Hike in Pen Park, in which I almost have a heart attack

Afternoon at Pen Park
Pen Park trails.

I was cooped up all weekend finishing calligraphy projects, so I was desperate to get outside. I could tell Pyrrha was antsy, too. On Saturday, the three of us took a little excursion to the huge, beautiful park in town, Pen Park, which runs along the river and has miles of wooded trails.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Come back and play!

The only dog we saw all afternoon was a sweet little German shepherd puppy. Interestingly enough, she was even more shy about Pyrrha than Pyrrha was about her. Pyrrha went right up to her for a sniff, and the puppy hid behind her human’s legs. We moved away, but as you can see from the photo above, Pyrrha wasn’t quite ready to leave that interaction. I’ll consider that minor progress in the dog-fear department, at least on Pyr’s end. (*Side note: It did make me think, however, about how many poorly bred German shepherds there are and how many are prone to fear, just like our backyard-bred girl. I have met so many fearful shepherds, more than almost any other breed. It’s also interesting to think about the relationship between fear and the perceived inherent aggression of shepherds. Just some tangential wondering.)

Afternoon at Pen Park
Hurry up, humans.

Half an hour later, a trio of white-tailed deer came crashing through the trail in front of us. This was VERY exciting to Pyrrha, although I don’t think she could decide whether to be afraid or to start the chase. She did “track” them for a good while afterward, following their path very closely, nose to the ground for a long ways.

Aside from the deer, the trail was very empty for a Saturday. So, I decided to make a big mistake.

“You want to try her off-leash?” I asked Guion. “She did so well with me a few weeks ago. I think she’d be great.” He agreed and off the leash came.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Off leash!
Afternoon at Pen Park
This was a good idea for about 30 seconds.

Yeah. That was a good idea for about 30 seconds. Turns out I vastly overestimated little Pyrrha’s recall abilities. About a minute after that photo was taken above, she took off after the scent of something in the woods.

At first, I thought, “Ah, she’ll loop back around to us once she sees that we’re moving.” So, we walked a little ways, and I could still see her crashing through the woods. But she didn’t loop back.

My heart started pounding. I started yelling her name. Nothing. I could still see her, but she was running in wide circles through the woods, getting deeper and deeper in. Then I really started to panic. Guion and I both broke into the brush, getting our faces full of spider webs, crying out her name. She was still in sight of us, and would look at us occasionally, and then start looping around us, just having a great time.

At one moment, she broke away even further and I couldn’t see her anymore. Shit, shit, shit, shit, we just lost our dog. Oh, my gosh, we just lost our dog. This was the mantra running through my brain.

Thankfully, Guion was faster than I was and when she came around for another loop, he was right there in front of her. And she ran right up to him, her eyes wide, and panting. This was unusual in itself, because she doesn’t normally come to Guion. We both thought she looked a little frightened herself, as if she wasn’t sure how to get back to us or what to do in the thick woods.

Back on the leash she went. I nearly cried from relief. I felt really guilty the rest of the afternoon, for being so foolishly overconfident. But I guess that’s what having your first dog is for, right? Making lots of mistakes and then learning from them.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Back on the leash.

I’m just really, really thankful that this mistake had a happy ending. We went home, all very tired, and drank lots of water. Now, we’ll be working on actually teaching her recall, instead of assuming that she just gets it. No more off-leash time for you, Pyr. Not for a while anyway.

Make me feel a little better. Have you ever made a mistake like this, thinking your dog could do something that he or she really couldn’t? Hope it has a happy ending, too!


17 thoughts on “Hike in Pen Park, in which I almost have a heart attack

  1. Ahhhh! how scary! yeah we’ve done that – being overconfident in our dogs desire to stay near us. luckily we got him back after 20mins of panicked running…

    Interesting observation in the fearful GSD population – I would say 80% of the dogs in our shelter that are TOO fearful to go out into the adoption areas are German Shepherds. They take a long time to socialize, and even then its not ideal but people adopt them fast and hopefully do what they need to to manage their new fearful dog.

