When the shepherd met the doe

Pen Park visit

This past Saturday, we took Pyrrha back to the lovely, large park for a brief hike in the woods. This time, we brought the long (30-foot) lead, because I was not eager to have a repeat of the recall-failure fiasco. The long lead seemed to work pretty well, and in some senses, it was a nice test to see how much she’d stick with us if we moved on ahead of her. It’s clear that we have an extremely nose-oriented dog, and all of the wonderful smells in the world are often way more interesting than we are. Still, whenever she would catch up with us and come when we called, we’d praise her warmly. (It would have been more effective, I’m sure, if we’d had bits of hot dog on us…)

Pen Park visit

It was a very muggy afternoon, but the majority of the trail we took is heavily shaded and winds along the river, so we had a pleasant excursion. We didn’t encounter any other dogs, to my surprise, and we only saw a few humans in the distance. It would have been a largely uneventful walk, except that on the way back…

Deer!

… Pyrrha found a doe.

She was calmly standing in the clearing, foraging for plants. Both dog and deer FROZE as soon as they made eye contact.

And they stayed like this for what must have been three full minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it felt like an eternity, watching these two animals, completely frozen, locking eyes with one another, barely breathing. Guion and I were even getting a little bored. “OK, which one of you is going to make a move??”

Squaring off with a deer

It was the doe. She flicked her ear, and then took off. And so did Pyrrha. And then so did Guion. This was one instance where that 30-foot lead was a very good idea. Interestingly, Pyrrha chose to run along the trail, parallel with the deer, possibly to keep a clearer eye on her and possibly because she herself was a little frightened. The deer took off up the hill and we had to restrain Pyrrha. She started to whine and dart around us in circles, clearly ready to resume the hunt.

Post-deer chase

As Guion walked back to me, his eyes were wide and bright. “Did you see that?” He asked. “She acted like a DOG!” I laughed. Indeed, she did. It’s always something that we celebrate around here.

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?

Pyrrha’s first hike and introduction to the river

Last Saturday was lovely and warm and cloudless, and so we reasoned it was high time to get out and take Pyrrha on her first mini-hike. It’s exciting to do things like this with her, to realize that this is the first time Pyrrha has ever been on a hike with people; this is the first time she has ever seen a river, or golf carts rumbling past, or a little boy and his father mowing back part of the trail. Even though she is a year old, everything is still so new to her.

Rivanna Trail hike
Eager girl!

We set out on a trail system that loops around our city. It winds around the big river in town and it’s fairly quiet and easily accessible from our new house. The trail was very overgrown in places, but it was a beautiful day to be outside. (It was also a great test of how well Pyrrha’s Frontline worked, with all that brush. Miraculously, she didn’t pick up a single tick! Although she was very muddy and sprinkled with burrs…)

Rivanna Trail hike
Rivanna River.

Pyrrha’s big test of the day was “fording” the river. The trail crossed over the high, muddy river and we all had to cross it to continue.

Rivanna Trail hike
Cautiously sniffing out the river.

She sniffed the water nervously at first, but Guion took her lead and stepped out onto a rock. She followed him willingly.

Rivanna Trail hike
In the water!
Rivanna Trail hike
Maybe this isn’t so bad after all…

When she slipped off a rock and into the deep part of the river, you could see her eyes widen with fear–as her whole body, minus her head, was submerged–but she figured it out quickly and didn’t seem too traumatized. She hopped up on a big rock and shook herself off. When we turned around and headed back home, she walked into the river on her own accord and even seemed to enjoy it a bit. She is going to be a “real” dog yet!

Rivanna Trail hike
I think I like it out here.
Rivanna Trail hike
Pyrrha and me.
Rivanna Trail hike
Happy and tired.

We had such a good afternoon with her and I was so proud of her. The trail itself got a bit confusing, due to construction and its surprising intersection with a pristine golf course, so we didn’t make it out to the big park I wanted to visit, but at least we know how the trail goes now. And now we know that Pyrrha can handle a lot more than I think she can. Can’t wait to take another excursion with her!