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…

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?

Dogs in the wedding

We took a weekend trip, with both pups in tow, to attend a friend’s wedding. It was a lovely outdoor affair, and the couple are a happy, athletic, dog-loving pair. They have a pair of Brittany spaniels, named Eolus and Maple, who are their heart and joy.

At the rehearsal dinner, each table had a paper silhouette of one of the family dogs on it, which naturally warmed my heart. During his toast at the rehearsal dinner, the bride’s father said he knew that she was in it for life when Matt, her groom, bought her a dog (little Maple). And then, after the ceremony, both dogs were brought in to get family photos with the bride and groom. Here is a poor photo I snapped of Maple, the younger spaniel, giving her mama a kiss:

Maple gives her mom a happy wedding kiss #cheers2thechisholms

Although the dogs didn’t participate in the ceremony itself, they were certainly important members of the family. And I think this was rather an ideal way to involve pups in a wedding. I don’t know many dogs who would actually enjoy being in a wedding, but I’m sure they wanted to be around for at least part of the fun. Maple and Eolus had a handler assigned to them during the reception, and so they got to hang out for a bit and mingle with guests.

Did you/would you have your dogs in your wedding? We didn’t have dogs when we got married, but I imagine we’d certainly want them around to be included in the photos, as our friends did.

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Meanwhile, our dogs had a nice vacation with my parents. They both get tons of exercise when my dad is in charge of them, and so they are always very happy and content. As you can see, they are both very devoted to him:

Ever devoted to grandfather Jak #germanshepherds

We got some more off-leash practice, including some romping at the shores of a lake, in the afternoons. They both did quite well, although they seemed especially excited to be FREE and were a little less attentive to us than they were on our recent hike.

Hanging out in Davidson #germanshepherd #babygurrrrl

How were your weekends?

The dogs at summer camp

While we spend the long holiday weekend away at a family wedding, Pyrrha and Eden were lucky enough to attend “summer camp” with my parents, who graciously agreed to watch them (while also sitting my younger sister’s latest acquisition, a rabbit). They’re amazing.

The girls are having a great time at Camp Jak.

Dad and Eden particularly developed a special bond. He woke up early every day to rollerblade with her, play Frisbee, or go for a run. When we arrived to pick them up, she was desperate to be at his side every moment. But he was finally able to wear her out enough at the end of every day to coerce her to cuddle with him:

Jak and Eden

He also took both dogs to a baseball game, and said Pyrrha did well; she only had one outburst, over a cranky dog who tried to challenge her, and otherwise was fine with lots of people, kids, and dogs milling around. I was very proud. He also said he enjoyed walking the dogs with Dublin around the neighborhood:

Dogs at Camp Jak

Mom and Pyrrha bonded more to each other, because they prefer the quiet life (and because, I think, my mom strongly resembles me in disposition and body language).

I don’t know who was sadder to be separated from each other, Dad or Eden! The day after we left, I got a text from him that simply said, “I had no idea I could have so much fun with a dog.”

Jak and Eden again

High praise coming from my father, from whom I received my dog-crazy gene! We’re looking forward to reuniting them soon.

Meanwhile, I’m just SO thankful for such dog-loving parents. It’s rare that I leave the dogs behind without being consumed by worry, but I never have any anxiety when they’re with my folks. If anything, I think the dogs were reluctant to come home with us!

 

A successful first trip with the dogs

On the heels of my post about the dynamics between our two girls, I am happy to report that we had a successful first road trip with both of them.

They were both a little antsy about being in the back seat of our little hatchback, but eventually they settled down and were able to sleep. Finally, THIS even happened, which blew my mind:

2 shepherds in a tiny car.

Pyrrha is very touchy about her personal space, so I was kind of amazed that she let Eden do this. It’s also really adorable.

Family weekend
Dad and Eden interacting, as my sister Grace watches.

EDEN REPORT: My dad is in love with Eden, and the two of them were inseparable the whole weekend. He essentially took care of her the entire time we were there; it was amazing! Every morning, they went for a run together or went rollerblading around town, and then in the afternoons, he played Frisbee with her and Dublin. (I shouldn’t have been worried about how Dublin and Eden would interact; Dublin is a champ, and she gets along with everyone.) Because of this, Eden had a rather hard time calming down indoors, because she was following Dad around the entire time, waiting for him to go outside and play with her.

PYRRHA REPORT: Pyrrha seems really comfortable at my parents’ house now, which is so encouraging to see. My immediate and extended family showed up at various points over the weekend, and we had a noisy house full of nearly 15 people. But Pyrrha just took it all in stride. Just about everyone came up to me to say how impressed they were with how much she’d calmed down and how easygoing she seemed. It always warms my heart. It’s hard for me, being so close to her, to actually recognize her progress, so it’s encouraging to hear it from people who don’t see her every day and can track how she’s grown in confidence and calmness.

