My dad’s off-leash experiments with the dogs

Dogs at summer camp
Photo from Dad; Eden in far background, waiting for the team to catch up; Pyrrha dragging her rope; my mom in the foreground.

Dad calls me every so often to give me dog updates. Unequivocally, Pyrrha and Eden are loving life with him and my mom this summer. They get tons of exercise, personal attention, and play time with Dublin (which is especially great for Pyrrha, who really depends on other dogs to teach her how to behave, and Dublin is a model canine).

He also really likes taking them to a nature preserve and letting them roam off leash. This makes me very nervous, because of all of the contingencies and because we haven’t had a lot of solid practice with off-leash recall, but he doesn’t ask my permission and only tells me about their outings after the fact. Which I am honestly OK with. I would be an anxious mess if he asked me about it beforehand.

Dad called me last week to say there was an “incident” with Pyrrha at the preserve, and I almost had a heart attack waiting for him to tell me what had happened. Did she bite a child? Did she get in a dog fight? I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But this was the incident: Pyrrha saw a deer and took off into the woods after it. Instead of going after her, Dad said he decided to keep hiking along with Eden and Dublin, who always stick close to him, and hope that Pyrrha would figure out how to find them. He said they walked for a good while, and Pyrrha was completely out of sight. After some more time passed, he started to get concerned that she was lost for good. Just as he was about to backtrack and start hunting for her, he said he heard these pitiful whines from the forest, and Pyrrha was darting around, crying, because she couldn’t find them. When she finally made her way back to the pack, he said she was the happiest he’d ever seen her. I am not sure if she learned anything from this “incident,” but I’m relieved that nothing more dire happened.

Dad said that shortly after she rejoined the group, two big dogs who were also off-leash came into the clearing, and everyone did their greetings politely and tossed off a few play bows. No barking! No lunging! No inappropriate greetings whatsoever. Pyrrha and Eden love other dogs, but they absolutely cannot greet them on leash. They lose their minds and look like vicious monsters if I can’t divert them or increase distance. So, this was a very happy outcome to hear about. Both of our dogs really love other dogs, but you would never guess that if you saw them pass dogs on leash. I’m always happy when they get to interact in an appropriate, happy way with other dogs off leash.

More to come on some theories about off-leash life and well-adjusted dogs, particularly reflecting on my time observing dogs in Europe…

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Happy pups at summer camp

As I’ve mentioned, our dogs are living it up at “summer camp” with my parents while we are in London.

My dad faithfully sends us tons of photos and videos, which naturally make me very happy. (For example, he sent 13 dog videos in one day over WhatsApp. Thirteen.) I’m not sure how pleased my dear, tidy mother is about having our monsters for a whole summer, but my father, who is as crazy about dogs as I am, is over the  moon about it.

Dogs at summer campLook how happy these goons are!

Dad’s favorite activity is taking the girls and Dublin (the neighbor’s lab, who is Dad’s de facto dog) out on long walks, all tethered together in this crazy system of ropes:

Dogs at summer campHe still uses the girls’ Freedom harnesses, as you can see, but he eschews standard leashes. To each his own. (At least they are not retractable leashes, which I loathe to no end.)

Pyrrha’s happiness has been the big (very welcome) surprise.

Dogs at summer camp
Dad’s caption for this photo: “Bring it on, world; I ain’t afraid of nothin’!”

She, the dog who tends to mistrust men, has reportedly become very attached to Dad. She brings him toys as an invitation to play (what? Pyrrha?), and she even lies down outside his bedroom door in the morning, waiting for him to wake up. Color me stunned and so, so pleased.

Eden is his trusty athletic companion, however. Dad takes her rollerblading around the neighborhood and on morning trail runs and spends plenty of time perfecting her Frisbee skills. He likes to tell me that Eden is just him in dog form: constantly moving and ready to play 24/7. Sounds about right.

Even though I miss them very much, it brings me a lot of joy to know that Pyrrha and Eden are so happy and so well cared for in our absence. I have full confidence that they are loving life at summer camp, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I expect them to be somewhat disappointed when we come take them back to “normal” life with us at the end of the summer! I think they will grieve. I know my dad will…

Does your family ever watch your dogs for you? How does it go?

Still alive

Dog life in May 2015
Still living!

It’s been a long time since I last checked in, and although I don’t think I will take up the regular posting schedule that I once did, I may endeavor to write a bit now and then. Because I’m still obsessed with dogs. As much as I may pretend that I’m not.

