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!

Pyrrha’s best Christmas ever (Part II)

The second part of our Christmas holiday was spent with my family.

On Christmas day, Pyrrha got to meet and play with her “second cousin,” the handsome chocolate lab Marley.

Christmas in Norwood
Marley and his dad.

They had too much crazy energy for me to get many great shots of them together, but they had a wonderful time romping in the basement.

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Marley became rather obsessed with Pyr (he’s intact), so we had to keep him at bay from time to time. But they were great pals and got along swimmingly, as I expected they would.

Christmas in Norwood

Apart from that, Pyrrha had a great time begging in the kitchen:

Pyrrha helping Guion and Ma-Maw in the kitchen. #christmas

Watching squirrels:

#christmas #latergram #gsd

And hanging out with my cool kid sister:

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas pals. #hotties #latergram

This holiday vacation made me thankful for Pyrrha in a way that I haven’t been before. As those of you with anxious dogs know, you spend a lot of your mental energy and emotional bandwidth worrying about your dog — especially when the environment changes, when you’re around new people and animals, etc. I felt like this was one of the first trips with her in which I was able to really be calm and appreciate her for who she is.

My heart was warmed by two things: (1) She seemed to be really enjoying herself, and, (2) other people seemed to notice this as well.

1: She got lots of exercise and canine play-time over the holiday, which always makes her incandescently happy. I was around her all day long; she rarely if ever had to languish alone. And when she wasn’t napping or playing with dogs, she was getting slipped decadent holiday food from my generous relatives. (I caught my sweet grandmother giving her a big hunk of the expensive, prized beef tenderloin before we humans sat down to eat it. Needless to say, Pyrrha was her shadow for the rest of the evening.)

2: Many members of our immediate families kept telling me, “She is really doing so well,” or, “She’s like a different dog from when she was last here.” Hearing this meant so much to me. It’s hard to recognize those subtle improvements when you’re working and living with your fearful dog day in and day out. But hearing them say such things helped me to recognize her progress too. She really has come a long way from that crawling, terrified dog who hid from me in corners of the house. And she keeps making those subtle steps toward confidence and balance.

Hope you were also able to acknowledge your dog’s progress in 2013 — subtle or not — over this season of rest and reflection.

More to come about our adventures in Pyrrha’s off-leash training over our holiday!

Pyrrha’s first wedding weekend

Quite at home here

I’m still catching up on real-life stuff and work, but my sister’s wedding weekend was so beautiful and perfect. She was the happiest, prettiest bride I’ve ever seen, and I say that with some authority, as we’ve been to eight weddings this year (and went to eleven last year!).

Pyrrha was a trooper, too. I was particularly thankful for my dad, who is just as dog-obsessed as I am. He doted on Pyrrha and took care of her and walked her and played with her when I couldn’t—which was often, as I was serving as the matron of honor + bride’s beautician + right-hand woman.

Trying to make my dog fat
My brother, trying to make my dog fat.

My siblings are also quite fond of Pyr, which helps a lot. My brother kept slipping her food, as a way to buy her affections, I think, and playfully irritate me.

Loving on Pyr
My sister and Pyrrha.

Our beloved photographer, with P.

My sister Grace is also very sweet with Pyrrha, even though she is allergic to dogs, and Pyrrha’s presence made her eyes tear up all weekend. Poor Gracie; she loves animals so.

Dublin
Dublin.

Pyrrha also spent a lot of her time in Dublin’s backyard, as she normally does. Dublin is very tolerant of Pyrrha’s antics and the two spend most of their introductory moments growling and wrestling. After a few minutes, though, one can find them lounging side-by-side under the trampoline or plundering the basement for things to chew on.

Hanging out in Dublin's yard

As this is her third time at my parents’ house, she was very comfortable there over the weekend. I think she liked having all that space to prowl around and all those windows from which to watch the town’s plentiful squirrels. It’s so nice to know that we always have a place to bring her when we come home for family events or holidays. I daresay she is eager to go back, as soon as she can.

Pup links!

