Christmas in the fields (training off-leash recall)

Over this Christmas holiday, our time with Pyrrha was also spent encouraging and training her off-leash recall.

On Christmas Day, we took her out to the field near my grandparents’ house on her 30-foot line. Guion was outfitted with some leftover pulled pork as encouragement.

Grace Farson Photography
Me, with P on the long line. (c) Grace Farson.
Grace Farson Photography
(c) Grace Farson.

This field was the perfect practice ground. No one lives out there; we weren’t going to encounter any other dogs or people; and the field is bordered by a thick forest and part of the lake. The big field also made me feel more comfortable, because she could never truly get out of sight.

In the field with dogs. #christmas #latergram Missing @kelseyfgray and @alexlemondegray
Doing her thing.

We dropped the line, and to my pleasant surprise, she really wanted to stick with us. She wandered ahead of us, sniffing, as every dog is wont to do, but if we got too far back, she’d stop and reorient. I was very proud of her.

Christmas in Norwood
Walking with Guion and my dad.

Christmas in Norwood

Below is one of my favorite pictures ever (taken by my sister), of Pyrrha running to me. She’d gotten too far out, and she came sprinting back to me when I called. Guion, in the left foreground, is preparing some pork rewards for her.

Grace Farson Photography
(c) Grace Farson.

Christmas afternoon, we went back to the field to practice with Marley, my cousin’s labrador. Marley is also good off-leash, so he was great accompaniment for Pyrrha. He was mostly preoccupied with fetching on our field walk, but he remained a great center for Pyrrha, who is still easily distracted by her nose and all that she picks up.

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

And then, when we got back to my parents’ house, we did even more off-leash training.

My dad always wants to practice Pyrrha’s off-leash recall when she comes to visit, and we’re lucky to have Dublin as an aide. Dublin, as I’ve mentioned before, has the best recall I’ve ever seen in a dog. I’ve seen her stop in MID-CHASE of a squirrel to a command to come. It’s miraculous.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of our outing, but it might have been the best day of Pyrrha’s life. We went with Dublin and her human family to a large preserve out in the rolling countryside where dogs are allowed to roam. We walked the trails and Pyrrha kept her long line on, but we didn’t hold her leash once. She ran with Dublin through the forest, totally free and happy. We encountered a veritable pack of other dogs (six, I think) that day, but all the humans were smart enough to just drop the leashes and all the introductions went beautifully.

The most shocking moment was when Dublin scampered down a bank and jumped into the creek to splash around and swim. Pyrrha has always been antsy about walking through rivers, and so I assumed that she wouldn’t want to get in. But she started whining, watching Dublin play in the creek, and so I said, “OK!” She ran down the steep bank and leapt into that water like a deer, huge grin on her goofy face. I was totally shocked. She was delighted.

There were two moments in which she got too far ahead of us, and I couldn’t see her anymore, and I started to panic, but Dublin would go find her and Pyrrha would quickly reorient to my voice. I gave her a small treat reward each time she came back to me, whether voluntarily or by responding to my call. All this to say, it was a great week of practice for her. She’s still not reliable off-leash, but she’s a lot more reliable than I thought she would be, and I was proud of the progress she’d made. Definitely something to keep working on! I’m motivated by the fact that she seems so happy to be unencumbered.

How is your dog with off-leash recall? How often do you get to practice this?

Pyrrha’s best Christmas ever (Part II)

The second part of our Christmas holiday was spent with my family.

On Christmas day, Pyrrha got to meet and play with her “second cousin,” the handsome chocolate lab Marley.

Christmas in Norwood
Marley and his dad.

They had too much crazy energy for me to get many great shots of them together, but they had a wonderful time romping in the basement.

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas in Norwood

Marley became rather obsessed with Pyr (he’s intact), so we had to keep him at bay from time to time. But they were great pals and got along swimmingly, as I expected they would.

