Playing fetch at the Cliffs of Moher

While in Ireland, we got to visit the spectacular Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

Cliffs of Moher

After rounding a bend and looking at the watchtower, we were suddenly approached by this spunky, sprightly little shepherd mix.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

She came running up to us eagerly and had a fragment of a tennis ball in her mouth. We couldn’t resist playing with her for a few minutes.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

I’m not sure who her person was; I didn’t see anyone around who seemed to be claiming her. She had a collar on, however, so she clearly belonged somewhere.

Cliffs of Moher

But she made us laugh and reminded us so much of Eden. Because this is exactly what Eden would be doing if she were a free-range Irish dog: Stalking around a busy tourist spot, hoping that someone, anyone, would stop to play with her.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

I love that personality trait so much in dogs: the endless playfulness and energy. Even if it can drive you crazy sometimes, it is so charming to be near an animal who is so full of drive and joy.

Compassion for animals

More couch snuggles. #draco #fosterfun

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

(Photos from September 2013 of my husband and our foster pup Draco, who came from an abusive/hoarding situation in West Virginia. He was such a cuddler! Dogs’ capacity for forgiveness of human beings never fails to astonish and humble me.)

Someone thinks he's a lap dog. #draco #gsd

And happy 29th birthday to my husband, whose compassion for animals qualifies him as a good man, and who very patiently puts up with my dog craziness.

Working on their relationship

The progress of a fearful dog can often seem imperceptible. For me, one of the primary ways I am able to detect progress with Pyrrha’s myriad fears is by hearing guests say, “Wow, Pyrrha seems so much calmer/more interested in me/less anxious.” Without this external confirmation, I am often incapable of noticing her improvements on my own.

Guion and P

She has never been a fan of Guion. In many ways, she still doesn’t totally trust him. She brings a lot of baggage to the table, but I also think his personality is just one that she’ll never totally warm up to. He is expressive, animated, and loud, many of the traits that Pyrrha abhors in people, especially if they happen to be male. Pyrrha has warmed up to a few men in a noticeable way (my father and my brother-in-law), but their personality types are quieter and they seem to engage with her in a way that she wants.

Guion and P

However, since adding Eden to the household, we’ve both noticed a small shift in Pyrrha’s comfort level with Guion. She boldly begs from him whenever he is eating — a behavior that our trainer said to allow, because Pyrrha is expressing bravery by approaching Guion — and lately, she’s even been seeking attention from him.

Guion and P

He told me that the other day, when I wasn’t home, she came up to greet him, sniff him over, and lean on him for pets. This sounds like such a small, insignificant thing, but in the Pyrrha/Guion relationship complex, it’s huge! It’s doubly so because I wasn’t home; my presence is usually a prerequisite for any voluntary interaction between them.

Inter-species communication #germanshepherd #doglife

After two years together, they are still working on their relationship, but I am proud of them both. And always happy to observe progress, however slight.

If you have a spouse/partner, do your dogs interact differently with the two of you? In what ways?

Sleeping arrangements update

Thanks to you all for your advice regarding our goal of switching up sleeping arrangements and gradually giving Eden more freedom in the house.

Sunday

We’ve made a few domestic changes, and I’m happy to report that things are going well.

Specifically:

  • We’ve moved the dogs’ crates into our (finished, walk-out) basement, so that Guion could use the main floor bedroom as studio space. This is also our entertainment/music room, so they like to chill on the couches or in their crates when we’re watching Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones, The Wire, etc. (So many shows!) They’ve adjusted to this transition smoothly.
  • We’re crating them at night, after a few experiments with leaving them out at night time. We’ve discovered that both dogs like to wake up at 4:45 a.m., regardless of the day, and burst into our room and jump on our faces. This is not our favorite thing. So, for now, crate time for bed time. They seem fine with this arrangement, and there is no crying or whimpering about it. And we get to sleep in at least until 6…
  • Our weekday arrangement is now: Both dogs crated from 7:45 a.m. until noon > Hour of backyard play when one of us comes home for lunch > Both dogs get free reign of the main floor from 1 to 5 p.m. We close all the doors and put up all tempting items, and the dogs have freedom to move around in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. To our delight, they’ve been GREAT at this arrangement. Eden hasn’t torn up a single thing; there have been no accidents; and, specifically, Pyrrha is lessening her reactive freak-outs when I come home and they’re loose in the house.

We are still proceeding with caution, but I’m very pleased with how well this new set-up has been going. It also makes me happy to know that they don’t have to be crated all day on weekdays and can enjoy that modicum of independence to sleep where they please and move about freely. Eventually, I think we’ll work up to a place in which both dogs won’t use the crates at all during weekdays. For now, though, this arrangement has been going smoothly. I’m happy, and I think the dogs are happy!