That’s a lot of shibas you’ve got there, sir. Source: Hei Astrid

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Life with Two Shibas. What’s it like having two shibas in the house? A realistic and detailed portrayal of how to welcome that second dog into your home and how to create balance and stability thereafter. (Shio the Shiba)

Frisbee Discs for Dogs: What’s the Best Disc on the Market? While I have very far-fetched dreams about Pyrrha taking interest in a Frisbee, I still love watching dogs play with flying discs. Does your dog love to chase a Frisbee? Here’s an article with some reviews on the best discs for your dog. (Whole Dog Journal)

Heart Spaghetti. A discussion of the importance of heartworm preventatives, particularly during this time of year. (Couches for Breakfast)

Post-4th Puppy Extravaganza. Seriously, what could be better than the chaos of 15 German shepherd puppies tearing through one’s home?? (Blackthorn Kennels)

When Time Isn’t Enough. This is a very honest post from Vanessa about how Rufus still hasn’t warmed up to his human dad, even after two years. It made me wonder if Pyrrha will ever love Guion, but it was simultaneously encouraging to know I’m not the only one in this boat. All I can say is, Vanessa and I–and Rufus and Pyrrha!–are lucky to be tied to such patient, persistent men. (The Rufus Way)

Pawsitively Amazing: Smiley. An apt name for this golden retriever, who was born without eyes into a puppy mill environment. But he just radiates joy! The description of his relationship with his owner is supremely touching. (Daily Dog Tag)

Let’s Be Gentle, Not Judgmental. A very humble and encouraging post by one of the most popular foster mamas out there, about the myths she once believed about her dog and others’. Such a great exhortation for us to be more patient and gentle with those who may still have some things to learn about their canine companions. Because, really, who of us has all the answers? (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We’re out of town for another long weekend (another wedding and another road trip). This time, Pyrrha will be hanging behind with her angelic former foster and her pack. It’s the best form of doggy daycare for her and she always comes back to us very tired and happy. Hope you all have pleasant weekends!

A weekend with Pyrrha at my parents’ place

This past weekend, Pyrrha and I took our first road trip together, to visit my parents, see my siblings, and help my sister with her wedding plans. It was a five-hour drive and Pyrrha handled it like a champ. She slept for the majority of the trip in the back of our little hatchback (which is now coated in wall-to-wall fur). I was very proud, and knowing she was peacefully dozing made me a lot less anxious.

Here are a few recaps of what Pyrrha did over the weekend:

Meeting the family

Pyrrha got to meet lots of family members this weekend, and she did great with everyone. In total, she met my sisters, my sister’s fiance, my grandparents, my aunt, uncle, cousin, the neighbors and the neighbor’s two young girls. Whew!

With TT in the kitchen
With my mom in the kitchen.
Kisses for Grace!
Kisses for Grace, my youngest sister.
Meeting Ma-Maw
Meeting my grandmother.
Kisses for Ma-Maw!
Kisses for her great-grandmother!
Floor time with Juju
Floor time with my dad.
Morning meditation with Alex
Floor time with my sister’s fiance.

A few observations: She still warms up to women much faster than she does to men, but after she’d met everyone, she seemed to treat the family with an equal mix of tolerance and occasional anxiety. She became especially fond of my mom. My guess here is that my mom’s body and body language very closely mirrors mine, and I think this makes her feel safe and comfortable. Pyrrha’s other family favorites turned out to be my dad (who speaks dog fluently and loves dogs as much as I do), my mom, and my sister’s fiance, Alex (shown in the last photo). Alex is calm and quiet and has been around German shepherds before. I like to believe that Pyrrha sensed this.

Dublin, Pyrrha’s therapy dog

One of the most encouraging parts of our weekend away was Pyrrha’s interaction with Dublin, the neighbor’s chocolate lab mix, who acts as my father’s surrogate dog.

Romping with Dublin
Dublin, Pyrrha’s therapy dog.

I wasn’t sure if they would get along at all. Dublin reacts somewhat negatively to new dogs in her territory, especially new female dogs. Add that with Pyrrha’s anxiety about new dogs, and I suspected they wouldn’t be able to interact at all.