Christmas in Norwood

Apart from that, Pyrrha had a great time begging in the kitchen:

Pyrrha helping Guion and Ma-Maw in the kitchen. #christmas

Watching squirrels:

#christmas #latergram #gsd

And hanging out with my cool kid sister:

Christmas in Norwood

Christmas pals. #hotties #latergram

This holiday vacation made me thankful for Pyrrha in a way that I haven’t been before. As those of you with anxious dogs know, you spend a lot of your mental energy and emotional bandwidth worrying about your dog — especially when the environment changes, when you’re around new people and animals, etc. I felt like this was one of the first trips with her in which I was able to really be calm and appreciate her for who she is.

My heart was warmed by two things: (1) She seemed to be really enjoying herself, and, (2) other people seemed to notice this as well.

1: She got lots of exercise and canine play-time over the holiday, which always makes her incandescently happy. I was around her all day long; she rarely if ever had to languish alone. And when she wasn’t napping or playing with dogs, she was getting slipped decadent holiday food from my generous relatives. (I caught my sweet grandmother giving her a big hunk of the expensive, prized beef tenderloin before we humans sat down to eat it. Needless to say, Pyrrha was her shadow for the rest of the evening.)

2: Many members of our immediate families kept telling me, “She is really doing so well,” or, “She’s like a different dog from when she was last here.” Hearing this meant so much to me. It’s hard to recognize those subtle improvements when you’re working and living with your fearful dog day in and day out. But hearing them say such things helped me to recognize her progress too. She really has come a long way from that crawling, terrified dog who hid from me in corners of the house. And she keeps making those subtle steps toward confidence and balance.

Hope you were also able to acknowledge your dog’s progress in 2013 — subtle or not — over this season of rest and reflection.

More to come about our adventures in Pyrrha’s off-leash training over our holiday!

Dogs of Christmas

Me and Dally on a hike.

No, I didn’t get a dog for Christmas. But I did get to spend a lot of time with dogs, namely Aoive, Dublin, and Dally, whom I’ve mentioned before.

Aoive, my in-law’s English springer spaniel, has suddenly mellowed out in her old age. I say “suddenly,” I guess, because I haven’t seen her in a long time and her calmness surprised me. She is now 8 and her muzzle is graying and her eyes are drooping. It makes her look sad and stately–but the girl still knows how to have a good time. We took a long walk together over the holiday and even ended up running toward the end. She was eager and happy and, as always, very snuggly in the living room.

Later in the week, we traveled to my family’s town and spent most of our week with the borrowed dogs Dublin and Dally. Even though my father is as dog crazy as I am, my parents don’t have a dog of their own (due to my mother’s influence and protectiveness of her heart of pine floors). My father’s surrogate dog is Dublin, who adores him. My sister Grace was dog-sitting Dally, the neighbor’s gorgeous (and regrettably plump) 10-month-old Golden retriever, who is an absolute doll.

More photos below!

 

The blondes! Alex, my sister's boyfriend, and Dally share the love.
Dally and me, ready to go.
This is what heaven looks like to me: Family + field + dogs. (Dublin and Dally featured here.)

We also got to see the 3-year-old Marley, my cousin’s handsome and well-mannered chocolate lab. (Marley is the puppy featured with me on my “About” page.) It made me really happy to see such a trim and healthy lab; so often, labs are unmannerly blimps. But Matt, my cousin, is a very conscientious owner and has trained Marley very well. He’s a delightful boy.

Marley, my cousin's handsome and well-mannered lab.

OK, that’s all for now! Back to catching up on life…

Loving dogs through the years

I was trawling through old photos the other day and realized there were a handful of people documenting my inherent magnetism toward dogs throughout my young life… These photos begin around 2007 and span up until the present. Somehow, it was heartwarming to remember that my deep love for dogs has not wavered over time.

2007. Not even sure whose dog this was, but I found him at a party and decided to make him my friend.
Christmas 2007. In a field with Marley, my cousin's lab, who is also featured on my "About" page.
Summer 2008. With my aunt and uncle's dog, Sadie. Cute but stupid! She looks so happy here.
Possibly 2008? That's baby Dublin there!
September 2010. Found a sweet, old dog on the road near the cabin where we were staying.
October 2011. With Bo on a hike.
And just for good measure: The only cat I've ever loved, Kitteh, my roommate in Denver, summer 2009.