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?

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Eden’s off-leash “birthday party”

On Saturday, Eden’s first birthday, my family took the dogs (and Dublin) to Fisher Farm, this wonderful nature preserve near my parents’ house. We wanted to wear the dogs out and let them practice their off-leash recall, so we brought long drag lines for our girls and a little bag of tiny pepperoni and treats for reinforcement.

Dogs at Fisher Farm

I didn’t have my camera with me, so unfortunately, I don’t have any great photos of this wonderful afternoon. But these were the highlights:

Playing in the River

Dublin, being mostly lab, is a natural water dog. Our dogs aren’t, as far as we can tell. On Friday, at my grandparents’ house, Eden jumped in the lake when we called to her and quickly panicked. I’m glad we were there to help her get out, because she did not like being fully submerged in the water and unable to stand.

Dogs at Fisher Farm

But there’s a little river that runs through Fisher Farm, and we thought the girls would like that. We were right! They both had a blast splashing in the water and running through it. My dad was able to snap a few blurry phone pics:

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

Dogs at Fisher Farm

(You get the idea, right? They had SO much fun.)

And, if you’re interested, there’s even a tiny video of the girls running in the river.

Off-Leash Recall Practice

Watching them romp in the river was wonderful, but I think our adventures in off-leash recall were the most heartening to me.

Dublin, as I’ve mentioned, has the most perfect recall I’ve ever seen in a dog; my dad can call her back from chasing a squirrel or approaching another dog. She’ll stop on a dime for him. Our girls? Not so much.

So, to practice, I had a bag of treats, and we had both girls on drag lines during our hike through the woods and in the fields. We’d practice letting them get ahead of us and then calling them back, at varying distances, and rewarding them warmly with praise and treats. They all quickly caught on to this gambit, and soon, all three dogs would come running to us whenever we called. I was so pleased.

Pyrrha is still an absent-minded wanderer at heart. I don’t think she’ll ever be fully reliable off-leash. I’m also the only person that she really wants to come to, which can naturally be a hazard if I’m not around and she escapes. But I was especially pleased with Eden’s performance. Of all three dogs, even Dublin, Eden was the one who wanted to check in the most. If she got out of sight from the humans, she was always the first to turn around and come back to us, even without being called. Her natural disposition toward people is evident here.

I hope we’ll continue to make the time to practice this in a safe place. It made my heart happy to see how joyful and relaxed both girls were off leash. Pyrrha especially is such a different dog. Having to wear a leash makes her so tense.

Curious to hear from you: What’s your dog’s recall style? Is he or she a wanderer? Or does he or she stick close by you all the time?

Pyrrha Chases a Deer

Toward the end of our hike, a female deer suddenly shot of out of the brush near the field, and Pyrrha was off like a shot. I mean, she was GONE after that deer. My natural hunter (Dublin and Eden were not at all interested). I panicked a little, and Dad and I started to run after her. The grass was very tall, and the woods she ran into were deep, and she was completely out of sight.

But… a few minutes later: Pyrrha comes running back up to us, exhilarated and breathless. Such excitement on her face! No deer meat for dinner, but I was very proud of her for returning to us, without much frantic encouragement or freaking out on my part. She was on deer alert for the rest of the hike.

All in all, it was a perfect afternoon, and an ideal dog birthday party.

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!

 

Christmas in the fields (training off-leash recall)

Over this Christmas holiday, our time with Pyrrha was also spent encouraging and training her off-leash recall.

On Christmas Day, we took her out to the field near my grandparents’ house on her 30-foot line. Guion was outfitted with some leftover pulled pork as encouragement.

Grace Farson Photography
Me, with P on the long line. (c) Grace Farson.
Grace Farson Photography
(c) Grace Farson.

This field was the perfect practice ground. No one lives out there; we weren’t going to encounter any other dogs or people; and the field is bordered by a thick forest and part of the lake. The big field also made me feel more comfortable, because she could never truly get out of sight.

In the field with dogs. #christmas #latergram Missing @kelseyfgray and @alexlemondegray
Doing her thing.

We dropped the line, and to my pleasant surprise, she really wanted to stick with us. She wandered ahead of us, sniffing, as every dog is wont to do, but if we got too far back, she’d stop and reorient. I was very proud of her.

Christmas in Norwood
Walking with Guion and my dad.