  2. Even though it never hurts to sharpen up your dog’s recall (Rufus ebbs and flows with his obedience, so he’ll never be 100%), I don’t think this was a fail on your part. We were camping once and Rufus was off-leash. I knew there were no other dogs in the area, and the wildlife was pretty sparse as well. So, he decided to take off into the trees just like Pyrrah…and I let him run his butt off for quite awhile (maybe 5-6 minutes, although it felt like an hour haha), and he did come back on his own.

    All this to say that maybe you didn’t “lose” her, but gave her a super naughty gift for a bit 😉

  3. Our dog Nikita got off her harness one morning last year (as the harness was a little big on her) and she ran around the backyard (which is not fenced in) like a tasmanian devil. She ran from the back fence, turned around and ran to the back of the house, over and over again. I was freaking out and every time I tried to catch her, she just ran faster past me. After 15 minutes of this, I had enough, and literally jumped in the air on top of her, grabbed her by her collar, and got her back in the house….that is when I collapsed. I was so frightened that she would run out to the street, or even worse, run away. I was shaking so bad from this whole experience. My only advice for anyone who uses a harness is to make sure that it is snug on your dog so they can’t wiggle out of it! That morning is a day that I do not ever want to re-live. You are braver than us, as I would never let her off her leash – – EVER!

  4. Oh Abby, I almost had a heart attack reading this! It’s ridiculous how much time needs to be spent on recall. And re-spent. And spent some more. When I let Ivy and Revel off leash now they are very good but I never do so without high-quality treats on me. They value meat over any deer, squirrel or other dog, and perhaps almost-two years of recall work is kicking in at last. . .

  5. Our boys have accidentally escaped the yard before. We thought they would come back if we called. They did not. It always ended in us chasing them around the neighborhood for an hour before escorting them back to the house. They’re ok when they get out now, they come back when called, but those first few times were scary.

  6. Everyone has a similar story. I even heard one from a dog behaviorist who said she just sat on a rock and cried for two hours praying her dog would find his way back to her.

    Mike and I work with Honey on recall all the time. One trainer also recommended a super-recall. Choose one word that you don’t normally use (we chose homeplate) and when you shout it, drop cooked chicken all over the floor. Practice it periodically.

    When that emergency day comes where your dog dashes off, don’t yell “come.” Yell “home plate” (or whatever word you choose). It helps if your regular “come” gets diluted over time.

      1. I was taught the same thing when I took Austin to puppy kindergarten. I use the word “Touch” and every time I use it, he gets a ton of treats. It’s really easy to train…say the word and show her the treat. When she comes to it, she gets the treat. Do it over and over again – she’ll realize that all she has to do is come to you and she’ll get treats. I only use it in certain situations – like Pamela says above, “come” gets diluted, so if I REALLY need Austin to come to me, I use “touch.”

  7. It is good to know that this happens to other people! My dog has always come back, but we recently moved to Austin, which is a city with nearly as many dogs as people- so we really have to work on his skills since distractions abound, and so do cars! We are taking an off-leash course with our trainer in about a week. I look forward to it, because I know that even though is recall is good if he is on, say, a long leash, it is not the same when he knows he can outrun me 🙂 One thing I learned from our trainer is that you definitely don’t want to overuse words- like come, and their name- if they aren’t paying attention and just running it may be better to just drop it and wait until you have chance of getting their attention- otherwise the word becomes meaningless. I like that ‘home plate’ idea! I have also been using really REALLY good treats (like the fat from any meat we cook) and using the word “Come!” in the house in a certain tone of voice to give him the food. His attention to my voice has increased dramatically since doing that 🙂