What’s your domestic, weekday schedule with the dogs? What kind of privileges do they have when you’re not home?

A leash reactivity epiphany

So. I feel like a terrible dog guardian. But I also feel kind of hopeful about this discovery, even though it rankles the feminist in me.

Context: Kari recently got to meet Ian Dunbar (jealous! But thanks for the tip that he’ll be in Fredericksburg in May!), and he apparently said that men are better at walking reactive dogs than women, because men just “don’t give a shit” about what people think of them. Reading this made me feel some womanly outrage and immediately jump to counterpoints. Men also care what people think of them! Women aren’t the only ones. And surely this is a crass generalization about the sexes.

But on a recent family walk, I wanted to put Dunbar’s theory to the test.

#vscocam queen of all she surveys
Obviously not on a walk, but I don’t have another illustration of Pyr at the moment, so you’ll just have to imagine her, walking, not reacting.

I’m always the one who walks Pyrrha, because she’s so bonded to me, and Guion always walks Eden. As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes get jealous of them, because they get to be the “friendly, normal” pair who gets to walk in front of us and have happy interactions with strangers and/or their dogs.

This time around, I told Guion to walk Pyrrha, and I took Eden. It was a warm, sunny evening, and so there were tons of people out on our walk, with their dogs and children. Trial by fire, husband! I gave him the bait bag and wished him luck.

We passed six or seven dogs on leash. And we walked by the House with the Scary Dogs, where Pyrrha always loses her shit, like gets all paws off the ground with fear and fear-aggressive displays. The Scary Dogs were throwing themselves at the fence toward her.

Guys. Pyrrha had NO REACTION to any of this. Like, none.

She was still a little tense, but she never made eye contact with the dogs (either the leashed ones or the Scary ones), and she was taking treats from Guion the whole time. No barking, no lunging, no growling. Calm, contained walking.

Why did this happen? I’ve been asking myself this question since, and we’ve taken other walks where the same thing happens (Guion walks Pyrrha; no outbursts at all).

My basic theory is that Guion is just a calmer person than I am. I’ve mentioned before that I think my nervousness just amps up Pyrrha’s anxiety on walks. Guion doesn’t worry about anything, ever, and I think Pyrrha was picking up on his projected confidence. I have tried to work on this, and I try to put myself in a calm, confident mindset whenever I take Pyrrha on a walk, but clearly, some of my anxious self is still seeping through.

So, Dunbar’s theory has held true in this case. But my response to Dunbar would be that if men “don’t give a shit,” it’s because they’ve been cultured by our society to believe that “giving a shit” about their dog would come off as fussy, feminine, and silly. It’s NOT because having a penis makes you an inherently better dog walker. Women “give a shit” because culture allows us to be worrisome, apologetic creatures. And, for better or worse, both approaches rub off on our dogs.

At the end of the day, though, all I care about is that Pyrrha isn’t reacting in fear on walks. That is HUGE. Huge, you have no idea. Guion is still going to practice our classical conditioning protocol with her, but for now, he’s Pyrrha’s walker, and I’m Eden’s. It’ll be so interesting to see how this develops, but I have hope — even if it’s tempered by some of my feminist anxiety.

Walk with these 3 crazies. Sweet shades, @jfarkle.
Men! Walking dogs! My dad and Guion.

What do you think about all of this? Are men better at walking reactive dogs than women? If you have a leash-reactive dog, have you ever tested this theory?

Our obedience school graduate

(I feel like “obedience school” is kind of a harsh, traditional word for it, but I’m not sure what the appropriate synonym is. Training class? Whatever.)

Our little obedience school graduate. Still acts like a psycho. #germanshepherd #soproudofguion

Little Edie graduated from her basic obedience class last night!

It was fun taking this class with a different dog; we took it with Pyrrha a few weeks after we got her, and the class was a struggle for poor, shy Pyr. We had to spend the whole class behind a door, as she just couldn’t handle the room full of other dogs. Just getting Pyrrha into a calm mindset to actually train was challenge enough; some weeks, she couldn’t get there, and we’d just focus on helping her relax in the classroom.

Eden, however, has been a different story; she’s gregarious, eager to work, and such a quick learner. She may have been the craziest dog in class, but I of course think she was also the smartest. Ha! It helps that she is extremely food motivated, and we always brought her to class without having had dinner. In class, she’s willing to do anything — I’ll do back-flips! Speak Portuguese! Solve a differential equation! — to get that treat.