So, this is just one more example of Pyrrha proving me wrong and exceeding my expectations. We let them sniff each other through the fence for a bit, and then we let Pyrrha into Dublin’s yard, off leash. All of us humans stayed outside the fence.

Nice calming signals, girls.

Within a minute, after the preliminary sniffs and some tail-tucking from Pyrrha, the two were romping like old friends. It was so heartwarming.

Romping with Dublin
Play time!
Romping with Dublin
Going for the face!

Pyrrha just fell in LOVE with Dublin. (I also couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the fact that Dublin very closely resembles Camden, in color and build.) They spent most of their weekend together and I think Dublin really helped build Pyrrha’s confidence. She was so happy and relaxed whenever Dublin was nearby.

Romping with Dublin
Pyrrha’s inciting posture. I love this photo. Look at that goofy face.
All tuckered out
All tuckered out.

The farmer’s market

On Saturday morning, we took Dublin and Pyrrha with us to the farmer’s market. It was a fairly busy and overwhelming crowd, but Pyrrha handled it like a champ. Again, I think it helped her so much that Dublin was right next to her and was taking it all in with such calmness and apparent lack of concern.

Pyrrha met lots of dogs that morning and didn’t show any signs of extreme fear. I was so proud! I think holding her leash very loosely has improved these interactions tremendously, not to mention that I’m so much calmer about dog-to-dog interactions now.

We were even ambushed by a stray dog on our way over there. It was a rangy-looking basenji-esque mix without any leash or collar. We attempted to throw a leash around his neck, but he growled at us when we approached. He was very friendly to Dublin and Pyrrha, though. Not sure what will happen to that little guy, but I hope he finds a safe place. He seemed very self-sufficient and confident about town, though.

At the lake with Dublin

On Saturday evening, we took the dogs on a brief hike around the lake. Dublin, true to her retriever heritage, LOVES the water and loves retrieving anything you throw into it. Pyrrha, as we’ve learned, is decently scared of water. But after she watched Dublin diving in, she even waded in herself. She freaked out when she went too far and could no longer stand, but she very eagerly waded. Which I take as progress.

Dad and I with Pyrrha and Dublin at the lake. Photo by Grace Farson.
Pyrrha watches Dublin go for the ball. Photo by Grace Farson.

My sister Grace took great photos from that outing, and I recommend her recap! (I also have a new profile picture for this blog, which Grace took. I think it’s a nice one of both of us.)

We’re headed back to my parent’s in a month, and I think Pyrrha will be eager to come again.

I think I like it here
I think I like it here.

Breed biases: When people judge your dog

Click for source.

So, I don’t even have a dog yet, but I’ve already felt judgment from people about him or her. Crazy, right? When people ask what kind of dog I want, and when I answer that we’re planning on adopting a German shepherd, I always brace myself for this frequent reaction: “Ew, really? Why? They’re so MEAN!” It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens enough to be noticeable.

I also bridle when people express astonishment that I work with and deeply enjoy the company of pit bulls and pit mixes at the SPCA. “But they’re so vicious! I could never be around one of those.” This usually launches me into a 10-minute speech about how pits are unfairly judged and how they are some of the most cuddly, affectionate, and sweet dogs that I ever play with at the shelter.

I try not to get too riled up about it, because the fact is that people have breed biases. I have them, too (although not for the same reasons that people judge GSDs and pits; more in the, I could never live with one myself way). I also understand where some of these breed stereotypes originated. Both German shepherds and pit bulls have been misused by humans for terrible, terrible things in the past (see: Nazis in the Holocaust, Southern police forces during the Civil Rights Movement, dog baiting, and dog fighting, just to name a few). I understand where these negative reactions come from, but they are still dismaying.

It makes me want to try all the harder to raise an upstanding, well-trained, and gentle ambassador for a breed–for whatever breed we end up with. This is notably easier to do if you have a breed like a golden retriever, who are universally loved and lovable in return. But I think there really is something to be said for generous, sweet, and intelligently raised German shepherds, dobermans, rottweilers, pit bulls, chihuahuas, and terriers. They change people’s minds and break down their judgments faster than anything else.

