The dog’s first Christmas

Enjoying her cow ear by the fire

We had a wonderful first Christmas with Pyrrha and a great holiday away for about two weeks. She is just a gem when we’re on the road and I think she prefers living with our respective families: She gets lavished with attention, multiple daily walks, and multiple family members slipping her food.

General field notes from our first Christmas with Pyrrha:

Walking and dog wrangling

Pack walk

Dog wrangling

My siblings were dog sitting for two neighborhood dogs while we were there: Dally, the Miss America of golden retrievers, whom you may recall from last year; and Spike, the workhorse black lab. And then, of course, there was Dublin, my dad’s surrogate dog, who also plays a big sister-like role to Pyrrha. We spent hours with these dogs, often on crazy pack walks (which, as you can see from the photos above, we weren’t always the smoothest at handling).

The almost constant company of other dogs is so good for Pyr’s confidence. She seems to blossom around them. She is afraid of fewer things; she doesn’t react as much to small children or strange sounds. AND, the big surprise: She peed on a walk for the very first time! This has never happened before. I think she was finally learning from the other dogs. Needless to say, we were shocked. She is still full of surprises.

Losing her for half an hour

Let's go

The absolute WORST part of our entire holiday occurred on a pleasant, sunny afternoon at my parents’ house. We were all lounging around the living room. I stood up after a spell and looked down the hallway. The back door was wide open and Pyrrha was nowhere in sight.

My parents live on a very busy street with an almost constant stream of cars, and I immediately flew into panic mode. I ran outside and could not see her anywhere. She wasn’t next door, waiting at Dublin’s fence. She wasn’t in the front or side yards. She wasn’t across the street.

Everyone split up in every direction and started looking for her. Guion got in the car; my brother-in-law started running toward campus. I grabbed a bike and started down one of the back residential streets, sobbing and calling her name. I was convinced: This is it. She’s gone for good this time. We won’t ever find her. She’s been hit and killed by a car. She will never be found…

I was biking and crying, calling her name, biking some more, and I had almost reached the next intersection, about a block and a half from the house, when I heard the blessed sound of tags jingling. I couldn’t see her, so I kept shouting her name. Then, out from behind a house and its backyard, my stupid, happy dog comes bounding up to me, having heard my calls. I have never been so happy to see her stupid face.

Lessons learned: a) My parents’ back door does not shut all the way, even when it appears closed; b) Pyrrha will wander off without a sound, c) But she will come to the sound of my voice, which is immensely relieving. I wasn’t even sure that would happen at all. I’m also relieved I’m the one to find her, because I’m honestly not sure she would have come to anyone else in the family, much less a well-meaning stranger. All in all, we were very, very lucky. But that is an experience I really don’t want to repeat ever again. Sheesh.

Practicing off-leash recall

Partially inspired by frightening afternoon of the lost dog, my dad and I decided to practice a few off-leash/recall exercises with Pyrrha. Dublin has the most perfect recall of any dog I’ve ever met; the girl will stop on a dime if you call her name. Our idea was to get in a big field with the dogs, and the various family members, and tie Pyrrha and Dublin together with leashes. If they wandered, we could always call Dublin back in a pinch.

I was delighted to learn that Pyrrha came to me every single time I called her, even when she was a good distance away. This, obviously, could be because of the unusual circumstances, but I was pleased nonetheless.

Things to work on: 1) Actually having treats with me when I try this again, and 2) Training her to come to other people, namely Guion. Right now, I am the only person that she will come to. Obviously something to improve.

Snuggling surprises

Snuggle buddies

For all of her sweetness, Pyrrha is not a very cuddly dog. This, obviously, is a function of her natural shyness. However, our two weeks away taught us that there is some snuggly people-love residing somewhere deep within our shy dog.

I was ASTONISHED one night while we were all watching TV as a family. The fire was blazing and my sister Grace (pictured above) was on the floor with Pyrrha somewhat nearby. In a moment, I was surprised to watch Pyrrha crawl up next to Grace and put her head on Grace’s legs, lining her body right up next to Grace’s. It was almost like they were spooning. Definitely a first for Pyrrha, and a heartwarming one at that. As my Dad said, on watching this cuddly scene: “It looks like P-dog has decided that she likes people.”