Here she is getting some love from my cousin:

Family weekend

On Saturday morning, Guion and I walked Pyrrha to the farmers’ market and Dad rollerbladed there with Eden. We kept Pyrrha on the periphery of the event, because there were a lot of people, dogs, and children, but she was admirably composed. She even met a little girl who was specifically afraid of German shepherds and quietly and calmly licked her hand. She had just one outburst, toward a maltese on a retractable leash (ugh, bane of my existence), which was my fault for not getting away quickly enough. It’s hard to get away when those dogs are on those idiotic leashes! But, in the wider scheme of things, I was proud of how she handled all of the dogs and little kids. (Edie continues to be untroubled by crowds, kids, and other dogs, which we are perpetually grateful for.)

Family weekend

Overall, it was a good excursion to bring both girls to my parents’ house, as my parents will be watching them for three days at the end of this month while Guion and I are at a wedding. Fingers crossed that they have another good experience with our crazies!

Easter with lots of Frisbee practice

We had a lovely and relaxed Easter weekend with my family, who came to stay with us. The dogs were really well-behaved, likely because Eden got tons of exercise (and because Pyrrha is almost always easygoing at home).

Easter weekend

My dad, as I’ve mentioned before, is who I got my great love of dogs from, and he loved being with the girls.

Easter weekend
Dad and the girls.

Dad played several daily games of Frisbee with Edie, and I daresay her skills are improving demonstrably. Dad trained Dublin, their neighbor’s lab, to be a consummate disc dog. And as I’ve mentioned before, Dad just seems to be able to “speak dog,” despite the fact that he’s never done any kind of formal training with a dog. They just always seem to understand each other perfectly.

Easter weekend

Easter weekend

Easter weekend

Watching Eden has also made me realize that she’s the most herding-dog-like of any German shepherd I’ve met or watched. The intensity, the focus, the stalking postures, the quick circles, even the barkiness all strike me as hallmarks of dogs who are actually supposed to be herding sheep. Even my Dad said, after playing with her for a while, “I wonder if she has some Australian shepherd in her…” — referencing our childhood Aussie, who had a lot of herding drive.

Easter weekend

Unsurprisingly, Eden bonded VERY strongly with Dad over the weekend. As soon as he stood up to do anything, she was at his side, giving him this intense stare, waiting for him to make a move to the back door. When he and my mom left, she started to whine when he got in the car to drive away.

Easter weekend

Pyrrha, my little self-contained lady, prefers to be a spectator of the sport.

Easter weekend

Or, she is just the grubby fan in the stands (who, in this case, found a bowl with tiny bits of biscuit dough left unattended):

Easter weekend

What a weirdo.

Regardless, it was a great weekend. It’s fun to see Eden’s blossoming disc dog prospects, even if it’s only for a fun way to wear her out at home!

Have you ever had a dog who worshiped the Frisbee? What were some things you learned to develop disc dog skills?

My father and dogs

Floor time with Juju
My dad, on the floor with Pyrrha. He quickly learned that she was far less afraid of him the lower he was to the ground, and so down on the ground he got.

“My father… was a man who understood all dogs thoroughly and treated them like human beings.”

— Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman

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My father is also just like the father from this Flann O’Brien quote, and today is his birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to honor my dad with a dog-centric birthday post.

With Juju and TT
The first time my parents met Pyrrha.

Growing up, Dad would help us kids fall asleep last night by telling us stories. Whether the stories were imaginary or from his own childhood, they almost always involved dogs as major characters. My favorite stories were about his childhood, which was spent on a farm in rural Indiana, surrounded by a menagerie of dogs and horses. His childhood sounded like a dreamy paradise to me, an animal-obsessed and dog-less kid.

Dad has always had great instincts with dogs, even though he’s never read a single animal behavior book or taken a dog to a training class. Some people, I’ve found, are just like that; scientific training or no, their instincts are almost always right when it comes to communicating with dogs. I feel like I’ve had to learn my way into being a successful canine communicator, but Dad was born with this skill.

Currently, his true dog love is Dublin, our neighbor’s chocolate lab. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you may be familiar with Dublin, as Pyrrha gets lots of play-time with her when we visit my parents.

A recent photo Dad texted us of him running errands with Dublin.
A recent photo Dad texted us of him running errands with Dublin.

He’s shaped Dublin into a masterful disc dog, a loyal companion, and a running buddy. Dublin is as devoted to him as he is to her.

One of our favorite recent family stories was told by my disgruntled mother. Dad had just come home from a long business trip, and Mom was really looking forward to sitting down and talking with him and spending some quality time together. When she asked him if they could talk, he said, “I’m sorry, I can’t; I have a lot of important stuff I have to do now.” She was sad, but she said she understood. Ten minutes later, as she was passing through their bedroom, she stopped and looked into the neighbor’s backyard. There, on the trampoline, was my father, lying down next to Dublin, stroking her head and talking to her. This reunion with Dublin was, apparently, the “important stuff” he had to do.