She’s learned a number of commands in class, but we need to be better about generalizing those behaviors and practicing them at home. Training with a partner makes this easier; I can go work with Pyrrha, and Guion can work with Eden in a different room. Training solo has been a bit harder, because the exiled dog always seems to know what’s up (Someone is getting treats in there, and it’s not me!).

Things we learned in class that I’d like to keep working on:

  • Not jumping on people. She still goes WILD whenever we have guests over, and this has been a hard one to teach. Because even if we instruct people to turn their backs to her and not look at her, they still get mauled. Eden is able to throw out a sit during these greetings, but it’s certainly not her first reaction still. I don’t even need a sit; I’m fine so long as all four paws are on the ground. But we need to take charge of this, because it’s a nuisance.
  • Go to your mat. I think we need another mat in the house, because right now, we’re training this on the same mat, and I know Pyrrha wouldn’t like sharing it with Edie.
  • Stay. She’s definitely figuring this one out, but we need to practice a whole lot more before this is rock-solid.
  • Leave it. Eden has shown incredible self-control with this command in class, but it’s a harder thing to practice at home or on walks, so we need to be more vigilant about that.
  • Bravo! Teaching her to offer a bow. Just a cute trick, and I think she could learn it. Luring is most useful with this command, but I know capturing is preferable, so I need to remember to have treats on hand when they get let out of their crates to do their morning stretches.

Being in a class is always so motivating to me. I wish we had the funds to take them year-round. Eden really thrives in a classroom environment, so I think we’d like to take another class with her. Intermediate obedience or agility could be really fun with her. I don’t think she’ll ever be an agility star (she doesn’t have that border collie quickness), but I think she’d really enjoy it.

Have you taken your dogs to obedience classes? How did they go?

Weekend away: Little dogs in Ohio, our dogs at home

We had a weekend with my family in snowy Ohio, and the girls were able to stay at our house with our WONDERFUL, saintly friends and their pup, Fiona, who you probably remember seeing in play-date pics.

While I very much missed our little monsters (more than I thought I would, ha! Absence makes the heart grow fonder… and forget the annoying puppy mischief-making), we enjoyed the company of Sadie, my aunt and uncle’s “corgeranian” (corgi + pomeranian).

Fuzzy bullet. Sadie! #familytrip #corgeranian
Sadie! Fuzzy bullet.

Sadie is one of the happiest dogs ever. She may not be the brightest dog I’ve ever met, but this is also probably why she is the cheeriest. She doesn’t worry about anything! Sadie just wants to skip and hop and sleep on the sofa. Here she is comforting Guion, while he was battling a migraine:

Sadie comforts Guion during his morning headache. #ohio #familytrip

Dog whispering. #familytrip
With my brother-in-law, the dog whisperer.

I wish I had video of unbelievably adorable habit of hopping and flipping in the air when she’s excited (which is often). She was VERY excited to meet her cousin, a 3-month-old toy poodle named Bailey.

It's been a weekend of adorable little dogs. #poodlepuppy #familytrip
Bailey.

They played very well together, and Sadie was very gentle with him. Their play session showcased these two stuffed-animal-looking pups acting like proper dogs: play-bowing and chasing and grinning at each other.

Meanwhile, back home, our girls had a great time with Fiona in the house. Sallie was so sweet to send me photos throughout the weekend of their time together:

Eden and Fiona
Fiona and Eden share a bowl of water.

Fiona and Eden are, as you can see, BFFs, and they really get on well together. Pyrrha resorted to her typical moping behavior (in my absence), but she didn’t seem too fearful. I think the presence of the other dogs (and the fact that she knows Chris and Sallie well) was comforting to her. SO inexpressibly thankful for friends like these, who will watch our dogs for us when we can’t!

Fiona and Edie
Love the coordinating reds of their coats.
Sallie with the girls
Sallie with all three girls in our living room.

How was your weekend? Ready for SPRING??

Sunday walk by the river: Reactive vs. confident

We had lovely, unseasonably warm weather this past weekend, which was very welcome. The dogs got a ton of exercise, and they were very calm and content. They seem to enjoy each other’s company more when they get lots of exercise; both of them were getting along beautifully, initiating play sessions appropriately, with no disagreements to be had.

Babies on front porch after #dailywalk. #germanshepherds

On Sunday, we took them on a long walk by the river near our house. As I’ve mentioned before, on the busy stretches of the trail, our strategy is to have Guion walk Eden in front, and I walk Pyrrha behind, working on our classical conditioning protocol the whole time. Because of this, I get to enjoy the walks less, because I’m constantly on high alert for her two triggers (other dogs and small children), but I think it’s been a good strategy.

