Off-leash encounters and a long, hot hike

Heat stroke?
Post-hike heat exhaustion.

Sunday morning, I was determined to take a hike with Pyrrha–even though the temperature had already reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when we left the house at 9:45 a.m.

There’s a long, paved trail that winds along the river, somewhat near our house. I had waited to take Pyrrha on this trail, since I knew there were several off-leash portions of the trail and I didn’t want to risk any unfortunate, stressful encounters. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling brave on Sunday and decided to take her with me.

She walked happily by my side, on leash, for the first hour or so. We saw a few other dogs on the trail, but they were either too busy swimming in the river or off in the brush to pay us much attention. Pyrrha seemed fine with this. She sniffed everything and vigorously followed every squirrel or song bird. I love being with her in the woods, near the river; dogs always seem happiest to me when they’re deep in nature, away from houses and cars and city noises.

Meeting dogs off-leash

We turned a bend and suddenly a small, blond mutt came springing out of the woods. Pyrrha and I were both a little startled. The dog looked at us for a second, but then heard her owner’s voice and dashed back into the woods. We moved on ahead of them, but Pyrrha was very distracted, as the mutt and her canine companion were following behind us off-leash.

Finally, we came to a point where the off-leash dogs were about to overtake us. The two women called out and asked if Pyrrha would like to greet them. I explained that Pyrrha was shy around other dogs and could be nervous around them, but the woman recommended I drop my leash. I did–and marvel of marvels, Pyrrha acted like a confident, normal dog! She dashed up to the little mutt, named Lucy, and was all happy wags. The two started to even chase each other around in happy circles. I was delighted.

Pyrrha then tried to run up to meet Ramona, the other dog, but Ramona was very shy and tried to run from Pyrrha, tail between her legs. This behavior started to make Pyrrha mirror her, and soon, both dogs were in an anxious, agitated state, so we pulled them away. That mirroring behavior was interesting and unexpected to me.

Going off-leash herself

After we parted ways with Ramona and Lucy, I decided to tentatively try Pyrrha off-leash for the first time. There were a few reasons why I felt like this could be a good time to try her off-leash:

  1. The trail was comparatively quiet, with few other dogs, cyclists, and runners.
  2. It was a legal space in which to go off-leash.
  3. Pyrrha was very tired and hot and not really in the state of mind to be running off.
  4. I knew that she liked to stick with me, even when she was on-lead.

To start, I let her drag the leash for a while. This seemed to annoy her considerably, but she put up with it. I tested her recall by allowing her to fall behind me and then calling her to catch up. To my delight, she responded very quickly and happily. After testing this out for a few minutes, I unhooked her leash and let her go.

I was very vigilant the whole time she was off-leash, scanning the trail for any upcoming traffic, other dogs, animals in the woods, etc., but Pyrrha was great. She was far more verbally responsive than I thought she was. When a cyclist zoomed past us, I was able to call her back to my side very quickly.

Do you walk your dog off-leash? How have you improved your dog’s recall?

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5 thoughts on “Off-leash encounters and a long, hot hike

  1. We don’t walk our dogs off-leash, that’s a big no no with the Greyhounds and I don’t trust Morgan to listen to me when she’s not on lead. However, Kuster works off lead part of the time during his training and as long as you have a tennis ball in your possession, you have his full and undivided attention! At home, here in the yard and stuff, though, I keep him on lead because we have a few neighbors who don’t keep their dogs leashed or contained and live in a delusional state that their dogs are under control!

  2. Sounds like you and Pyrrha had a great walk. It’s often true that being constrained by a leash can increase a dog’s fear. They get worried about not being able to get away from something/someone who frightens them.

    I like to give Honey off-leash time too. I choose places where I can see other people and dogs coming from a long way off and that don’t give Honey too many places where she could go far if something really tempting came by.

    When she moves ahead of me, I’ll duck behind a tree and wait for her to find me. When she does, I’ll play tug with a stick or give her a treat. This is an easier thing to do with a fearful dog because they’re not going to let you out of their sight for long. A really confident dog might never notice you were hiding from them.

    See, there are some good points to having a shy pup. 🙂

  3. Pyrrha reminds me so much of my girl. I love how well she responded to Lucy. All it takes is a friendly dog with a positive attitude to help control the mood. I’ve been working on Abby’s recall diligently after her graduation and we visit the dog park at least 3 or 4 days a week. You can really see a bright smile when they’re with nature. Keep up the great work.

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