“I never thought that the woman I’d be jealous of would be the neighbor’s dog,” Mom said.

Pack walk
Dad and me trying to wrangle four dogs on a walk.

I’ve certainly inherited my Dad’s dog-craziness, and I bear that trait as a badge of honor. He, in turn, is as dog crazy as his parents were, and as his mother’s parents before her. (The photo of my great-great grandmother with her dogs on a farm is one of my most treasured family photos.)

When we talk on the phone, our first and last topics are the dogs: Dublin, Pyrrha, Eden; what we’ve seen on dog walks; funny or weird things the dogs have done lately; intriguing dogs we’ve seen around the neighborhood. He likes to joke with me that if we ever have kids, he’ll always love the dogs more.

Pyrrha and Jak

Happy birthday, Dad! Thanks for being the best, and for giving me with this strong inheritance of dog craziness. I love you!

Does dog-craziness run in your family? Where do you think your love of dogs comes from?

Watching Fiona, waiting for snow to melt

We had a lovely, loooong weekend here, waiting for the snow to melt. My parents came up and helped us with a lot of home improvement projects, and we were dog-sitting Fiona, so we had lots of fun with the three girls.

Walk with these 3 crazies. Sweet shades, @jfarkle.
My dad and Guion walking the three crazies.

Pyrrha and Eden were very sweet during the busy weekend, and Fiona is always a joy to have around — and the perfect energy-level match for Edie.

The girls

Eden and Fiona would play for hours in the yard, hardly taking a break to breathe. It’s so fun to watch them wear each other out.

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Pyrrha, meanwhile, liked to do her own thing. She’d wander around in the yard with the young’uns, and occasionally join in their games of tag, but for the most part, Pyrrha likes to keep to herself. I was especially interested to note how comfortable she was with my parents, particularly my dad. While he was installing our new disposal (YAY), she was at his side constantly — surely thinking she was being a great help.

Pyrrha consults while Jak installs our disposal.

The little ones got tired very quickly! Which was blissful.

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As a side note, I particularly noticed this weekend that Pyrrha and Eden have been doing very well together. For a few weeks there, I was worried that we had two dogs who didn’t like each other. There was a lot of daily squabbling, and I felt tense about their relationship. But over the past few weeks, they have been so great together: calm, appropriately playful, respectful of each other’s needed space, etc. The tension is way down, and they seem to genuinely enjoy each other now. I think we were just going through a settling-in period, and they were just figuring each other out. After all, we’ve still only had Eden since the end of December, so I imagine they’re still learning about each other — but they’ve been making great progress, and I’m proud of them. Thanks to you all for sharing your stories and advice about living with multiple dogs (particularly two females)!

How does a dog learn to have great recall?

OK, I have a question for all of you dog training pros out there:

If your dog has great recall, how did you train him/her?

Dublin's intense face
Dublin.

I’ve always thought about this, and one of the most puzzling things to me is that the dog I know with the BEST recall wasn’t that seriously trained (or trained with methods that I disagree with, or have been taught are flat-out wrong).

Dublin is the dog with the most outstanding recall that I know. She lives, as you may remember, next door to my parents and my dad considers her his surrogate dog; he spends a ton of time with her. Dublin will stop on a DIME when you call her name. Dad told me that this past week, she got out of the gate to chase a cat in the neighborhood, but she stopped immediately when he called her — in the middle of a cat chase! And ran right back to him. This astonishes me, and yet I’ve seen her do it. She comes right to you, every single time. Dublin responds to anyone who calls her name, too — even to her family’s little girls.

But this is what bugs me. When I asked my dad why Dublin has such great recall, he always tells me this story: “When Dublin was a puppy, she was about to wander into the street, so I grabbed her and smacked her pretty hard and told her not to do that again. She really learned, though! She’s come perfectly ever since.”

Dublin

All of the reading and training I’ve done tells me that this can’t be true, that dogs don’t learn from physical punishment, that Dublin must be afraid of my father, etc. If you’ve seen them together, however, it is impossible to believe that she comes out of fear. This dog trusts my father utterly; she adores him. In fact, my dad might be the only person that Dublin truly loves; she’s more or less indifferent to everyone else. I’ve honestly never seen any anxiety or fear when she interacts with him. Furthermore, he doesn’t use physical punishments with her on a regular basis. He swears this was the only time he ever smacked her.

Dublin has not really received any formal training; I don’t think she even knows how to go “sit” or “down” on command, but she is an excellent Frisbee player, athlete, and all-around wonderful family dog.

So, what do you think? Why does Dublin have such great recall? Can it really be the smack from my dad when she was a puppy, as he claims?

How did you train YOUR dogs to have great recall?