Practicing “off-leash” recall on a hike with the dogs

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.

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

The best part, though, was that the trail was completely empty, so we got to practice some much-needed off-leash recall.

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

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.

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

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.

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

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.

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

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!

Mint Springs Valley Park hike

We came home with two tired and very happy pups!

How do you practice off-leash recall?

Hiking in Shenandoah with dogs

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.

Hiking at Shenandoah
James, Sara, and 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.

Hiking at Shenandoah
Excited to be on the trail!
Hiking at Shenandoah
In the stream.
Hiking at Shenandoah
Watching Guion scale rocks.

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.

Hiking at Shenandoah
Silas and Pyrrha (on retractable leash).

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.

Hiking at Shenandoah

We had a lovely day on the trails, and we came home with two very tired pups!

Hiking at Shenandoah

Happy Friday!

ChillingHope 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.

Also, reminder: The giveaway for By Nature’s grain-free kibble is still open! Leave a comment on that post to enter. The three (3) winners will be randomly selected on 6 August.

Our first canine house-guests: Scout and Sadie

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.

Jagoda children
Scout and Sadie!

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.

Fleet Scout
Fleet Scout.
Such a play bow
Such a play bow!
Initiating play time
Scout, I love you. Do you love me?
These two are in love
The young lovers, relaxing.

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.

Please let me in.
Sadie wants in.

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…

Pack play time
Pack play.

The new pack

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).

The group at Carter Mountain
Attempt at a group photo.

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…

Jagodas and pups
Jeff and Kathryn and the pups.

Have you ever had canine house-guests? Would you?

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.

A weekend with Pyrrha at my parents’ place

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!

With TT in the kitchen
With my mom in the kitchen.
Kisses for Grace!
Kisses for Grace, my youngest sister.
Meeting Ma-Maw
Meeting my grandmother.
Kisses for Ma-Maw!
Kisses for her great-grandmother!
Floor time with Juju
Floor time with my dad.
Morning meditation with Alex
Floor time with my sister’s fiance.

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.

Romping with Dublin
Dublin, Pyrrha’s therapy 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.

Nice calming signals, girls.

Within a minute, after the preliminary sniffs and some tail-tucking from Pyrrha, the two were romping like old friends. It was so heartwarming.

Romping with Dublin
Play time!
Romping with Dublin
Going for the face!

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.

Romping with Dublin
Pyrrha’s inciting posture. I love this photo. Look at that goofy face.
All tuckered out
All tuckered out.

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.

Dad and I with Pyrrha and Dublin at the lake. Photo by Grace Farson.
Pyrrha watches Dublin go for the ball. Photo by Grace Farson.

My sister Grace took great photos from that outing, and I recommend her recap! (I also have a new profile picture for this blog, which Grace took. I think it’s a nice one of both of us.)

We’re headed back to my parent’s in a month, and I think Pyrrha will be eager to come again.

I think I like it here
I think I like it here.

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!