Pyrrha and I visit Guion at work

One of the things I’ve been learning about Pyrrha is that she needs a lot more exercise than she lets on. (She’s a healthy 1-year-old German shepherd, after all!) Most of the time, she lazes around the house, getting up only to patrol the front windows or wander into the kitchen to see if we happen to drop something tasty.

However, it’s clear that she has a whole reservoir of energy that’s lying mostly untapped. I think she could run for hours, were she so inclined. In an attempt to tap into this hidden energy reservoir, I decided to take her on an hour-and-a-half walk last week. After I got home from work, we decided we’d walk downtown to meet Guion at work and run a few errands with her.

An evening walk
An evening walk.

Walking with Pyrrha tends to be somewhat slow-going at first, because she has to smell every other plant and shrub and piece of trash. For now, I’m very lenient toward this behavior. I know some people who only give their dogs permission to sniff on command, but I don’t see sniffing as a vice; rather, it’s her way of reading the daily news. In time, I think I will introduce a command to get her to leave something alone or to move on, because she does have a tendency to linger, but for now, the walks are slow, because the girl is laboriously sniffing.

An evening walk
Alert! A dog ahead!

Despite the fact that she’s very new to leash walking, I think she’s in really good shape. She’s very responsive to me while on leash and doesn’t pull (except when a squirrel or bird is tempting her). The main thing she needs to learn about leash manners is not crossing in front of me constantly and tripping me; she has a bad habit of walking right in front of one and stopping. Anyone’s dog ever do this? How would you train away from that behavior?

Guion works part-time at a wine co-op downtown. He manages the quiet office there, so once we arrived, he invited us in while he closed up. Pyrrha seemed fairly anxious about this new space, but after she patrolled the borders for a few minutes, she laid down by the door and started to calm down.

Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
Visiting “Dad” at work!
Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
Checking it out.

After we helped Guion close up, we went to the library (where she waited outside with Guion) and then Pyrrha and I walked home. It was a beautiful, balmy summer evening and I was only too happy to spend a large chunk of it walking my good dog.

I think we’ll keep her.

Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
What a good girl.
Advertisement

SPCA Day: Stillness and energy

The weather was pristine this weekend and made my morning and afternoon at the SPCA that much more enjoyable. The dogs were happy, as always, and I had a great time with them.

A few notes on what I learned:

Lesson #1: Never underestimate the power of a pit bull body slam

Eden.

Eden was kind enough to teach me this lesson. As you can see, she is a very lovely lady. But don’t let her demure, elegant gaze fool you: This girl is a tornado. Just trying to snap a leash on her was like trying to wrangle a bronco. In a tiny kennel. She dragged me all over the trails and I decided, for the sake of my arm sockets, to take her to one of the fenced-in areas to let her run around–something she clearly needed.

I took her leash off and she tore around the fence, running at full speed. I picked up a tennis ball and she chased it merrily for a while but that soon bored her. I turned around to pick up a tug toy on the ground and as I was standing up, WHAM! Thick pittie skull smacked me right in the tail bone; I think I actually heard our bones crack against each other. I was knocked down, which she found very amusing, and in quite a bit of pain. Tailbone injuries are the worst! Had no idea how painful that would make the rest of my afternoon there. Walking up hills was awful.

But, whatever. I pushed through the rest of the day and managed to get Eden back into her kennel without any further fiascoes. The enduring lesson? Don’t turn your back on a rambunctious dog who REALLY wants to play with you. Your whole body, in fact.

Lesson #2: Let dogs sort out inter-dog social situations on their own.

Roscoe.

I was in a fenced-in area playing with the sweet-faced Roscoe (who was ineptly described as a “St. Bernard mix” by the shelter. Hardly!) when another volunteer, L., walked by with a tiny 10-month-old mix named Blossom (photo not on file). The two began to play bow through the fence and L. asked me if she thought they would play well together. I said we should try it, even though I was a little anxious. Blossom was much smaller and shyer and so we decided to keep Roscoe on his leash in case things went south.

I always get nervous when dogs meet other dogs, and maybe this just contributes to the anxiety of the meetings. We led Blossom in and Roscoe sniffed at her and then immediately stood over her and started playfully gnawing on her neck. Blossom started to whimper a little and my first instinct was to pull them apart. But L. gently stopped me and said, “We’ll let them sort this one out on their own. Roscoe doesn’t appear to be trying to hurt her and Blossom is willing to yield.”

