Hiking in Shenandoah with dogs

We enjoyed GORGEOUS weather this weekend (bright, sunny, with low humidity), so we finally took advantage of all of the beautiful mountain scenery around here and went hiking in Shenandoah National Park with our friends James and Sara and their sweet Great Pyrenees mix, Silas.

Hiking at Shenandoah
James, Sara, and Silas.

Silas was the first dog Pyrrha met after we adopted her, and she was terrified of him during that initial meeting. So it’s encouraging to see her interact with him now (e.g., zero fear and lots of invitations to play). Silas is a stoic 5-year-old, so he was less interested in play time, but they licked muzzles a few times and were generally very companionable on the day hike.

Hiking at Shenandoah
Excited to be on the trail!
Hiking at Shenandoah
In the stream.
Hiking at Shenandoah
Watching Guion scale rocks.

We did a little practice with her retractable leash — which is something I ONLY use very sparingly on solitary walks. Whenever I use it, I am reminded of how very little control you have over the dog. So, we just used it on the hike down, when the trail was empty, and she could practice a little recall with it.

Hiking at Shenandoah
Silas and Pyrrha (on retractable leash).

On the way back, we saw lots of dogs, and so it was a little tricky maneuvering to let them pass, as the trail was very narrow in places. Aside from one barking incident, however, she did very well with the leash reactivity. I think Silas’s calm presence may have helped.

Something I was impressed with: We saw two different pairs of standard dachshunds hiking the trail. Watching these little dudes scale rocks was very impressive! I confess, I kind of had no idea that dachshunds were capable hikers. I didn’t get any photos of them, unfortunately.

Hiking at Shenandoah

We had a lovely day on the trails, and we came home with two very tired pups!

Hiking at Shenandoah

In which Pyrrha has an uneasy “play” date with Silas

Sunday delivered the most beautiful spring weather. We spent the whole day outside with Pyrrha, mowing the lawn, tending to our plants. We ran a brief errand and bumped into our friends James and Sara and their Great Pyrenees mix, Silas. We told them about Pyrrha and said we’d be hanging out all day in the yard if they wanted to come over and bring Silas.

Pyrrha in the freshly mowed lawn
Pyrrha, sitting in the freshly mowed lawn.

At this point, I knew that Pyrrha reacted fearfully toward other dogs on lead, but I’d heard from her foster that she was great with them in open spaces. I figured that this would be a good interaction, especially knowing that Silas was super-calm and steady. Enter my first dog-parenting misjudgment.

We were in the backyard with Pyrrha when James, Sara, and Silas showed up. As soon as she saw Silas, she EXPLODED. Snarling, barking, growling, hackles up, teeth flashing everywhere. Thankfully, James and Sara are as calm as their dog is. I didn’t know what to do, but James encouraged me to lead her to the back of the yard and then let go. He then released an unleashed Silas and I held my breath.

Silas, I love you
Silas, being his wonderful, chill self.

Pyrrha did not lunge at him, which I was afraid of, but just started slinking around him, sniffing him. If he ever faced her, however, she started snarling and growling again. But Silas was SUCH a champ. He was the perfect dog for her, because he refused to respond to any of her bitchiness. He’d just saunter away and let her do her thing.

Dogs, coexisting
The dogs, somewhat coexisting.

After about 10 minutes of Silas studiously ignoring her, she started to calm down and they began to coexist together. They certainly weren’t going to play with one another, but they were happy to be side-by-side and even face-to-face for the rest of the afternoon.

What I Learned: I definitely underestimated how Pyrrha might react to a new, big, strange dog in her new yard. Silas was THE best possible dog to meet her like this, however. I think he may be a critical part of her rehabilitation. And James and Sara were awesome, too; they didn’t take Pyrrha’s behavior personally and knew that she’d get over it. Which she did.

Dogs and James
Silas relaxes; Pyrrha sniffs out James.

I’m listening to your majority opinion now, and I think all of you are right: Pyrrha still just needs more time to calm down and adjust and grow in confidence. There will be plenty of time for doggy play dates. For now, we just need to work on some basic bonding and training. But the afternoon wasn’t nearly as disastrous as it could have been, and I daresay she was almost disappointed to see Silas go at the end of the day. I think Pyrrha and I both learned a lot. So, a thousand thanks to Silas and his wonderful humans; you guys deserve dog socialization medals.

I am going to take it slow with Pyrrha for now and politely decline any future, well-meaning invitations for play dates. However, I feel like the fact that she was able to happily coexist with Silas after some time bodes well for her future. She can get there eventually, but for now, we’re going to start with some more basic bonding work instead of rushing her into the presence of new dogs.

Those of you with shy dogs, how did you gradually introduce them to other dogs? What are some of your recommended techniques?