A happier, healthier Eden

Eden is 11 months old today! Time flies when… your life is being ruled by a wild adolescent German shepherd.

Still, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see this pup finally gaining weight!

Dogs in May

Thanks to her daily fish oil supplements, she’s also far less itchy, and her adult coat has developed a pretty, healthy sheen.

Dogs in May

She’s turning out to be quite striking, if I do say so myself.

Now we just have to work at getting her more daily exercise; she never has enough. I think we need a team of teenage puppies to come wrestle with her every day.

Pretty puppy | Eden at 10 months

Eden is 10 months old now, and it seems strange that we’ve had her for half of her life!

Pretty, crazy baby

She’s certainly learned our household routines, and she and Guion have really developed a special bond. It warms my heart, because one of the top qualifications for Dog No. 2 was that he or she would love Guion (as Pyrrha may never truly bond with him as she has with me). Eden has certainly met that requirement. The two of them play Frisbee together almost every day, and Guion certainly is showered with more excitable affection than I am. (Which I am really OK with, because she really goes for you in the morning.)

Pretty, crazy baby

Now that we’ve survived her back-to-back litany of health issues (suspected victim of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency that turned out to be a bad case of giardia → first heat → presumed UTI → gaining weight → cut quick of her nail), she’s doing quite well. She’s also finally packing on the pounds, and I daresay she is turning out to be quite a beautiful girl.

Pretty, crazy baby

But good grief, German shepherd adolescence is exhausting. I know this is true of many (if not all) active, working breeds, but I feel envious of people who have Basset hounds. Or whatever breed just flops around on the couch all day. Eden NEVER STOPS. We had a house guest recently who was watching her and commented, “Wow, does she ever stop moving??” The answer is no, never. Think twice before you get a GSD, folks!

All that said, we love her, and we’re thankful she’s in our lives. Even if she is a wild thing.

Second dog syndrome

I haven’t mentioned this in my recent Eden health posts, but Eden is suffering from another condition: Second Dog Syndrome.

She does everything with gusto

She does everything with gusto.

Thankfully, it’s not a serious condition, and it could be easily remedied, if we were better pet parents. But we have definitely fallen into this lazy pattern with Eden, which certainly did not characterize our behavior when we brought Pyrrha home. With Pyrrha, I was like Dog Helicopter Mom; I was in her business all the time, fretting about her constantly, reading every book, calling every dog person I knew, making spreadsheets for her training regimen… With Eden? I’m the mom in sweatpants on the couch yelling, “Git off your sister and stop being such a psychopath!”

Some of the key symptoms of Second Dog Syndrome:

  • The dog only knows how to do a few things, whereas the dog’s elder sibling has a repertoire of commands. We talk about how smart Eden is, and so people always ask us, “What can she do??” Um. She knows sit and down. And she can catch a mean Frisbee? But… that’s it.
  • The dog tends to wear hand-me-down collars and use old leashes. She was even wearing one of Pyrrha’s extra ID tags for a while, until we were offered a beautiful ID tag from Silver Paw for review.
  • The dog has no toys of its own. Never bought Eden a toy. The only toy Eden’s ever had was one she tried to steal when her foster mom dropped her off with me at PetCo; her foster mom, in compassion and kindness, bought Eden the toy (which she then brought home and shredded).
  • The dog is often left to its own devices (within reason), whereas the first dog was constantly watched, worried over, and attended to.

It’s a sad, sad condition. And lately, her craziness has been making me seriously reconsider our gross laziness with her training. Time to start treating Edie like a first dog!

Pretty, crazy baby

But at least she’s pretty? She’s really growing into her shape, I think.

Anyone else feel this way about adding a second dog to the household?

Verse for a Certain Dog

Eric’s great great great Aunt Polly’s German Shepherd Dog — photo circa 1910. They lived in the Midwest. Pretty neat! 

German shepherd, circa 1910.

Verse for a Certain Dog
Dorothy Parker

Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,
Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.
All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.
(For Heaven’s sake, stop worrying that shoe!)
You look about, and all you see is fair;
This mighty globe was made for you alone.
Of all the thunderous ages, you’re the heir.
(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)

A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;
High in young pride you hold your noble head,
Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.
(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)
Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song.
(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)

“Whatever is, is good” — your gracious creed.
You wear your joy of living like a crown.
Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.
(Drop it, I tell you — put that kitten down!)
You are God’s kindliest gift of all — a friend.
Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,
You ask but leave to follow to the end.
(Couldn’t you wait until I took you out?)

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Such a cute, charming poem, and such an apt summation of all the joys and frustrations of sharing one’s life with a dog!

Hope you have happy, peaceful weekends in store!

Dogs in the “good old days”

When I hear my parents and grandparents talk about how they lived with their dogs, I am sometimes filled with a sense of envy and even nostalgia for a lifestyle I never experienced.

Dogs back then, in the “good old days,” seemed to live in such freedom and off-leash harmony with human society.

Source: Boston Public Library.

Source: Boston Public Library.

