Dog park Sunday

We finally had a sunny and moderately warm day this Sunday, so we decided to take Pyrrha back to the local dog park for her second visit.

This time, there were many more dogs, and Pyrrha was considerably more anxious about it.

Dog park Sunday

For the first 10 minutes or so, she slunk around with her tail between her legs, but after that, she perked right up and became one of the gang. We stayed for almost an hour and a half and saw a rotating door of dogs of many shapes and sizes.

Dog park Sunday

Dog park Sunday

Dog park Sunday

Dog park Sunday

Dog park Sunday

Again, it was heartening to see how she can warm up over time and really enjoy herself with lots of new dogs and new people giving her lots of attention.

Dog park Sunday

I think we’ll be going back again soon!

Sunday walk by the river

Sunday walk by the river

This past Sunday, I took Pyrrha on a long walk along the muddy river near our house. We have both been cooped up for far too long, owing to the cold weather (which I am admittedly a huge baby about).

Sunday walk by the river

Our outing reminded me of the deep joy I receive from a long walk with my dog. I don’t think there is anything that can compare. It is such a peaceful, renewing activity. I derive so much joy from watching her just be a dog: sniff every third plant, stand guard after every rustle in the woods, get ready to chase after every single squirrel.

Sunday walk by the river

Sunday walk by the river

I was desperate for a dog for so many years, as you know, and yet my desires for a dog have always been simple: I have always just wanted a dog of my own to walk with me. And now I have one.

First vet visit

OK, it wasn’t her first vet visit, because she went when the rescue brought her in, but this was our first vet visit together.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a spot on her left flank that she was chewing at and the skin beneath looked rather pink. I tried Bitter Apple spray; we tried deterring her whenever we noticed her biting the spot; but nothing worked. She hadn’t broken the skin, but I felt like it was going to approach that point unless we took some more serious action.

So, we went to the vet together.

We chose this vet based on a number of very enthusiastic recommendations, even though the practice is quite far from our house and there are multiple closer veterinarians. But I think it we made a good choice, based on this first, quick visit.

Waiting for the doc.
Waiting for the doc.

The good news: The front-desk staff, the vet techs, and the vet herself (Dr. Powell) were SO great with Pyrrha. They could clearly see that Pyrrha was nervous about everything that was going on, and so they moved slowly, spoke in dulcet tones, and let her sniff everything and everyone before trying to touch her. Pyrrha wasn’t happy about being stuck in a little room with all of us, and she certainly didn’t like having her spot poked and prodded, but chewy liver treats helped a lot by way of distraction and she never growled or put up any kind of fight (which was my great fear). Instead, I could tell she was anxious, from the wide whites of her eyes, and her body language, but she was so brave. She even performed her new trick* for everyone, after the exam was over. (*”Be pretty!” Which means: Sit back on your haunches and wave your front paws in the air. It is killer-adorable.) I was proud of her. As always, this shy dog is constantly exceeding my often low expectations. I need to stop selling her short.

The bad news: Dr. Powell wasn’t sure what the spot was. She ruled out mites, mange, and ringworm, and thought any other skin condition would be unusual, because the rest of her skin and coat is so healthy. She’s running a culture on some samples now and we should hopefully hear soon what’s going on. In the meantime, we need to keep trying to keep Pyrrha away from it, which is difficult. Thankfully, she’s not obsessed with chewing the spot and only seems to nibble at it from time to time. More vigilance on our part!

Anyway. I think *I* was more nervous than Pyrrha was about this visit, but it went very smoothly, all things considered. I’m so grateful for gentle vets and their staff, who really understand shy dogs! What a blessing.

Off for a wedding

Let me out

Pyrrha will be joining us on another road-trip to my parents’ home this weekend, this time for my sister’s wedding! It will be a crazy weekend, but we’ve stocked up with chew toys, bones, and other diversions for our pup. There are several things that make visits home more fun/comfortable for Pyr: 1) Dublin, her therapy dog, 2) My dad, who loves her, and 3) Her increasing familiarity with the place, as this will be her third visit.

We’ll be back on Monday, with stories and pictures, I’m sure. In the meantime, have a great week with your pups!

In which Pyrrha catches a squirrel

Sitting pretty. Or a bit sloppy.

It’s every dog’s dream to catch a squirrel.

Squirrels skritter so high above ground, though—running along telephone lines, shimmying up tree trunks, flying from branch to branch. Dogs never even come close to them. Yet dogs continue to dream, imagining that glorious day in which they actually catch a squirrel, those fuzzy, taunting chimeras of the treetops.