Nom nom

All in all, a happy Christmas for our pup. We all learned a lot, I think. (Lock the back door!)

Encountering off-leash dogs

Photo by Anne Cutler.

I recently took a walk with a friend on a big section of a popular trail in town that runs along a river. The trail system spreads for miles around the city and it’s a very popular route for dog people, for obvious reasons. In just an hour of walking, we saw tons of people with their dogs: A pregnant woman with her older shih tzu and pomeranian puppy; a little boy with his all-white American bulldog; an elderly man and his elderly mixed breeds; a parade of labs; a woman and her chubby Australian shepherd; a woman and her very vocal dachshund; a young guy and his Great Pyrenees…

The one thing that did surprise me, however, was how many of these dogs were off-leash, despite the fact that there were many signs posted along the trail stating that all dogs have to be leashed. None of these off-leash dogs seemed particularly “dangerous”–the two old dogs were so slow that they were barely walking, and the young lab who was off-leash was so fixated on the stick in his owner’s hand that he wasn’t looking at anyone else. We also saw a young male spitz/collie mix who seemed to either be a stray or to have been left behind by his humans, because he wasn’t with anyone. (He ran off in the woods before we could get that close to him to look for identification tags.)

Confession: I can be as guilty as the next person about sporadically breaking leash laws. Dublin and Dally are never leashed when we’re at the park in my hometown, mostly because the park is sparsely populated. If we do ever see a dog, we leash them, but they’re usually romping free, and Dublin, for one, is extremely responsive to verbal commands. I’ve hiked a trail with Bo off-leash, too, but it wasn’t an official trail, so there were no leash laws governing it. In general, though, I always leash and try to use common sense about it. It’s safer for everyone. So, I know this. I just wanted to admit my hypocrisy up front.

But. On this particular trail, seeing these many off-leash dogs did make me a little nervous about using this trail in the future. It’s not like it’s a sparsely used park or an unofficial path in the forest; this is a heavily trafficked trail system, used by all sorts of people: Dog people, young families, teenagers, bikers, runners, and even the city’s homeless.

What if we have a dog who isn’t great with other dogs rushing up to him or her? Our dog would always be leashed, but you can’t control an unleashed dog from rushing forward. (*Side story: Zoe and I narrowly escaped a potentially frightening situation like this. I was walking her in her neighborhood, and a young German shepherd was loose in his front yard. There were college students standing out in the yard, too, but none of them were looking at the dog, who started to charge toward us, growling. I stopped behind a hedge and shouted over it, “PLEASE leash your dog!” Thankfully, they heard me and grabbed the dog and we could continue without fear for our lives…)

How do you prevent this situation from escalating–an unleashed dog rushing up to your leashed one? Have you ever encountered this before?

Cute but stupid

This photo is actually from Christmas, but it's the same park and the same dogs, so I'm using it here.

I went to visit my family this weekend, for an early birthday celebration for my dad and to surprise my siblings. It was a beautiful few days and on Saturday, we went back to the big, open park nearby and took Dublin and Dally with us. (Photo above gives an approximation of what the day was like, even though the photo is from Christmas. Same dogs, same park, mostly the same people.)

The dogs were off-leash most of the time and stuck with us through all the trails. Dublin is very responsive, especially to my father and to her human, Dave; Dally, not so much. We shared the trail with sporadic mountain bikers and when we’d call Dublin to get off the trail, she’d do so immediately; when we’d call at Dally or gesture at her, she just stood there dumbly, staring at us. Dally is only 8 or 9 months old and she hasn’t been trained by her family at all, so I suppose this isn’t really surprising.

When Dublin spotted the creek, she went scrambling down a large embankment and splashed around the water. Dally tried to follow her, but since she’s overweight and clumsy, it didn’t go so smoothly. She ended up getting trapped in a huge vat of quicksand-like mud and Dave had to help drag her out of it. As my dad likes to say of dogs like her: “Cute but stupid!” After she emerged, she looked like a sad, shamed princess; she couldn’t even wag her tail, as it was so weighed down with mud. Poor baby. We hosed her down when we got home and she was no worse for the wear.

