside Magazine.  It had been out for a while, but I hadn’t seen it yet (I don’t go searching for this author’s articles since I have been frustrated in the past by his lack of expertise and his apparent desire to talk about a topic like he is an expert: See my post Why the right number of dogs might be n+0 ).  But here it was, so I read it and my anger boiled. 

I posted about this on Instagram and tagged some other science-based training accounts to help spread the word and luckily it seemed to take off. So I’m writing this now, to get into more detail as to why this article is wrong, irresponsible, and damaging to dogs. For those who may question my credentials, I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA). To be certified, I needed to have over 300 hours of hands on experience, had to pass a theoretical exam and had to commit to utilizing the Humane Hierarchy with all of my training. I also have to get 36 hours of continuing education credits and provide accurate test taking questions to maintain my certification. So yes, I have more experience and knowledge on this topic than the author. 

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Adventuring with aging adventure dogs

Cody takes in the views (of some chipmunks) near the summit of our scramble.

This past October, my younger dog Buffy turned 7 and according to the standards, entered her senior years (don’t you dare call her an old lady though). She doesn’t act 7 and my recently…10 year old Cody, doesn’t either. In fact, two summers ago someone thought he was a puppy because he scrambled up a mountain in the rockies so easily. But their energy level and my denial does not change that they are aging and on top of it, they are not tiny dogs. Small dogs tend to live longer and often suffer from less aging related mobility issues. So denial is not going to do my dogs any good. 

Therefore, given that I’ve been dealing with this issue for a while, I wanted to offer some insight on what I’m already doing, and my overall strategy to keep my seniors healthy and adventuring with me for a long time. 

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Try something new: Self-isolation edition

Well I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t see this turn of events coming. 2020 didn’t start off the best but I didn’t think I would be sitting here in March getting updates every 15 minutes on new closures for recreational facilities, ski hills, schools, businesses, and offices. It felt a bit surreal a week ago. I was asking myself, why is this progressing so quickly? Why is the response so serious? Then I remembered I’m a Risk Analyst in my day job so I crunched some numbers and saw what I had been missing. This isn’t like SARS. It’s not like H1N1. It’s not anything like the flu. So we really do have to try and stay home.

The good news is that our dogs are pretty psyched about us being home more often. So what can you still do safely with your dogs to take advantage of some extra time together? I thought I would put together a quick list:

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Try something new: Backcountry skiing & Snowboarding

The look of joy.

I love backcountry skiing and snowboarding. It is my favourite sport in the winter and it has required me to buy some expensive gear and get lots of training. This article is not about the human aspect of backcountry skiing so if you haven’t done this before, then I recommend finding a good guiding service and signing up for avalanche safety courses to get you started. This article is about what to consider when you go with your dog. 

I occasionally bring my dog Buffy backcountry skiing. The reason she doesn’t come all of the time is that big objectives or very complex terrain (i.e. big avalanche terrain) is not an appropriate outing for a dog who has zero understanding of avalanche slopes and risk. I cannot think of a worse thing than triggering, even a small slide, and having my dog caught up in it (short of my human partner getting stuck in a slide). So if the risk isn’t low, my dog Buffy stays at home, even if backcountry skiing is her favourite thing ever. No exaggerating, she is obsessed. So please, consider not bringing your pooch into big avalanche terrain, instead look at days out with your dog as a more active form of a dog walk and stay on low angle slopes and in stable conditions. 

So if you have somewhere safe to ski with your dog then you can consider trying this activity. But first you have to evaluate if your dog is up for it. I tried backcountry skiing with both of my dogs. Cody came several times one season to see if we could get him hooked but we couldn’t. He was just trying to keep up all day, looking fairly miserable. It was not his cup of tea. He’s far more my skijoring dog than my touring dog. This sport is not for all dogs. Your dog needs to be able to travel through deep snow pretty easily and to not freeze. Some people put on coats on their short haired dogs which can work, but always consider that you might be out there longer than expected. So if your dog has the stamina (or if they don’t but you can carry them in your pack the rest of the way) and the ability to stay warm, then you might be ready to give it a go. 

