On Sunday, we took the pups on a much-needed hike at a nearby park. We found trails in the mountains that took us about an hour and a half to complete, which was perfect, as we needed to get back to town in relatively short order.
The best part, though, was that the trail was completely empty, so we got to practice some much-needed off-leash recall.
We had both girls on long drag leads, and we were outfitted with bits of cooked, real turkey, which proved to be a very strong reinforcer.
I have to say, I was so impressed with our girls! Living in the city, they are very rarely off-leash, so this is not a behavior that we often get to practice. But they did so well. They stuck to the trail and came back to us every time we called.
Pyrrha’s recall (to me) is pretty foolproof. During the latter part of the hike, she just walked right alongside me. We still need to work on her coming to Guion (as you can see from the first picture of the dogs in this post, she is still nervous about interacting with Guion), so we practiced with him being the only one to reward her when she came back to us.
Eden still needs to work on the actual coming to us, but she always stopped to wait for us to catch up during the whole hike — and she always stopped to reorient and turn to us when we called her. It was very cute, and it put us both at ease, as she never allowed herself to get out of sight. We worked on only rewarding her when she came right up to us (instead of rewarding her as we walked closer to her), and she seemed to catch on to this gambit rather quickly.
I love using long drag leads to practice this behavior, because you still have the reassurance of control if you need it, and 30-foot leads mean that they can never really get too far away from your reach. The only trick is not stepping on the lines while you hike!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a lovely day on the trails, and we came home with two very tired pups!
Hope you all have relaxing weekends ahead! My sister and brother-in-law are coming to stay, and we are planning on taking a day hike somewhere in Shenandoah National Park. Pyrrha will be excited, once she figures out what’s going on.
This past weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting our first canine house-guests: Scout and Sadie. Scout and Sadie belong to my longtime friend, Kathryn, and her new husband, Jeff. They all came up to visit us for a beautiful, autumn-like weekend in the mountains.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous about how Pyrrha would handle living in our tiny house with two unfamiliar, big dogs. The verdict? She LOVED it. I think Pyrrha really wants a canine sibling.
Pyrrha was particularly taken with Scout, a big, sweet lab/vizsla mix. Their temperaments seemed well suited to each other and they spent most of the weekend kissing each other’s faces and rough-housing, aka generally falling in love.
Sadie, the gregarious boxer/shepherd mix, was kind of a different story, but she and Pyrrha eventually coexisted. Sadie is a very active, vigilant little lady, and she did not take kindly to Pyrrha romping with her brother. Whenever Pyrrha would initiate play with Scout, Sadie would intervene and snarl and snap at Pyrrha. This behavior gradually diminished, as Sadie is also very distracted by light, shadows, butterflies, and just about any other small movement…
On Sunday morning, we took the new dog pack on a beautiful hike to a mountain orchard nearby. All of the dogs were champs, even if they were a little too eager about the hike (dragging us up and down the mountain).
They all did very well when greeted by lots of different people, dogs, and even children. Pyrrha is anxious around small children, but I think the presence of Scout and Sadie was very calming to her, and she accepted the attention of numerous little kids without complaint or displays of anxiety. (This particularly was exciting to me, as Pyrrha’s anxiety around little kids is her most concerning behavior to me right now.)
All in all, we had a fun, raucous weekend with the dogs. It was so encouraging to see Pyrrha exist so peacefully with other dogs. She seemed just delighted to have them around, too. After they left and we came back inside, she asked to go outside and started patrolling the perimeter of the yard, looking for Scout and Sadie. I’m surely reading too much into it, but I think she was a little mopey when she realized they were gone. We will have to have them over again soon! Or just get Pyrrha a furry brother…
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…)
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…
… 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??”
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.
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.
This past weekend, Pyrrha and I took our first road trip together, to visit my parents, see my siblings, and help my sister with her wedding plans. It was a five-hour drive and Pyrrha handled it like a champ. She slept for the majority of the trip in the back of our little hatchback (which is now coated in wall-to-wall fur). I was very proud, and knowing she was peacefully dozing made me a lot less anxious.
Here are a few recaps of what Pyrrha did over the weekend:
Meeting the family
Pyrrha got to meet lots of family members this weekend, and she did great with everyone. In total, she met my sisters, my sister’s fiance, my grandparents, my aunt, uncle, cousin, the neighbors and the neighbor’s two young girls. Whew!
A few observations: She still warms up to women much faster than she does to men, but after she’d met everyone, she seemed to treat the family with an equal mix of tolerance and occasional anxiety. She became especially fond of my mom. My guess here is that my mom’s body and body language very closely mirrors mine, and I think this makes her feel safe and comfortable. Pyrrha’s other family favorites turned out to be my dad (who speaks dog fluently and loves dogs as much as I do), my mom, and my sister’s fiance, Alex (shown in the last photo). Alex is calm and quiet and has been around German shepherds before. I like to believe that Pyrrha sensed this.