According to all the stories and books and records I’ve heard, the common traits of dogs, back then were that:

  • Dogs never wear leashes. Unless these dogs are living in Manhattan, leashes are rarely, if ever, used. You take walks with your leashless dog at your side. (Sigh. This one makes me especially envious. Pyrrha could be such a different dog, I think, in a leashless world.)
  • Dogs usually run free throughout the neighborhoods, sometimes in friendly packs. I recall Temple Grandin describing this in her book Animals Make Us Human. Grandin recalls seeing packs of neighborhood dogs roam around daily, and she still longs for dogs to be able to live in this way.
  • Dogs often take on larger-than-life qualities, in the form of family fables, and are often very human-like in their abilities and powers of reasoning. Maybe everyone was watching too much “Lassie” or “Rin-Tin-Tin,” but we all know stories of dogs who played tricks on their humans, saved babies from drowning, rang doorbells, and begged for food at the neighborhood butcher. My dad regaled us with dozens of stories about his childhood dogs and their antics. I can’t imagine my dogs doing any of these things, and so I wonder if it’s because we don’t give them the opportunity to act in these ways, or if these dogs have acquired these mythic qualities as the stories get told and re-told, in the form of hyperbolic legend.
  • Training seemed to be more organic, rather than formal or structured. Dogs learned how to behave in households in a natural, unstructured way and often learned a repertoire of party tricks. But I get the sense that if a dog went to obedience school, it was much more rigid and discipline oriented than we are accustomed to today.
1934 - 1956: Dog drinking from water fountain

Source: Leslie Jones.

I wonder if reactivity was far less common in those days. Perhaps without much containment, dogs had less opportunity to practice reactivity. Pyrrha interacts with dogs in a totally different way when she’s off leash. One of my happiest days with her was this past Christmas, when we took her to a big farm/park. She was on a 30-ft. drag lead, and there were tons of off-leash dogs there. She was just delighted to see everyone, and all of the dogs interacted with each other in this beautiful, peaceful, harmonious way. There wasn’t a bit of anxiety or reactivity in her that day.

The downsides of the way dogs lived in the “good old days” are, of course, also rather considerable. Dogs died fairly frequently in traffic accidents or other suburban misfortunes, merely because they were rarely contained. Dogs probably rarely went to the vet and were infrequently spayed or neutered. Thus, if you had a bitch, she likely got pregnant a few times, and then you had to figure out what to do with those puppies (pawn them off on the neighbor kids). I also don’t know of any data, but I imagine that dog bites (especially to children) were much more frequent, also because dogs were not contained or monitored. Knowledge of dog behavior and canine psychology was scant, and dog behavior was often misunderstood and grossly misinterpreted (hence the old “rub their noses in their poo” strategy of house-training, among others).

Source: Boston Public Library.

Source: Boston Public Library.

I don’t think it’s possible anymore, of course, to return to this way of dog-rearing in urban or suburban America. We have leash laws, vaccination requirements, and the encouragement to spay and neuter for good reasons.

This is why I disliked Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s book so much. I felt like she was forcing her dogs into a “wild” lifestyle, which was not coherent with the fact that she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The scenes of her following her off-leash husky weaving through Cambridge traffic and watching her spaniel get “raped” (her term) by a wayward dog were just awful to me. As much as I may love and yearn for the off-leash lifestyle, that is not a life I want for my dogs. I know it’s not possible (or even legal) in my town, and so the girls wear leashes and we have a sturdy fence.

Some rural dogs may still experience this “good old dog days” lifestyle, and I love that for them. For example, our former foster Laszlo has an idyllic existence; he goes to work every day with his human at a winery in the foothills and lives his whole life off-leash, running around the giant, gorgeous property.

So, here’s my question. Do you think we can incorporate the good aspects of the old way of dog-rearing into modern society? For most of us, our dogs can’t go out without leashes or travel with you by running behind your truck. But is there a way that we can reduce reactivity and promote freer, more harmonious interactions with our dogs and our communities? Is that even possible with modern legislation?

Source: Leslie Jones.

Source: Leslie Jones.

I don’t know. But it’s something I like to think about. I think about that day for Pyrrha at Fisher Farms, which might have been her happiest day ever, and I long to capture some part of that in our everyday life.

Curious to hear your thoughts!

That time Pyrrha met a baby and didn’t freak out

Like a cat

Basking in the sun like a cat.

I’ve been so consumed lately with Eden’s health issues that it’s been easy to neglect Pyrrha’s (behavioral and fear) issues. But I have a happy little story to tell.

Last Wednesday was beautiful, and so I took the dogs on a walk to the tiny nearby park on my lunch break. There were lots of small children milling about, so I walked the dogs in a broad loop. Little kids (especially toddlers) are one of Pyrrha’s fear triggers, so we tread with caution in child-heavy areas. I’ve been giving her lots of space around children and treating her for just observing children from a distance.

As we were leaving the park, without any incidents, I heard someone call my name. One of my friends, with her baby on her hip, came up to meet us. I kept both dogs on close leashes. Pyrrha was interested in the baby, who was a very quiet, dog-friendly baby (she has a big redbone coonhound “brother” at home), and the baby was interested in her. I was nervous and watching everything closely… but the baby just put her hand down, Pyrrha sniffed and licked her hand, and then her feet; the baby smiled; and Pyrrha turned back to watch the rest of the park activity.

I was beaming. The baby’s mom even said, “Wow, Pyrrha is so relaxed around kids.” Ha! Something that has never been said about my dog. This sounds like such a silly little story, but when you have a fearful dog, tiny moments like this feel like HUGE victories. Because they are signs of progress. Of course I don’t think this small encounter means that she is “cured” or even that she isn’t fearful anymore. Pyrrha is not going to be kid friendly in a few weeks, or maybe even in the rest of her life, but she is making progress. And I’m proud of her. (And thankful for calm, dog-savvy infants! I need to meet more of those…)

How have you seen your dog grow and change lately?