L., a more seasoned volunteer, of course, was right. In just a few minutes, the two were happily chasing each other in circles and bowing and wrestling. The formerly bashful Blossom was even taking well-timed nips at Roscoe’s legs. It brought me a lot of joy to watch them play together and reinforced the lesson that dogs often need to be left to themselves to sort out social situations. Human interference usually makes things worse.

Lesson #3: Not all GSDs are shy, anxious messes.

Estella.

So, Estella is probably not a pure GSD, but she looks pretty darn close, especially in person. (This photo makes her nose look bigger than it appears in real life.) I first saw her in a pen near one of the trails and she quietly approached the corner of the pen to sniff me and the dog I was walking.

All that I’ve read about GSDs has made me pretty nervous about wanting to adopt one. It seems that, as a result of bad breeding, GSDs are especially prone to nervous dispositions, which can often lead to anxiety and shyness-based aggression. I now expect almost ever GSD to act this way, especially a GSD in the county animal shelter.

Estella, however, graciously proved me wrong. She is an older lady, approximately 7 or 8 years old, and maybe a tad overweight. I didn’t get the chance to walk her this weekend, but I did make a point to spend some time with her in her kennel. When I approached the door, she sat politely and looked up at me noiselessly. This in itself is unusual for any shelter dog. I held out my hand for her to sniff and walked into her kennel with a biscuit. I offered it to her and she gently took it from me and laid down by my feet while I stroked her coat. It was a brief encounter, but it was encouraging just the same.

Looking forward to my next visit; I never know what I’m going to learn or experience next!

Breed love: English setter

English Setter
English setter at a show. Source: Flickr, user ChocolateLuvr

I’ve always found setters extremely pretty. They’re like the bigger versions of spaniels. The English setter is especially attractive to me because he is rumored to have a more laidback temperament than his more well-known and fiery redheaded cousin, the Irish setter. Unlike the Irish, English setters come in a wide range of exciting coat colors.

English Setters in the park...
A happy English setter. Source: Flickr, user pixeljoy

Like most sporting dogs, English setter puppies have tons of energy. This should not come as a surprise. They were bred, after all, to run in the field all day long. Setter puppies are also known for being happily destructive with their mouths, like retrievers and other gun dogs. English setters tend to be friendlier, more outgoing, and less flighty than their regrettably over-bred Irish cousins. For this reason, if I ever opted for a setter, I think I’d go with an English one. Just look how handsome they are!

We have friends in town who have a Llewellin setter named Finn and he’s a beautiful dog; looks quite similar to a young, speckled English setter. I definitely need to hang out with him more…

English setter links:

At the SPCA: Smart dogs, difficult dogs

I think what my weekend at the SPCA taught me is that the smart dogs are often the difficult dogs. The ones who are the quickest to learn also tend to be the ones that are the most challenging to handle. To explore this notion, I’m thinking about three dogs that stood out to me from my back-to-back days of dog walking this past weekend.

Jim Bob is the unfortunately named darling, whom I don’t have a photo of, because he very fortunately got adopted on Sunday! I had the pleasure of working with him on Saturday and fell in love with this little guy (which ever increased my anger that someone would give this beautiful little dog such an undignified and unsuitable name).

Jim is a small (20-30 lb.) black sheltie/spitz mix with a TON of energy. The kid could jump six feet in the air from a standing position. I noticed him anxiously jumping and pacing in an outdoor pen while I was walking the other dogs. He was very vocal about his unhappiness of having to stay in that pen while everyone else got to walk around. From time to time, I’d stop at his pen, let him greet the other dog I was walking, and slip him a little treat. He sat very politely and waited for me to hand the snack over before snatching it out of my hand. I was impressed with his manners, which, for a shelter dog, are quite rare. I also admit I was quite taken with his good looks.

Later in the afternoon, I found out he hadn’t been walked that day and got to take him out. A band of volunteers were repairing the trails and the wheelbarrows and rakes made Jim very nervous, so I decided to take him into the fenced-in agility ring on the SPCA property. I had a feeling that this little guy would be an agility star. He was whip-smart, extremely agile, and had a TON of energy! Plus, he followed commands very readily. To my delight, he soared over the different jumps next to me and seemed to love every minute.