Dublin, Pyrrha’s therapy dog
One of the most encouraging parts of our weekend away was Pyrrha’s interaction with Dublin, the neighbor’s chocolate lab mix, who acts as my father’s surrogate dog.
I wasn’t sure if they would get along at all. Dublin reacts somewhat negatively to new dogs in her territory, especially new female dogs. Add that with Pyrrha’s anxiety about new dogs, and I suspected they wouldn’t be able to interact at all.
So, this is just one more example of Pyrrha proving me wrong and exceeding my expectations. We let them sniff each other through the fence for a bit, and then we let Pyrrha into Dublin’s yard, off leash. All of us humans stayed outside the fence.
Within a minute, after the preliminary sniffs and some tail-tucking from Pyrrha, the two were romping like old friends. It was so heartwarming.
Pyrrha just fell in LOVE with Dublin. (I also couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the fact that Dublin very closely resembles Camden, in color and build.) They spent most of their weekend together and I think Dublin really helped build Pyrrha’s confidence. She was so happy and relaxed whenever Dublin was nearby.
The farmer’s market
On Saturday morning, we took Dublin and Pyrrha with us to the farmer’s market. It was a fairly busy and overwhelming crowd, but Pyrrha handled it like a champ. Again, I think it helped her so much that Dublin was right next to her and was taking it all in with such calmness and apparent lack of concern.
Pyrrha met lots of dogs that morning and didn’t show any signs of extreme fear. I was so proud! I think holding her leash very loosely has improved these interactions tremendously, not to mention that I’m so much calmer about dog-to-dog interactions now.
We were even ambushed by a stray dog on our way over there. It was a rangy-looking basenji-esque mix without any leash or collar. We attempted to throw a leash around his neck, but he growled at us when we approached. He was very friendly to Dublin and Pyrrha, though. Not sure what will happen to that little guy, but I hope he finds a safe place. He seemed very self-sufficient and confident about town, though.
At the lake with Dublin
On Saturday evening, we took the dogs on a brief hike around the lake. Dublin, true to her retriever heritage, LOVES the water and loves retrieving anything you throw into it. Pyrrha, as we’ve learned, is decently scared of water. But after she watched Dublin diving in, she even waded in herself. She freaked out when she went too far and could no longer stand, but she very eagerly waded. Which I take as progress.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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:
The trail was comparatively quiet, with few other dogs, cyclists, and runners.
It was a legal space in which to go off-leash.
Pyrrha was very tired and hot and not really in the state of mind to be running off.
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?
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.
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…)
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.
She sniffed the water nervously at first, but Guion took her lead and stepped out onto a rock. She followed him willingly.
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!
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!
12 Simple Rules for Dining Out with Your Dog. Pamela’s great list of tips for those who want to dine out with the pooch. We’ve taken Pyrrha out to eat with us twice now, and she’s done very well, but I think that was purely out of luck. We could certainly use these bits of advice and work on training her in that environment. (Something Wagging This Way Comes)
Ready to eat. Bowdu sings for his supper! This is adorable. Now only if I can get Princess Pyrrha to act with similar enthusiasm at meal-time… (The House of Two Bows)
Sometimes Dogs Aren’t Sad. Karen London points out that we often misinterpret dogs’ body language as indicating that they are “sad,” when in fact, they’re just calm or checking everything out. (The Bark blog)
The Responsibility of Rescues/Shelters. Tena reflects on the duty that rescues have to make sure that dogs are going to homes that are well-suited for them, e.g., don’t send a young Jack Russell terrier to an elderly couple. What do you think about this? Do you think the majority of rescues do an adequate job of matching dogs with compatible homes? (Success Just Clicks)
Which Type of Player Would Your Dog Be? Do you love or hate dog parks? I’m on the fence about them; I know we won’t be taking Pyrrha to any dog parks anytime soon. Maybe one day. How do you feel about them? (Dog Obedience Training Blog)
Rescue Me. My husband’s cousin is a great blogger and mom to sweet Jack, who is on the autism spectrum. Here, she reflects on their dog Mason and how much he’s meant to their family and to Jack. Really touching. (Reinventing Mommy)
To Be What They Are. I loved this post by Louise, about letting our dogs just BE what they are, permitting that expression of their lovely personality, however strange or exhausting it might be. Such a great exhortation for us as we raise our dogs. (Raising Ivy)
20 Most Adorable Animal Lists of All Time. It’s time to laugh now. Some of my favorite lists in this well-curated collection: 50 Corgis Super-Psyched about Halloween and, of course, 50 Photos of Basset Hounds Running. (Best Week Ever)