That glorious moment for Pyrrha was today.

This morning, we’re headed back toward home after our early morning walk. Pyrrha spots a squirrel at the base of an oak tree. I let her drag me over to it, because, hey, she wants to sniff and she’s never even come close to catching a squirrel before. They’re always up the tree in a millisecond, even before she can get her nose to the ground. Then she tries to jump in the air after them, which is foolishly adorable, because they’re 30 feet in the air by that point.

But this particular squirrel, however, made a serious tactical error. I don’t know if he was sleepy, lacking in some vital senses, or simply stupid, but he decided to circle around the base of the tree in the other direction. Big mistake, dude. Pyrrha was there in a flash and the next thing I know, my dog has a LIVE SQUIRREL in her jaws, giving it a gleeful death shake.

I think this was the happiest moment of Pyrrha’s young life.

As for me, I was completely frozen. I could only stare at this predatory scene unfolding before me. When I came to, I started to scream, which, naturally, was the most logical thing to do in this situation. The squirrel jumped out of Pyrrha’s mouth a few times, but she was always able to pick it back up again before I could drag her away. I was at a loss. I wasn’t about to try to pry a live squirrel from her jaws. So, I kept screaming a bit.

It felt like a million years, but in about 30 seconds, the squirrel finally made a break for it and was able to scramble back up the tree while I pulled Pyrrha away.

As I did my best to drag Pyrrha away from the scene, I could hear the squirrel fussing and cussing at us from the tree. Fair, squirrel, fair. What an unfortunate way to begin your morning. I do really apologize for whatever injuries you sustained, but wow, you really did give my dog a huge boost of self-confidence this morning. She walked home like she was Queen of the World. So, sorry about that. I, at least, won’t underestimate Pyrrha’s latent hunting abilities again…

Has your dog ever caught a live animal? What did you do?

Our first canine house-guests: Scout and Sadie

This past weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting our first canine house-guests: Scout and Sadie. Scout and Sadie belong to my longtime friend, Kathryn, and her new husband, Jeff. They all came up to visit us for a beautiful, autumn-like weekend in the mountains.

Jagoda children
Scout and Sadie!

Admittedly, I was a little nervous about how Pyrrha would handle living in our tiny house with two unfamiliar, big dogs. The verdict? She LOVED it. I think Pyrrha really wants a canine sibling.

Fleet Scout
Fleet Scout.
Such a play bow
Such a play bow!
Initiating play time
Scout, I love you. Do you love me?
These two are in love
The young lovers, relaxing.

Pyrrha was particularly taken with Scout, a big, sweet lab/vizsla mix. Their temperaments seemed well suited to each other and they spent most of the weekend kissing each other’s faces and rough-housing, aka generally falling in love.

Please let me in.
Sadie wants in.

Sadie, the gregarious boxer/shepherd mix, was kind of a different story, but she and Pyrrha eventually coexisted. Sadie is a very active, vigilant little lady, and she did not take kindly to Pyrrha romping with her brother. Whenever Pyrrha would initiate play with Scout, Sadie would intervene and snarl and snap at Pyrrha. This behavior gradually diminished, as Sadie is also very distracted by light, shadows, butterflies, and just about any other small movement…

Pack play time
Pack play.

The new pack

On Sunday morning, we took the new dog pack on a beautiful hike to a mountain orchard nearby. All of the dogs were champs, even if they were a little too eager about the hike (dragging us up and down the mountain).

The group at Carter Mountain
Attempt at a group photo.

They all did very well when greeted by lots of different people, dogs, and even children. Pyrrha is anxious around small children, but I think the presence of Scout and Sadie was very calming to her, and she accepted the attention of numerous little kids without complaint or displays of anxiety. (This particularly was exciting to me, as Pyrrha’s anxiety around little kids is her most concerning behavior to me right now.)

All in all, we had a fun, raucous weekend with the dogs. It was so encouraging to see Pyrrha exist so peacefully with other dogs. She seemed just delighted to have them around, too. After they left and we came back inside, she asked to go outside and started patrolling the perimeter of the yard, looking for Scout and Sadie. I’m surely reading too much into it, but I think she was a little mopey when she realized they were gone. We will have to have them over again soon! Or just get Pyrrha a furry brother…

Jagodas and pups
Jeff and Kathryn and the pups.