Do you have a dog whose breed or breed mix is often unfairly judged? How do you handle it graciously?

Pup links!

Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their poodle. Source: LIFE magazine.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Shivapuri National Park Trekking. My crazy and adventurous little sister traveled around the world for six months, mainly in Nepal and India. While in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, she hiked in Shivapuri National Park. These are some of her photos. I include her post here because she said that she was followed for hours up the hike by the sweet village dog featured here. I love it, because it strikes me as a simple and beautiful testimony of the undying magnetism between dogs and people: We just want to be together. (Como Say What?)

Too compassionate? A young farmer reflects on being judged for leaving her dogs in the car for just a few minutes. The attached Portlandia sketch (“Whose dog is this?”) is totally hilarious, too. What do you think about this? Is it possible to be “too compassionate”? (Cold Antler Farm)

Moleskine Passions Dog Journal. My brother-in-law gave me this journal for Christmas and I, of course, am totally excited to get to use it! (Dog Milk)

Icons & Dogs: Marilyn Monroe. A collage of photos of Monroe with a variety of dogs. I just watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for the first time this weekend, so this post piqued my interest. (Miles to Style)

Lobster Dog Biscuits. These are totally cute. And made from beets! (Classic Hound)

My Favorite Leash. A post about the biologist’s favorite leash, a multi-use convertible leash with two snap ends. Looks cool. Does anyone use one of these? (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

The 12 Most Adorable Presidential Dogs in U.S. History. Do you agree with this list? Fala is pretty precious. (Best Week Ever)

Fact: Dogs Are 100% Ready for Adventure. A funny–and, I think, true–statement about the gung-ho nature of dogs. (Dogblog)

Staring Contest. This Great Pyr is having none of it. (Animals Being Di*ks)

Review: Dog Is My Co-Pilot

Dog Is My Co-Pilot.

As I’ve said before, I’m not one who likes to read sappy stories about dogs. This is why I don’t watch dog movies. The dogs are always exceedingly and supernaturally noble and then they always get killed in the end. So over that.

I like stories about real life–which is why this collection of essays about living with dogs was perfect for me. Dog Is My Co-Pilot is a curated series of memoir-like writings by respected authors, pulled together by the editors of The Bark magazine.

Many of the stories were very funny. Many of the stories were very sad. Almost all of them (with a few exceptions, namely Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ story and Jon Katz’s and the super-dramatic New Age guy) were great. The essays successfully avoided the sappiness that so often permeates dog-human narratives.

Some of my favorites: I loved the essays by the wonderful poets Maxine Kumin and Mark Doty. My husband is a poet and has always encouraged me to read more poetry. You can imagine my delight when I learned that such well-respected poets like Kumin and Doty were also avid dog lovers. Kumin’s essay “Mutts” is a sweet and reflective essay on the dogs that have passed in and out of her life, particularly on her New England farm. “Accident,” by Doty, is a heartbreaking story about loss and grief, connected to both his dog and his partner.

Another essay that was very moving to me was “Sit. Stay. Heal.” by Lee Forgotson, written in the aftermath of 9/11. Forgotson was living in New York at the time, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, and wrote this essay describing her fear and depression in the months following the terrorist attacks. She was holed up alone in her apartment with her dog, waiting for her husband, a broadcast news anchor, to come home. The essay ends with this heart-rending moment: Forgotson, her husband, and their dog go out to eat. The dog is tied to a table and wanders off slightly to sniff a young man at a nearby table. When Forgotson looks back in a moment, the man is on his knees with his arms around her dog, weeping. It’s a touching and beautiful story of that gift animals can give us that no people can.

Regardless of your thoughts on over-emotionality, this is a collection of essays that is sure to make you feel the whole range of emotions that we feel with dogs: Joy, elation, frustration, rage, sympathy, grace, and redemption. Just to name a few. I recommend this collection very highly and I’m thankful I was able to find a copy myself.