Christmas in Norwood

Below is one of my favorite pictures ever (taken by my sister), of Pyrrha running to me. She’d gotten too far out, and she came sprinting back to me when I called. Guion, in the left foreground, is preparing some pork rewards for her.

Grace Farson Photography
(c) Grace Farson.

Christmas afternoon, we went back to the field to practice with Marley, my cousin’s labrador. Marley is also good off-leash, so he was great accompaniment for Pyrrha. He was mostly preoccupied with fetching on our field walk, but he remained a great center for Pyrrha, who is still easily distracted by her nose and all that she picks up.

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

And then, when we got back to my parents’ house, we did even more off-leash training.

My dad always wants to practice Pyrrha’s off-leash recall when she comes to visit, and we’re lucky to have Dublin as an aide. Dublin, as I’ve mentioned before, has the best recall I’ve ever seen in a dog. I’ve seen her stop in MID-CHASE of a squirrel to a command to come. It’s miraculous.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of our outing, but it might have been the best day of Pyrrha’s life. We went with Dublin and her human family to a large preserve out in the rolling countryside where dogs are allowed to roam. We walked the trails and Pyrrha kept her long line on, but we didn’t hold her leash once. She ran with Dublin through the forest, totally free and happy. We encountered a veritable pack of other dogs (six, I think) that day, but all the humans were smart enough to just drop the leashes and all the introductions went beautifully.

The most shocking moment was when Dublin scampered down a bank and jumped into the creek to splash around and swim. Pyrrha has always been antsy about walking through rivers, and so I assumed that she wouldn’t want to get in. But she started whining, watching Dublin play in the creek, and so I said, “OK!” She ran down the steep bank and leapt into that water like a deer, huge grin on her goofy face. I was totally shocked. She was delighted.

There were two moments in which she got too far ahead of us, and I couldn’t see her anymore, and I started to panic, but Dublin would go find her and Pyrrha would quickly reorient to my voice. I gave her a small treat reward each time she came back to me, whether voluntarily or by responding to my call. All this to say, it was a great week of practice for her. She’s still not reliable off-leash, but she’s a lot more reliable than I thought she would be, and I was proud of the progress she’d made. Definitely something to keep working on! I’m motivated by the fact that she seems so happy to be unencumbered.

How is your dog with off-leash recall? How often do you get to practice this?

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?

Weekend recap (and behavior update)

Disgruntled, I

We spent our Easter (and my birthday) weekend at my parents’ house for a mini-family reunion. While I was too busy (or lazy?) to take photos, we did spend lots of time with Pyrrha, taking walks and observing her on-leash behavior.

Behavior Notes

  • She spent the majority of the weekend hanging out with her girlfriend Dublin, which was nice. The two of them get along well, as they always have. They’ll wrestle for a few minutes, perhaps fight over a toy or an old bone, and then go lounge in separate corners of the yard.
  • She had some GI issues over the weekend, which I won’t go into further, but I am beginning to think that our girl has a sensitive stomach. I’ve finally learned that she can’t handle rawhides or most chews. I want to try deer antlers, though, because I’ve heard those aren’t as upsetting. Do any of you have a dog with a sensitive stomach? Do you have any chews/bones that work for your dog? She LOVES chewing and she adores bones, so I hate to deprive her of them entirely, but they make her so sick.
  • Her on-leash reactivity was mostly OK. We walked her with Dublin (a confident, no-nonsense dog who isn’t rattled by anything) several times, and Pyrrha did not have any aggressive reactions to any dogs that we passed or encountered. This was encouraging. There was one moment, however, when she was on-leash by herself with me, and a leashed dog walked down the street. Pyrrha barked at this dog, but that was the only response.

All of your comments and advice have been immensely helpful. I am planning on re-reading Control Unleashed and trying LAT with her on our walks in the neighborhood. I think your suggestions that her aggressive display is a function of fear/trying to act tougher than she actually feels is accurate. Dublin’s presence on our walks suggests to me that Pyrrha felt “protected” by Dublin and thus no need to put on a show for other dogs; with baby Laszlo, however, I imagine she felt like she needed to guard him against other dogs, OR she felt more nervous and unsure about what to do with other dogs when she was with a puppy companion.

Anyway. More to come on this issue, I am sure. We are traveling AGAIN this weekend, this time to visit Georgia and my in-laws! So, more dog stories to come!

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!)