Have you ever had canine house-guests? Would you?

First visit to the dog park

[Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this excursion, because I wasn’t actually planning on taking her to the dog park. Hence, I did not bring my camera. You’ll just have to use your imagination!]

After a long walk
Post-dog park exhaustion.

I haven’t been all that eager to take Pyrrha to a dog park.

I am well aware that dog parks can be stressful places, especially for shy dogs. You can’t control the other dogs in the park. You really don’t have any idea what the other dogs will be like or how they will behave. As the guardian of a shy dog, I view dog parks as a risky place. But I’ve still always wanted to visit one, mainly for curiosity’s sake. And there is something so alluring to dog people about a wide, fenced-in area where your dog can run free…

So, this past Saturday afternoon, a breezy and warm day, I decided to take Pyrrha to the local park, just to romp around the fields on her long lead. She was happily sniffing and darting around for a good half hour or so. Now, this particular place does have a fenced-in “dog park” area. I decided that maybe we’d just mosey over there and I’d let Pyrrha sit on the hill and watch the dogs from a safe distance. If she looked exceedingly anxious, we’d turn around and go home.

As we approached the dog park, I saw that it contained only two pups: Two almost identical-looking beagle/hound mixes. One was a few inches taller than the other, but they were almost like mirrors of each other—the same markings, the same faces and ears. Pyrrha saw them and was instantly alert. I started talking with the two men in the park. To my surprise, the dogs—Khaleesi and Malcolm—were not related and the men didn’t even know each other. They both adopted their dogs from the local SPCA, though, and it made me think that there must be some canine lothario roaming around these parts…

Pyrrha gradually gained confidence to sniff Malcolm and Khaleesi through the fence. All three tails started to wag and I thought, “Well, I guess you can’t get a better introduction to a dog park than this.” (And I already knew that Pyrrha felt comfortable around beagle-shaped dogs, for whatever reason.)

I snapped off her leash before we walked through the gate, and the afternoon in the dog park proceeded without a hitch. I was so relieved–and proud of how smoothly and calmly she acted. Pyrrha, Khaleesi, and Malcolm romped around in circles, each one demonstrating how poor their retrieving skills are, and alternately relaxed with each other under the shade of the sole tree. We had only one other visitor: An older woman and a mannerly 8-year-old black lab named Chesty, who only stayed for about 10 minutes. Chesty’s introduction to the group was also very smooth and Pyrrha didn’t seem nervous at all—no hackles, nothing. Being off leash really does wonders for her.

I couldn’t have asked for a better or more relaxed introduction to the dog park for Pyrrha. I think we’ll still be cautious with dog parks, but this was a successful first time and I am grateful that she had this very positive encounter.

When the shepherd met the doe

Pen Park visit

This past Saturday, we took Pyrrha back to the lovely, large park for a brief hike in the woods. This time, we brought the long (30-foot) lead, because I was not eager to have a repeat of the recall-failure fiasco. The long lead seemed to work pretty well, and in some senses, it was a nice test to see how much she’d stick with us if we moved on ahead of her. It’s clear that we have an extremely nose-oriented dog, and all of the wonderful smells in the world are often way more interesting than we are. Still, whenever she would catch up with us and come when we called, we’d praise her warmly. (It would have been more effective, I’m sure, if we’d had bits of hot dog on us…)

Pen Park visit

It was a very muggy afternoon, but the majority of the trail we took is heavily shaded and winds along the river, so we had a pleasant excursion. We didn’t encounter any other dogs, to my surprise, and we only saw a few humans in the distance. It would have been a largely uneventful walk, except that on the way back…


… Pyrrha found a doe.

She was calmly standing in the clearing, foraging for plants. Both dog and deer FROZE as soon as they made eye contact.

And they stayed like this for what must have been three full minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it felt like an eternity, watching these two animals, completely frozen, locking eyes with one another, barely breathing. Guion and I were even getting a little bored. “OK, which one of you is going to make a move??”

Squaring off with a deer

It was the doe. She flicked her ear, and then took off. And so did Pyrrha. And then so did Guion. This was one instance where that 30-foot lead was a very good idea. Interestingly, Pyrrha chose to run along the trail, parallel with the deer, possibly to keep a clearer eye on her and possibly because she herself was a little frightened. The deer took off up the hill and we had to restrain Pyrrha. She started to whine and dart around us in circles, clearly ready to resume the hunt.

