Hike in Pen Park, in which I almost have a heart attack

Afternoon at Pen Park
Pen Park trails.

I was cooped up all weekend finishing calligraphy projects, so I was desperate to get outside. I could tell Pyrrha was antsy, too. On Saturday, the three of us took a little excursion to the huge, beautiful park in town, Pen Park, which runs along the river and has miles of wooded trails.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Come back and play!

The only dog we saw all afternoon was a sweet little German shepherd puppy. Interestingly enough, she was even more shy about Pyrrha than Pyrrha was about her. Pyrrha went right up to her for a sniff, and the puppy hid behind her human’s legs. We moved away, but as you can see from the photo above, Pyrrha wasn’t quite ready to leave that interaction. I’ll consider that minor progress in the dog-fear department, at least on Pyr’s end. (*Side note: It did make me think, however, about how many poorly bred German shepherds there are and how many are prone to fear, just like our backyard-bred girl. I have met so many fearful shepherds, more than almost any other breed. It’s also interesting to think about the relationship between fear and the perceived inherent aggression of shepherds. Just some tangential wondering.)

Afternoon at Pen Park
Hurry up, humans.

Half an hour later, a trio of white-tailed deer came crashing through the trail in front of us. This was VERY exciting to Pyrrha, although I don’t think she could decide whether to be afraid or to start the chase. She did “track” them for a good while afterward, following their path very closely, nose to the ground for a long ways.

Aside from the deer, the trail was very empty for a Saturday. So, I decided to make a big mistake.

“You want to try her off-leash?” I asked Guion. “She did so well with me a few weeks ago. I think she’d be great.” He agreed and off the leash came.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Off leash!
Afternoon at Pen Park
This was a good idea for about 30 seconds.

Yeah. That was a good idea for about 30 seconds. Turns out I vastly overestimated little Pyrrha’s recall abilities. About a minute after that photo was taken above, she took off after the scent of something in the woods.

At first, I thought, “Ah, she’ll loop back around to us once she sees that we’re moving.” So, we walked a little ways, and I could still see her crashing through the woods. But she didn’t loop back.

My heart started pounding. I started yelling her name. Nothing. I could still see her, but she was running in wide circles through the woods, getting deeper and deeper in. Then I really started to panic. Guion and I both broke into the brush, getting our faces full of spider webs, crying out her name. She was still in sight of us, and would look at us occasionally, and then start looping around us, just having a great time.

At one moment, she broke away even further and I couldn’t see her anymore. Shit, shit, shit, shit, we just lost our dog. Oh, my gosh, we just lost our dog. This was the mantra running through my brain.

Thankfully, Guion was faster than I was and when she came around for another loop, he was right there in front of her. And she ran right up to him, her eyes wide, and panting. This was unusual in itself, because she doesn’t normally come to Guion. We both thought she looked a little frightened herself, as if she wasn’t sure how to get back to us or what to do in the thick woods.

Back on the leash she went. I nearly cried from relief. I felt really guilty the rest of the afternoon, for being so foolishly overconfident. But I guess that’s what having your first dog is for, right? Making lots of mistakes and then learning from them.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Back on the leash.

I’m just really, really thankful that this mistake had a happy ending. We went home, all very tired, and drank lots of water. Now, we’ll be working on actually teaching her recall, instead of assuming that she just gets it. No more off-leash time for you, Pyr. Not for a while anyway.

Make me feel a little better. Have you ever made a mistake like this, thinking your dog could do something that he or she really couldn’t? Hope it has a happy ending, too!

Off-leash encounters and a long, hot hike

Heat stroke?
Post-hike heat exhaustion.

Sunday morning, I was determined to take a hike with Pyrrha–even though the temperature had already reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when we left the house at 9:45 a.m.

There’s a long, paved trail that winds along the river, somewhat near our house. I had waited to take Pyrrha on this trail, since I knew there were several off-leash portions of the trail and I didn’t want to risk any unfortunate, stressful encounters. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling brave on Sunday and decided to take her with me.

She walked happily by my side, on leash, for the first hour or so. We saw a few other dogs on the trail, but they were either too busy swimming in the river or off in the brush to pay us much attention. Pyrrha seemed fine with this. She sniffed everything and vigorously followed every squirrel or song bird. I love being with her in the woods, near the river; dogs always seem happiest to me when they’re deep in nature, away from houses and cars and city noises.

Meeting dogs off-leash

We turned a bend and suddenly a small, blond mutt came springing out of the woods. Pyrrha and I were both a little startled. The dog looked at us for a second, but then heard her owner’s voice and dashed back into the woods. We moved on ahead of them, but Pyrrha was very distracted, as the mutt and her canine companion were following behind us off-leash.

Finally, we came to a point where the off-leash dogs were about to overtake us. The two women called out and asked if Pyrrha would like to greet them. I explained that Pyrrha was shy around other dogs and could be nervous around them, but the woman recommended I drop my leash. I did–and marvel of marvels, Pyrrha acted like a confident, normal dog! She dashed up to the little mutt, named Lucy, and was all happy wags. The two started to even chase each other around in happy circles. I was delighted.

Pyrrha then tried to run up to meet Ramona, the other dog, but Ramona was very shy and tried to run from Pyrrha, tail between her legs. This behavior started to make Pyrrha mirror her, and soon, both dogs were in an anxious, agitated state, so we pulled them away. That mirroring behavior was interesting and unexpected to me.

Going off-leash herself

After we parted ways with Ramona and Lucy, I decided to tentatively try Pyrrha off-leash for the first time. There were a few reasons why I felt like this could be a good time to try her off-leash:

  1. The trail was comparatively quiet, with few other dogs, cyclists, and runners.
  2. It was a legal space in which to go off-leash.
  3. Pyrrha was very tired and hot and not really in the state of mind to be running off.
  4. I knew that she liked to stick with me, even when she was on-lead.

To start, I let her drag the leash for a while. This seemed to annoy her considerably, but she put up with it. I tested her recall by allowing her to fall behind me and then calling her to catch up. To my delight, she responded very quickly and happily. After testing this out for a few minutes, I unhooked her leash and let her go.

I was very vigilant the whole time she was off-leash, scanning the trail for any upcoming traffic, other dogs, animals in the woods, etc., but Pyrrha was great. She was far more verbally responsive than I thought she was. When a cyclist zoomed past us, I was able to call her back to my side very quickly.

Do you walk your dog off-leash? How have you improved your dog’s recall?