While in Ireland, we got to visit the spectacular Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
After rounding a bend and looking at the watchtower, we were suddenly approached by this spunky, sprightly little shepherd mix.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Thanks to you all for your advice regarding our goal of switching up sleeping arrangements and gradually giving Eden more freedom in the house.
We’ve made a few domestic changes, and I’m happy to report that things are going well.
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?
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.
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.
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?
(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.)
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?