As I walked him back, I thought about the right home for Jim. From my half hour with him, I felt sure that he would be best in a home with someone who would be willing to give him a lot of time and energy. Otherwise, this smart but inherently nervous dog could turn out to be a domestic nightmare. I’m happy that he got adopted. I just hope his new family will give him all of the love and attention that he deserves.

Cory

I try to be gentle with every dog I encounter, but I’ll admit that Cory really tried my patience. I noticed that when I walked up and down the kennel run, he was exhibiting a worrisome stereotypy of bounding from one wall to the next with his front paws. He did this without ceasing as long as someone was near his kennel door. From just a glance, it was evident that he was a very anxious and mentally shaky dog. I certainly felt for him.

When I finally got to his kennel to take him out, he was extremely difficult to wrangle. The hardest part of dog walking at the SPCA is just getting the dogs out of the kennel! Putting an Easy Walk harness on a highly reactive dog in a tiny, urine-splattered kennel is not a lot of fun. Cory proved his point. As soon as I stepped in there, he latched onto my leg and started humping me. This was not a huge concern, as he is a fairly small dog (30-40 lbs.), but it was annoying and instantly frustrating to me, because whenever I pushed him off and turned around, he just jumped on again. When he wasn’t humping me, he was biting my hands and snapping at my face. I could tell that none of this was done aggressively; the dog was just so damn excited to be going on a walk that he could not control himself.

Even knowing this, however, it was hard to keep myself from being very irritated with Cory. I tried waiting to see if he would calm down. Not going to happen. I also had about two dozen other dogs who hadn’t been out yet, so I couldn’t wait for him to sit still all day long. When I finally got the harness on him, he shot out of the kennel door like a rocket and pulled me into a fence. I really wanted to curse at him.

I know it’s not his fault. I’m guilty for not being more patient with him. But I have to wonder: With limited time and resources, what could I have done better with Cory? Any advice?

Phantom

Finally, I got some quality time with Phantom, who is quickly becoming a favorite. You might remember Phantom from an earlier post. I can’t believe this handsome guy is still in the shelter. As you can see from the photo, he’s very attractive and fit. He’s also extremely smart. He knows how to sit, lie down, stay, and shake, which is four more commands than almost every other dog at the shelter. Under different circumstances, I think I would have been extremely tempted to take Phantom home myself. He’s just an all-around great dog.

Phantom loves to fetch and run and he still likes to hide things, as I mentioned when I first met him earlier. On Sunday, he hid a brand new tennis ball that I gave him to play with in one of the fenced-in enclosures. I promised him I wouldn’t watch where he was hiding it, because every time he saw my gaze on him, he’d move to another location. Silly puppy.

My best guess as to why Phantom hasn’t found a home yet is because he’s a pretty intimidating guy to walk past; he has a loud and boisterous kennel demeanor. Let me explain my theory on this. I feel like kennel demeanor is one of the things that can make or break a dog’s chance of adoption. I only wish I could tell the dogs this. A dog like Pooch, for example, could be very misleading. Unlike all the other dogs, Pooch does not bark or jump at you when you walk past his door. He sits very quietly and just looks at you. He looks like a complete gentleman and the perfect picture of calmness. But the second you snap that leash on, BOOM! The dog is dynamite. He has more energy than almost any dog at the SPCA, but you’d never know it unless you took him on a walk.

Phantom has perhaps the opposite problem with regard to his kennel demeanor. He barks wildly with excitement when you approach his door. He also shows a lot of big, gleaming teeth when he barks and has a very deep, imposing voice. To most people, I’m sure that he looks like a pent-up dog full of aggression and anger. But nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a complete sweetheart and he walks beautifully on the leash. He’s very attentive to people and isn’t a pain to walk, like Pooch can be. I just hope someone will give Phantom a chance sometime soon.

SPCA Day: The joy of Pooch

I confess that I went to the SPCA for my day of dog walking somewhat reluctantly this past week. The weather has been brutally hot here and last Saturday was no exception. The heat index on Saturday was showing something like 102 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the day. Even though I was sweating my face off, I was happy, because the dogs are always happy.

