Story submitted by Natalie
Christian and I both grew up with dogs, and we’ve wanted one for many years, but never felt like we had the time or were in the right place in our lives to commit to a pup. We were poor and busy graduate students, often working late and traveling internationally for research. As we finished our PhDs, we finally decided we were ready, and planned to begin looking for a puppy to adopt after our wedding.
We wanted a rescue dog. Our active lifestyle, love of long hikes, and desire to be outside constantly made us think that an active herding breed would be a nice fit. We wanted a smart dog who would have no problem keeping up with us on 10-mile hikes in the wilderness. We thought a mutt with significant herding breed in its mix would be ideal for us, and planned to search shelters for such a dog.
Boulder came into my life unexpectedly on a gorgeous fall day in New Mexico. Three friends and I spent the day rock climbing at our favorite winter climbing spot, many miles from civilization. After watching the sun set across the open desert from the top of our cliff, we hiked down to the small dirt lot where our cars were parked. As we got camping gear and dinner out of our cars, a small white and black puppy with patches of dried blood on his face ran up to us. He seemed fearless and incredibly friendly. We were bathed in puppy kisses.
He followed us as we hiked with our tents, cooler, and firewood to a nearby campsite. We offered him water, which he drank eagerly. There was no water source for miles, so his extreme thirst was unsurprising. He accepted bits of our dinner, and cuddled with us as we sat around the campfire talking. The puppy was a mutt, but he appeared to be part (50%?) Australian cattle dog, a common breed favored by ranchers in New Mexico. This little lost puppy just happened to be exactly what we planned choose when we got around to adopting a dog.
At bedtime, he tried to join me in my tent. I didn’t want a puppy peeing in or chewing on my tent, so I kept him outside. After a few failed attempts to enter, the puppy curled up on top of my backpack in the vestibule between my tent and its rainfly. We both drifted off to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning I woke up to the sound of a pack of coyotes howling. I realized the puppy had burrowed his way under my tent to curl up next to me, and was shaking in fear. He knew enough to fear the coyotes, which would make a quick snack of a tender little puppy if they could get to him. My heart melted. I was his.
The next morning our little puppy was still with us. We fed him bits of our breakfast of granola bars and bananas as he wormed his way into our laps. We assume someone abandoned him on the side of the nearby highway, a common occurrence with unwanted pups, as there was no one and nothing else around. Given the open landscape, it seemed unlikely that he had gotten lost or separated from his owner accidentally. He came with us to the day’s climbing site, where he never let me far from his sight. When it was time to go home, there was no question of us leaving him in the desert. If we couldn’t keep him, we would find a rescue organization that could. It was clear he couldn’t last much longer alone in the desert. My friend and I drove the hour and a half home with him content and well behaved in the backseat.
My husband of less than a month happened to be out of town for work that week. I texted him about this adorable puppy, ending with “and he loves me and wants to come home with me.” Christian’s response was, “was that a question?” Then, “if you want him, I trust you. Take him home.” That was that. We stopped at Petsmart on our way home to buy puppy food, a collar, leash, and a couple toys. I didn’t want to invest too much in this puppy, either emotionally or monetarily, until I had taken him to a vet and ensured he had neither a microchip nor an incurable disease. A friend loaned me a crate. A half-dozen friends came over that night to adore the puppy.
We decided on a rock climbing-themed name, Boulder, for the little puppy, in honor of how I found him. We gave him a bath and pulled many cactus spines out of his shoulder, events he tolerated stoically. Boulder was not thrilled about his crate that first night, and had diarrhea twice in it, likely due to unfamiliar foods over the previous 24 hours after being somewhat starved. We survived that first night together, snuggling on the couch for a nap at dawn after his second bath in 12 hours (necessitated by the aforementioned diarrhea-in-crate issue).
A trip to the vet the next day confirmed that Boulder was not microchipped, about 16 weeks old, 16 pounds, and healthy other than being underweight. We started his puppy vaccinations, and I stocked up on puppy supplies and toys, relieved that he was really and truly mine. I bought a dog training book for my Kindle and read it in about 24 hours. Boulder and I bonded through basic training and play his first week in our home while Christian was away. I texted Christian photos of Boulder several times a day, and when he returned home Boulder accepted him as family instantly.
We took Boulder on weekend hikes from the start. He chased tumbleweeds into the Rio Grande in the fall and bounded through several feet of snow for miles during Christmas break in the mountains. He loves morning jogs and long hikes, and we look forward to taking him on his first backpacking trip this summer. He’s pretty much the perfect dog for us. We feel like a complete family now, the three of us snuggling on the couch together in the evenings after work. Having Boulder made us feel more like a married couple than our wedding did.
Boulder was shockingly easy to train. Like many herding breeds, he is smart and eager to please us, so he picks up new commands and tricks quickly. He wants to be taught new tricks. He loves other dogs and people. Most training issues came from overexcitement. For example, it’s been a struggle to train him not to jump on people, because he desperately wants their attention more than he wants anything else, and he’s so cute that most people reward him with pets when he jumps on them.
Boulder was terrified of cars, and as a result hated going on walks around our neighborhood (but not hikes. From the start he loved hikes, as there are no scary cars on hiking trails. And not car rides; those he loved). We tapped into his herding instinct to distract him from his fear of cars. We’d recruit a friend or two to jog in front of him while Christian or I held his leash. Boulder would temporarily forget the cars as he chased the group of friends jogging just out of his reach. This technique combined with lots of patience, treats, and gradually increasing walk distance helped him to begin enjoying walks, which are now one of his favorite things.