Pup links!

An Aussie and his castle. Source: blacksheepcardigans.com

A lot of great dog-related links from around the Web this week!

Dogs of Darjeeling. This is the best pup link I’ve seen yet: My sister’s amazing and beautiful photographs of the dogs she saw while she was living in and around Darjeeling, India. So striking! The photos make me remember that, regardless of where in the world you are, dogs are still dogs. It’s perhaps a silly thing to think, but I an enamored with this collection of her photography. Check it out. (Como Say What?)

Why You’re NOT Doing a Good Deed When You “Rescue” that Pet Store Puppy. This is an article I wish so many people would read. It’s such an ethically murky situation, I know, but this is a perspective that needs to be amplified. (Dogster)

Why Dog Women Get More Respect than Cat Ladies. An interesting article on Slate this week about why it’s easier to be taken seriously if you’re a crazy dog lady instead of a crazy cat lady. Not fair, of course, but a curious cultural phenomenon, perhaps. (Slate)

New York Times Goes Dog-Crazy. A brief look at the dog-centric memoirs that are cropping up in the pages of the Times. (Daily Intel)

How Much Money Should I Spend on My Dog’s Vet Care? And how much is too much? A well-expressed opinion from Lindsey Stordahl about how we navigate the difficult decisions between veterinary care, finances, and our dogs. (That Mutt)

26 Reasons Why Owning a Puppy Is the Same as Raising a Toddler. A funny list, but it certainly emphasizes what a serious commitment we undertake when we bring a puppy into our lives. (A Peek Inside the Fishbowl)

Diary by Kingsley: I Made a Video. One of the blogosphere’s most famous bulldogs, Kingsley, has a video playing with his new sister, human baby Eleanor. (Rockstar Diaries)

Hello, I Feel Like I Know You. Sweet and colorful portraits of dogs and their humans by artist Paule Trudel Bellmare. (Under the Blanket)

Don’t Like Your New Dog’s Name? Karen London gives some practical tips on changing your adopted dog’s name. I feel pretty sure that I will want to rename our future dog, and so this is a helpful thing to think about. What about you? Did you change your dog’s name? (The Bark)

Inspiring Photos of Pets with Disabilities. A charming collection of portraits of dogs with disabilities. There is joy and life in their eyes. (Flavorwire)

Review: Bones Would Rain from the Sky

Bones Would Rain from the Sky, by Suzanne Clothier

Suzanne Clothier is a dog trainer, but Bones Would Rain from the Sky is not a dog-training manual. Rather, this book is Clothier’s lovely and heartfelt guide about how to have a more intimate relationship with your dog.

The book’s title and premise of “deepening our relationships with dogs” sounds hokey, but Clothier does provide some very practical and hands-on advice about communicating and living with canines. Her stories are insightful and her calm, holistic approach to training is refreshing to read. She doesn’t get hung up on doing the exact right thing; she doesn’t seem to fret about all of the things we might be missing. Instead, the constant mantra of this book is to slow down, listen, and try to understand your dog a little bit better.

I was most struck my Clothier’s gentle and extremely humble tone. I’ve found that dog trainers, like most self-proclaimed “experts,” almost never admit to making mistakes. So many dog trainers would never share their errors with you–or even admit that they were capable of making mistakes (cough, cough, Cesar Millan). It’s easy to think that these great dog trainers don’t ever mess up. Clothier is quick to point out that this is not the case. She graciously shares the times she lost her temper with foster dogs or made a hasty decision based on incorrect information. Rather than diminishing her credibility as a trainer, these disclosures strengthened my trust in Clothier as a wise dog parent.

Overall, I really enjoyed this thorough and philosophical approach to human-canine relationships. I would recommend this book to people who were already solid in their knowledge of positive training techniques and didn’t really need a step-by-step training manual. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the more knowledgeable dog parent’s repertoire of canine reading.

Clothier is a graceful and wise trainer and caretaker and her dogs are very lucky animals. I hope that I will be able to eventually exude the same peace and confidence with my future dogs.