Pooch

My most memorable dog of the day was Pooch, a young male pit bull. Pooch was one of the last dogs I walked on Saturday. Unlike most of the dogs, he didn’t jump or bark at me when I stopped at his kennel to take him out. He quietly sat by the door and just watched me, somewhat shyly. I crouched down and put my hand out for him to sniff. He ducked his head in an anxious way when I put his leash on, but as soon as I turned around to walk, he bolted out of that kennel like a rocket. The kid was ready to GO!

Like most pits, Pooch used his low center of gravity and strong pulling force to drag me all over the trails. I wasn’t much use trying to calm him down, so I took him to one of the enclosed “agility” areas. As soon as I snapped his leash off, he went wild with excitement: Racing in circles around the perimeter, looking for things to chew and balls to chase. He was especially enamored with a stuffed lamb toy that had been left in the pen. To amuse himself, he would toss it up in the air and then jump and catch it. I was delighted to just sit there and watch him play. If I wasn’t engaged in the activity, however, he was sure to let me know that he wanted my full participation. If I sat down after throwing the ball, he would charge up to me and impatiently throw his paws on my knees, grinning the whole time.

Pooch taught me a few things on Saturday. First, that dogs can behave very differently depending on their environments and situations. Pooch was shy and still when in his kennel, but as soon as he got out, he was like a totally different (and energy-packed!) dog. Second, Pooch reinforced that many pits and pit mixes have almost boundless energy. Compared with the different breed mixes I’ve met at the shelter, it’s the pits who seem to be the most gregariously energetic. And third, Pooch reminded me of what a thoroughly delightful thing it is to just watch a dog play. It’s encouraging to find the dogs at the shelter who are able to maintain their play drives to such a happy extent–despite their circumstances.

I hope Pooch finds a great home of his own very soon.

Beauty

I was also taken with Beauty, a sweet-faced female hound of middling adult age. We have a ton of hounds at our shelter. I’d never seen so many in my entire life. This is because of the area in which we live, where there are many hunters and who go out with packs of hounds. These hunters don’t always take the best care of their hunting dogs, who may often get separated from the pack or breed with each other without any regard for what will happen to the bitches or their puppies.

I don’t know Beauty’s back story, but I do know that she’s a quiet and lovely soul. Many of the hounds I’ve met show little to no interest in people. I don’t know if this is because this is a “hound thing” or if it’s because of the way they’ve been raised, but it’s often hard to get a hound’s attention–mainly because they are usually following the scent trail of something that’s about a hundred times more interesting than I am. Beauty was an exception to this aloof, uninterested hound trait.

As we walked, she paused every so often to stop and just look me straight in the face. Not in a challenging way, not in a fearful way–but a look that communicated calm attention. I’m anthropomorphizing here, but to me, Beauty’s look also communicated gratitude. Every time she stopped to watch me, to follow my eyes, she seemed to be saying, “Thank you.”

I don’t know what she was actually saying, but I’m going to believe that for a while longer. She deserves a family who will appreciate and cherish her gentleness and goodness. I hope she finds them soon.

Finally, another favorite moment of the day was with the tiny beagle mix puppy that I got to cradle for a few minutes. (I don’t have a picture of him, which probably means that he got adopted!) He was in a small carrier on the floor while his kennel was being cleaned and the poor baby was just crying his heart out. I was in between shifts of walking and I couldn’t help myself when I heard him. I stopped, sat down on the ground, and let him walk out of the carrier toward me. I didn’t want to reach in there and grab him, as he already seemed very frightened and confused. He cautiously approached me and I picked him up. He had brilliant blue eyes and those sweet, velvety beagle ears. I held him for a few minutes and spoke softly to him.

I could have sat there all day, but there were big dogs who needed walking and so I reluctantly put him back. My wish for him is that he will find a family who will raise him well and give him a long, happy life in one household.

I’m looking forward to my next volunteering weekend and to all of the new things that I will undeniably learn!

(Also: Some exciting news about Penny, the hyperactive dog that I thought no one would adopt: Apparently, she was adopted by the DEA to be a drug enforcement dog at the airports! I’m excited for her and I hope this job will provide a great channel for her boundless energy.)