How do you get started for a day out? Well firstly, pack a first aid kit that includes items for your dog such as extra gauze, wraps that clings to itself for pressure, and be ready to carry out your dog if necessary. The most common injury to dogs while backcountry skiing is coming into contact with a ski edge and cutting a paw or leg. So being prepared for this is very important. My dog Buffy has learned to stay clear of our gear, but not all dogs will take this into consideration. Also pack some dog snacks, water, and poop bags to keep your dogs poop off the skin track.

Next up, make sure that your dog has an excellent recall. This is critical. You’re going to be letting them off leash on the way down for sure and if your dog goes after an animal, this can be VERY dangerous to everyone involved. Don’t believe me? A couple years ago in the rockies some people went backcountry skiing with their dogs and the dogs chased a moose for over a half hour. They didn’t catch the moose, the skiers got a hefty fine, and the dogs were ok. However, that moose may have died. Wild animals need calories to stay warm during the winter months and 30 minutes of flight running cut into that moose’s calories and it would have to find enough calories to replace them in order to survive. Dogs should never be left in a position to harass wildlife, so if you do not have a history of a good recall, then work on it with lots of rewards and a long line over the summer and you’ll be ready to go next season. 

Now, pick a small objective to try first. You will want to see how your dog handles this and when they are just learning, there will be a learning curve. Buffy’s first few times out, she was too excited on the way up. She would wonder on an off the skin track, playing in the snow. She quickly smartened up though and learned to conserve her energy for the intense down hill sections. Make sure to watch your dog carefully and make sure they are following your line and understanding the game. Most dogs will get this right away, it’s fun, the humans are finally fast! 

Buffy enjoys some corn snow laps in Utah.

Finally, my last words on it, make sure your dog is having fun and be safe. This goes for any activity, but not all dogs will love this sport. If your dog looks like Cody did, miserable and relieved to be back at the car, then leave them at home when you go. And always trust your gut for conditions. There was a day two seasons ago where I debated bringing Buffy since it was an area where we would be getting easy small laps, but it wasn’t without risk and it was the first warm day of the season (something that can increase avalanche activity). I left her at home. At the parking lot I saw others with dogs and ran into my neighbour who said he was sad I didn’t have Buffy, which made me question my own decision. Well, on the way up to our first lap, My partner was caught in a an avalanche. He managed to ski out of it and it wasn’t huge, but it was big enough to injure or potentially burry Buffy, who normally would have been on his heels. Always trust your gut and never put your dogs at unnecessary risk. 

Try something new: Skijoring Part 2

Buffy and Cody demonstrating a “line out” before we start to skijor together

In my last post, I introduced skijoring as a new activity for you to try. So if you’ve got your equipment and you are ready to give it a shot, this article will focus on some tips for success. 

How to get started

Setting yourself up for success means planning ahead and putting in a bit of training. If you have never done any pulling sport with your dogs, you need to teach your dog to pull. You might be thinking “oh my dog can pull” but pulling while on a walk is very different than pulling you on a ski track where they can’t just stop to sniff every couple of seconds. 

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Try something new: Skijoring Part 1

Skijoring is a Norwegian term which translates to “ski driving”. Its origin lies with horses and skis. You get the idea, slap on some skis, let the horse pull you and try to hold on and stay upright. It’s actually still a sport with horses, but in recent years, it’s become a popular activity with dogs. So what am I proposing you try exactly? I want you to consider trying skijoring with your dog (or dogs if you have more than one). That means strapping on some cross country ski’s, investing in a proper harness and skijoring kit, and hitting the trails.  You’ll feel the magic of working as a team with your dog to glide over the snow, the wind on your face, the excited look of your dog, it will be the best experience of your life. There you have it, you are ready to go. … Just kidding. I’ve broken down this post into two because there is quite a bit of information to include. This post will talk about the basics you need to get together before you start working towards getting on skis with your dog. 

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