Side note: Is it ever appropriate to tell someone that their dog is overweight? Especially if they seem unaware of it? Dally is young, as I mentioned, but the poor girl already has a weight problem. I think she needs to lose 15 pounds or more; it’s noticeable, and even more so since I last saw her in December. Is that ever appropriate, do you think? If so, is there a gentle way to say it?

Pup links!

A young Elizabeth Taylor holds court with three dogs. Source: LIFE Magazine.

I was very flattered this past week to receive a mention in the “You Are an Inspiration Awards” from Pamela at Something Wagging. I’ve been so encouraged by Pamela’s blog since I started my dog research, and I look forward to continuing to follow hers and Honey’s adventures.

That said, here are some great dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Therapy Dogs: Born or Made? Patricia McConnell reflects on the qualities a great therapy dog should possess and discusses the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. Basically, if you have a calm, perhaps older golden retriever, your dog should be doing therapy. Bo and Dally would be IDEAL candidates, maybe when they’re older. Goldens were just made for this stuff. (The Other End of the Leash)

My Favorite Dog Training Books. Crystal lists some of her favorite training manuals. I need to read some of these myself! (Reactive Champion)

An Uphill Battle: Tartar in a Kibble-Fed Dog. Stephanie, the Biologist, discusses the problems of tartar buildup in her kibble-fed dog and debunks the popular myth that kibble cleans dogs’ teeth. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Hallmarks of Quality Dog Food. A list of ingredients to look for (and avoid) when shopping for kibble. (Whole Dog Journal)

Thoughts on Punishment. Reflecting on moving beyond basic punishment paradigms in training. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

Your 2012 Fitness Plan for You and Your Dog. A practical and motivational guide to getting you and your dog in shape for the new year. A dog is such a great motivator for me to get outside and move! (Pretty Fluffy)

Comparing Bergan and Kurgo Dog Harnesses. The most widely traveled dogs give their reviews of two car harnesses. I’ve thought about getting something like this for our future dog. How does your dog travel in the car? (Take Paws)

One Big Dog on a Little, Kitty Bed. I love it when dogs (and cats!) mix up their beds. It’s always funny. (That Mutt)

Indigo: The Hockey-Loving Dog. This focused border collie reminds me of Emma, my childhood Aussie, who was fixated whenever we played hockey on the cul-de-sac. We kind of drove her crazy. It’s torture for a herding dog to watch such a game and not be allowed to get out there and HERD! (Shirley Bittner)

The Dog. My dear friend Rachel writes about her dog Cider‘s displays of devotion when she comes home. So sweet! (Mixed with Gold)

Dogs of Christmas

Me and Dally on a hike.

No, I didn’t get a dog for Christmas. But I did get to spend a lot of time with dogs, namely Aoive, Dublin, and Dally, whom I’ve mentioned before.

Aoive, my in-law’s English springer spaniel, has suddenly mellowed out in her old age. I say “suddenly,” I guess, because I haven’t seen her in a long time and her calmness surprised me. She is now 8 and her muzzle is graying and her eyes are drooping. It makes her look sad and stately–but the girl still knows how to have a good time. We took a long walk together over the holiday and even ended up running toward the end. She was eager and happy and, as always, very snuggly in the living room.

Later in the week, we traveled to my family’s town and spent most of our week with the borrowed dogs Dublin and Dally. Even though my father is as dog crazy as I am, my parents don’t have a dog of their own (due to my mother’s influence and protectiveness of her heart of pine floors). My father’s surrogate dog is Dublin, who adores him. My sister Grace was dog-sitting Dally, the neighbor’s gorgeous (and regrettably plump) 10-month-old Golden retriever, who is an absolute doll.

More photos below!

 

The blondes! Alex, my sister's boyfriend, and Dally share the love.
Dally and me, ready to go.
This is what heaven looks like to me: Family + field + dogs. (Dublin and Dally featured here.)