What’s new with the pups since January 2015:

  • Eden’s itchiness reached desperate levels. She was scratching constantly and causing hot spots. After hundreds of dollars and a series of unhelpful tests (including a $300 allergen panel that came back saying she had no allergies whatsoever) and false diagnoses, it seems that she may just have environmental allergies. So, she’s now on a daily dose of Apoquel, and that seems to be helping her. Sigh. Makes me think about what I wrote about a while ago, musing on the misleading health of expensive purebreds versus sloppily bred/mutts.
  • On the whole, however, they are happy and fairly healthy. Pyrrha is now 5 and Eden turns 3 in July.
  • They are currently living with my parents for the summer, because my husband and I are living/working in London right now! We miss the dogs, but they are having a great time. I don’t think they miss us at all. Eden is getting lots of daily exercise with my dad (including Frisbee, morning runs, and rollerblading sessions), and Pyrrha is just happy to be with Dublin on a daily basis. We’re really grateful that they can have such a happy temporary home.

Not having them around right now makes me think about them more and about all of the training goals I have for them when we come back home at the beginning of August.

Three main things I want to work on:

  1. Eden developing some impulse control, especially at doorways and when greeting house guests.
  2. Pyrrha’s tendency to be the “fun police” with Eden and other dogs; specifically, her very annoying habit of explosive barking every morning and redirecting it at Eden when they are let out of their crates.
  3. Putting daily walks back in my schedule. I was good about this with Pyrrha, but I got lazy when we added Eden to the family, and having two leash-reactive German shepherds made me even less inclined to take them out on my own. And so it became a vicious cycle, in which I rarely walked them because of the reactivity and their reactivity never improved because I rarely walked them. Mea culpa!

More ideas on this later, but I have been doing lots of behavioral refresher readings during my lunch breaks in London. (Eileen and Dogs seems to always know what I want/need to read!)

Simultaneously falling asleep
Napping in synchrony.

What’s new with you and your pups?

The irony of the champion bred vs. backyard bred

I hesitate to write this post, lest anyone think I’m championing lackadaisical backyard breeders or puppy mills. Not at ALL. This is just a weird, little personal observation…

When it comes to purebred dogs, sometimes the haphazardly bred turn out healthier than the ones from ribbon-winning breeders.

Our dogs are a case in point.

Ready to rumble
Pyrrha, February 2013.

Pyrrha came from a terrible place — this neglectful man who had a dozen shepherds in tiny cages outdoors — but she is the picture of health. She’s never had a serious health concern (knock on wood), her skin and coat are shiny and robust, and she has a better, stronger build (no exaggerated back lines or hocks). Plus, her teeth look much better than Eden’s, despite the fact that they are on the same diet and that Pyrrha is a full two years her senior.

Dogs in May
Eden, May 2014.

Eden, on the other hand, was a very expensive puppy from West German lines. (Her papers are completely in German.) Her parents are both titled schutzhund champions. And health wise, she’s been a huge pain. Thankfully, there’s nothing seriously wrong with her (yet), but she is the reason we spend a small fortune at the vet on a regular basis. Her skin is bad and she’s constantly itchy. Her teeth are already showing signs of wear and tear. Her back hocks are sadly sloped.

I mentioned this little observation to one of the vet techs, when we were back in with Eden, and she laughed and said she had the same experience. She rescues Boston terriers, and her terriers from puppy mills and backyard breeders have been quite healthy. But her most recent acquisition, an expensive puppy from a supposedly good breeder, has been a complete genetic disaster.

So. Conclusion? If you want a purebred, do your research and find a really excellent, thoughtful breeder. But also acknowledge that purebreds are just a gamble. Don’t give money to the horrible human beings who churn out puppies in miserable conditions, but also don’t think that a well-bred purebred is going to be perfectly healthy. The odds are somewhat against them.

Wednesday afternoon

We love our ladies, regardless of their issues. But my big conclusion is: Get a mixed-breed dog. This would definitely be my next move, as much as I love our purebred ladies.

What do you think? Am I totally insane? Anyone else have a similar experience with purebreds from disparate backgrounds?

Thai pup goes for a swim

(So, not-so-wordless Wednesday, but a special feature…) My sister, photographer/filmmaker/general badass Grace Farson, took this photo while she was in Thailand this past summer. She writes:

© Grace Farson.
© Grace Farson.

Took this photo this summer in Thailand. Went swimming and turned around to find this little dude floating beside me. Just smiling and enjoying his day at the beach.

I love this; I also think I would totally freak out if I saw this little guy suddenly swim up beside me. I’m not sure I would even register that it was a dog at first. Dogs are hilarious. I love them. (It’s also pleasant to imagine swimming in Thailand right now, amid all this yucky wintry weather…)

Eden is (finally) spayed

This past Tuesday, we finally got Eden spayed.

cone of shame

As you can see from this blurry phone photo, she wasn’t super-thrilled about it.

We waited to spay her until she was 16 months old, partially for health reasons and partially for outright laziness. I know the longer you wait to spay (especially large breeds), the better. And I am aware of the health debate regarding whether it’s good to spay at all. Anyway, regardless of those mini-controversies, we decided to spay, and I’m glad we did. Bitches in heat = not the best time I’ve ever had as a dog owner.

The real misery now comes from trying to keep this monster quiet (and away from her stitches) for the remainder of her recovery period…

Did you spay or neuter your dogs? If so, how did all of that go for you?