Post-deer chase

As Guion walked back to me, his eyes were wide and bright. “Did you see that?” He asked. “She acted like a DOG!” I laughed. Indeed, she did. It’s always something that we celebrate around here.

A visit to a cabin in the countryside

Visiting Andrew and Tara at "Montana"
The view from “Montana” (aka Waynesboro).

On Friday night, our friends invited us over to the cabin they were staying at. Ever eager to socialize, I asked them if it was OK if we brought Pyrrha along. They were game, and so she came along for the nearly hour-long ride out to the country. It was a gorgeous day (as you can see from the photos) and we were happy to be outside, soaking it in.

Visiting Andrew and Tara at "Montana"

Always vigilant, Pyrrha had to prowl around some before she could totally calm down. Once we were inside and eating dinner, however, she was quite calm under the table and didn’t beg excessively (even though those turkey bacon-grilled cheese sandwiches were extremely tempting).

Her exciting activity of the night was finding a baby snake under my shoe. Yes. Inside. While we were eating.

I noticed that she was sniffing around and pawing at my shoe. I looked down, to tell her to knock it off, and when I moved my foot, a tiny snake wiggled out from underneath my shoe. As a proper young woman, I let out a delicate scream and got up on my chair. This made Pyrrha even more excited about the little intruder. The menfolk proceeded to try various methods of getting it out of the house, and they finally succeeded, but Pyrrha was pretty jazzed by all of the hubbub. Tara, our hostess, didn’t want Pyrrha to leave until she had patrolled the whole cabin for other, potentially hidden serpents.

Pyrrha checks out Montana
Patrolling around the cabin.

Aside from the snake, she didn’t necessarily do anything exciting or remarkable–but that’s what I find noteworthy. With every new venture and new experience, Pyrrha has exceeded my expectations. Yes, she’s still scared of many things; she still gets anxious around new people, especially men; she still puts her hackles up around new dogs… but she always behaves far better than I think she’s going to. I need to stop selling her short and believe that she can overcome her fears and act with happy confidence. Because sometimes she does. And it always thrills me.

Waiting her out

Downtown mall walk
Sniffing around Court Square.

Last Wednesday, Pyrrha and I took a long walk downtown–to visit Guion at work, and just to get out and stretch our legs for a few hours. I love these long, quiet walks with her. I feel like my mind is able to unwind after a day at work. I love watching her gain confidence on our walks, with her mouth hanging open and her tail swishing back and forth.

On our way downtown, we encountered a woman and her gorgeous malamute/shepherd mix. He had the coloring and build of a light sable wolf, although he was about Pyrrha’s height. As they approached, Pyrrha tucked her tail and bared her teeth at the dog. I started to apologize to the woman, but she said, “He used to do that all the time, too,” pointing to her handsome dog. I was surprised. He looked so calm and friendly.

We started talking, and it turned out that she’d adopted Chino about three months ago and he’d made great progress since then. I loosened Pyrrha’s leash as I talked to the woman. We discussed rescuing, our shy dogs, and the progress they gradually make. Throughout this conversation, Chino was placid and unconcerned by Pyrrha’s toothy display–and, as I was relieved to note, his human seemed to be equally nonplussed.

Downtown mall walk
Nearing the downtown mall.

Perhaps two minutes passed, and suddenly Pyrrha’s tail unwound; her hackles released; and she threw down a goofy play-bow in front of Chino. He responded in kind, and then the two were happily romping along the sidewalk (while we were trying to keep them from darting into the road). She even started kissing his ears. My dog, in a state of utter fear just a minute ago, was now smitten with this stud of a canine. We had to actually drag them apart, so we could continue on our merry way.

As I walked away, I turned to Chino’s human and said, “Thank you for waiting her out. That means a lot to me!”

I explained. Most dog owners, when they see Pyrrha’s lips curled back in fear and those bared teeth, gasp and run in the opposite direction, trailing their dogs behind them. I don’t blame them. A German shepherd in that posture is a fearful sight to behold. Because of this, however, Pyrrha rarely gets to move beyond that threshold of fear into that state of initiating play. Most people aren’t willing to wait it out.

But Chino’s lady was–and I was so grateful to her for that. Pyrrha needs all the positive dog-on-dog interactions she can get. They are hard to come by. I hope we’ll continue to run into Chino and his person, so my girl continues to learn that there isn’t anything to be afraid of after all.

Have you ever been grateful for someone–even a stranger–who understood your dog’s special needs?