  8. Oh yes! been in that same scary boat with my foster shepherd pup Willow too recently. She is fearful too so she normally sticks close to our other dog. But I guess she was just feeling a little more confident that day, because she wondered off the grassy area we (used to) go to let them play and closer and closer to the houses and streets on the block. Of course I didn’t have my cell that day and I was dangerously low on high value treats. To entice her, I started goofing around with our other dog and running the opposite direction, and she would come and follow for a few seconds but not close enough for me to get her back. I started to panic, thinking, she does not have a license, and she is not legally mine, she is just my foster, she is afraid and likely to bolt if chased… Just then, someone was walking nearby, she felt scared and ran back towards us, I then grabbed a stick and started playing tug with the other dog, and she then came close enough for me to get a hold of her collar, I fed her the rest of my treats and said “good girl!” inside I was dying of relief… I feel your pain! 🙂

  9. That is so terrifying. Our golden retriever likes to take off after deer and bunnies. We try to keep him at our side or slightly behind so he doesn’t think he is the one leading the walk. That helps a bit.

  10. oh, I probably would have just dropped and cried. I really, really feel for you.

    But these 3 ideas might work better!
    highly suggest
    1) lunge line in a bright orange colour-
    1) run AWAY from her>>>>>go in the opposite direction (practice in the yard first)
    3) super, super most amazing food ever- i have had a dog that would fly me to the moon and back for one just ONE blueberry! 🙂 believe it or not i can walk a whole field with the dog i have right now and just because i am eating an apple and share every 4th bite (I bite it off and treat him) he will never leave my side.

    a nice training command is raising your arm straight up above your head, from a distance, and call out “down” or “drop”
    dog will learn to drop on the spot. once they see your arm raised. i’ve done it, it’s never been perfect, but i keep trying…………………..

  11. I use a long leash with Elka at our park, and I’ve occasionally considered dropping it, but the park is far too small and close to roads to chance it.

    One time, when I took her to the front yard to eliminate, she walked away from me and for some reason the leash just came out of my hand. She didn’t even lunge. I watched her take a few steps across the lawn, my black dog in the night, next to a road that isn’t high-traffic but will have cars speed down it, and thought “OH GOD.” However, I called “Elka!” in my best super-happy voice, and when she looked at me (as if to say “why are you over there?”) I crouched down and clapped and she RAN to me. I was so very proud! And also shaky.

  12. I never trust Morgan off leash for a variety of reasons. She’s fearful and often tries bluffing as her line of defense if someone approaches us. If she perceived someone as a threat to her or me, or even her Greyhounds, I wouldn’t put biting past her. She never has, and I don’t want her to get the idea that she can try it. I just prefer to err on the side of caution on that one. That being said, one windy afternoon as I was bringing her back inside the wind caught the door at just the right time and she turned and ran out the door. Oh, she was so proud of herself, running around and teasing me. I chased after her for a couple of minutes before remembering the rule about loose dogs, which is to turn around and run away from them. Falling down works, too. Anyway, Miss Sassybritches chased me home and I opened up the back door of the car, which she jumped right into because she can’t miss going for a ride. She scared the daylights out of me!

    As far as the fearfulness goes, a lot of that comes from people not socializing puppies. Kuster started going places with us as soon as we brought him home at eight weeks old. He’s never met anyone or anything that really phases him. I often wish we’d had Morgan at that age to see what she’d have turned out like!

  13. I had a shepherd-collie mix; I was essentially her third owner. The first two left one by one for various reasons. It took her a long time to bond with me, even though understandably she was always worried about being left alone. Eventually I could let her off leash at work after-hours (I love pet-friendly bosses), at the dog park and even in the unfenced yard I had at the time.

    I regularly reinforced that she should be keeping an eye on me. At the dog park, which had several large loops, if she ran too far ahead, I would call her, then simply turn around and walk the other way. When she looked back, she’d she me moving the other way and race back (and usually overtake me and then “lead” the other way). But she did pay more attention after any of those “lessons.” Also at work, if she went too far down one hallway ahead of me, I’d duck behind a pillar or go down another hallway. When she realized I wasn’t behind her, then she would run to find me. And when she found me, I’d praise her. She loved that.

    Well, those are some experiences that may or may not help anyone. I totally understand how worried we get when our dogs take off, totally unmindful of danger.

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