River walk
Eden and Guion, trailblazing.

There were LOTS of dogs out on Sunday, as I expected, and Pyrrha did pretty well, all things considered. She only had one outburst, when two women with four dogs came close to us and let all the dogs stop and stare at Pyrrha, and I had nowhere to turn (except into the river!). (The dogs were friendly, but Pyrrha just can’t handle the proximity.)

I’ve been taking the clicker with me when I’m working with her on walks, and I think this has been helpful in signaling to people that I don’t want them and their dog to approach us. I hear people say, “Oh, she’s working with that dog,” and then they keep moving. Sometimes, when we stop to let dogs pass, some people seem to assume that we’re waiting for them and their dog to come greet us. The clicker seems to be helpful in communicating that this is not the case, and that we are training here.

River walk

Pyrrha’s anxiety lessened as the walk went on, too, which I was glad to note. Even though we kept passing dogs, near the end of our long walk, she was far more relaxed about them passing and was accepting treats a lot more gently and readily.

River walk

Eden continues to be unfazed by everything! She met kids, a man in a wheelchair, other dogs, and other people on the walk. I’m thankful for the abundance of good experiences she’s had so far, as they continue to increase her confidence and her already firmly held belief that the world is FUN and AWESOME and EXCITING.

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of these two, Guion and Eden, who get to lead the way and have happy interactions with people and dogs. I get stuck behind with Pyrrha, trying desperately to keep her from reacting. And if she does react in fear, she just looks like “another aggressive German shepherd.” Sometimes I want to wear a signboard on walks that says, in big letters, “SHE’S JUST SCARED; SHE ISN’T A KILLER.”

The confident, stable family members at the river. #rivannatrail #ediebaby

I try to look on the bright side. At least she’s not reactive to adults or teenagers. Pyrrha loves being outside and taking walks. And she actually loves other dogs — just not when everyone is leashed. And at least we have one shepherd who can be our breed ambassador, the friendly, goofy baby who loves everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to stay encouraged, when Pyrrha’s progress seems so microscopic. But I just have to keep believing that she is getting better. And take a deep breath. And just enjoy walking the dog.

Eden at school: Week two

Guion came with me this week for Eden’s second time in obedience class. This week, we went over the distinctions between capturing, luring, and shaping, and largely practiced teaching her how to go to her mat/a place in class.

(And here are some bad photos of us working with her in class…)

Eden in class | Doggerel

She didn’t show any fear about being in class this time, but she was VERY excited that there were other dogs in the room. We set her up in a corridor behind an ex-pen with sheets over it, to block most of her view. She would still get distracted from time to time, but overall, I was proud of how she was able to maintain focus on us, particularly considering her adolescent stage. (The fact that she was desperately hungry also helped! Train on an empty stomach, people!)

I always love this second week of class, because you get to discover what kind of dogs everyone has (since dogs aren’t brought to the first session). There was Willow, a beautiful, smart little spaniel mix*; Tessa, a giant all-black mix, who really just looked like a very tall, leggy flat-coated retriever; a one-eyed all-white American bulldog; a coonhound in a Thundershirt; a wire-haired fox terrier; and an extremely vocal Wheaten/Great Pyrenees mix (crazy looking! But cool) who had a hard time calming down.

(*I felt especially charmed by Willow. She was only 20 lbs., and seemed so darling and responsive. Part of me was all, “OMG. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tiny dog??” Don’t tell the shepherds. Sometimes I have those thoughts.)

Eden in class | Doggerel
Guion loves working with Edie.

Eden also served as the demo dog for teaching a dog not to jump on people (one of her favorite hobbies whenever any human enters a room). The first dog that Erin, the instructor, chose for this exercise showed no inclinations to jump on her. I raised my hand. “We have a jumper!” I said. And Eden didn’t disappoint. But she also figured out the game pretty quickly, and within a few trials, she was sitting politely, even when Erin beckoned Eden to jump on her.

Eden in class | Doggerel
I’m trying to work with her on loose-leash walking in a tiny space. Not successful.

We have lots to practice this week for homework, but Eden loves interacting with us (and truthfully, the food) and learning new things, so she’s a joy to work with. The tricky part now has just been keeping Pyrrha sufficiently distracted in the yard or in another room. It can be hard to work with Eden without Pyrrha getting agitated/upset that she can’t play the training games too.

Multi-dog people: What are some of your favorite tactics for training one dog when you have other dogs in the house? How do you keep the other dogs from getting antsy?