We also got to see the 3-year-old Marley, my cousin’s handsome and well-mannered chocolate lab. (Marley is the puppy featured with me on my “About” page.) It made me really happy to see such a trim and healthy lab; so often, labs are unmannerly blimps. But Matt, my cousin, is a very conscientious owner and has trained Marley very well. He’s a delightful boy.

Marley, my cousin's handsome and well-mannered lab.

OK, that’s all for now! Back to catching up on life…

The dogs of Davidson

Although I didn’t spend a ton of time with dogs this week, here’s what I learned from the two dogs I saw during my weekend with my family:

DUBLIN

My father and his true love, Dublin. Source: Grace Farson Photography

Dublin is a three-year-old chocolate lab mix who belongs to our dear friends and neighbors, a family with two young girls. Dublin was adopted her as a puppy from an adoption drive in our home town. My father, who loves dogs like I do, has adopted Dubs as his own dog most of the time. She adores him, too, which I think is quite evident from the photo above.

She’s very smart and great with the girls, Ally and Kate, who are 9 and 7. Dad plays Frisbee with her almost daily and has taught her to retrieve the disc by name and to get into different formations with a command (telling her “cross” means that she’ll run into the other yard and wait for the disc to be thrown over the fence). She’s excellent with the Frisbee and hardly ever misses a catch. Like most retrievers, she could play all day long. Dad has also recently taken to bringing her canoeing with him on Lake Norman, an activity that she reportedly loves.

Our best guess is that Dublin is mostly a lab, but we think she may also have some pit bull in her lineage, due to her stockiness and the shape of her muzzle. Dublin was a very excitable puppy, but now that she is three, she has the ability to calm down considerably and temper her activity level to those around her.

I saw her display this ability when I took her on a walk on Saturday afternoon with her young charges, Ally and Kate. The girls were especially keen to walk her on the leash and I decided that Dublin seemed calm enough to be handled by them. I was a little nervous about it–since I’d walked her before and she’d been like a firecracker–but Dublin walked sweetly and calmly by these little girls and was generally perfect the whole time. The only exception was when she saw squirrels darting around campus. I told the girls to just drop the leash if she started charging after a squirrel. This happened a few times and was an infinitely preferable situation than having the girls get their faces skinned up by being dragged along the sidewalk by this strong, stocky dog.

Overall, Dublin taught me that:

  • Lab mixes can excel at Frisbee.
  • High-energy dogs can reach a state of calmness–eventually.
  • A three-year-old dog is very different, energy-wise, than a one-year-old dog.
  • The mark of a great family dog is a dog, who even though young, can temper her activity level to her child companions.

DALLY

A golden retriever puppy. Not Dally, but they look pretty identical! Source: Daily Puppy

This is not Dally, but this fluffy puppy looks nearly identical to her. Our neighbors across the street, who have three young children, bought Dally as an 8-week-old puppy from a breeder in Oak Ridge (I think from this kennel). She’s now probably 11 or 12 weeks old and just as fuzzy and adorable as ever. Naturally, I had to go over and meet her–along with the rest of my family.

The family’s gorgeous backyard is partially fenced, but they don’t worry about sweet Dally, who was patiently waiting for her humans to return on the brick stoop outside. She bounded up to us, rolled over, kissed our legs, and playfully mouthed our hands. I was surprised at how gentle she was at mouthing; most retriever puppies I’ve met love to chomp their needle-sharp teeth into soft human hands, but Dally seemed somehow aware that gentleness was required. I wondered if this was something her doting family had already taught her.

Like all good goldens, Dally was extremely attentive and sweet toward all types of people and displayed no signs of fear when met with men, women, and children of all sizes (our family fairly swarmed their backyard). She also seemed very smart; I was impressed that she immediately obeyed the command “sit” from the family’s energetic 7-year-old daughter.

What I learned from Dally:

  • A golden retriever puppy is one of God’s greatest and most adorable gifts to humankind.
  • Families with young children should just get golden retrievers. Don’t even look at a terrier. Or any toy breed. Just get a golden. There’s a reason why they’re so popular with families with kids; their temperaments seem ideally suited to the hectic lifestyle of a young, busy family.