Mistakes were made (by me)

When I reflect on my (relatively short) time spent raising a dog, I am frequently aghast by the rookie mistakes I’ve made. And yet remembering these mistakes helps me to be more gracious with myself — and with other novice dog owners.

It’s going to be hard to admit some of these things to you, but I’m always encouraged by the honesty of other dog bloggers, who are willing to fess up and share what they’ve learned. So, here it goes.

She kills me
Edie! She is too much.

7 Mistakes I’ve Made in Dog Raising

  1. Trying to bathe Pyrrha with a garden hose… on a choke collar. So many mistakes here. First, we’d only had her a week. She smelled so badly, though, that I was desperate to bathe her, despite the fact that I knew little about her personality (except that she was scared all the time). Second, choke collar. OMG. What was wrong with me?? I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea. Third, garden hose. She was terrified; she was screaming like she had been mortally wounded. Poor Pyr almost strangled herself trying to get away. I stopped the bath immediately, took a soaking wet Pyrrha into the house, and then cried on the kitchen floor. Not my best dog-rearing day.
  2. Taking Pyrrha to a busy outdoor brewery the third night we had her. Knowing so little about Pyrrha’s level of anxiety, I thought she’d just “get over it” and took her to a brew pub with Guion and my in-laws. She saw a bunch of kids and a roly-poly lab puppy on a leash and was petrified. Tail totally tucked under her body, ears flat back, growling. Oh, it was horrible. And such a bad idea.
  3. Using a prong collar on Brando. Brando was our first foster, and he weighed nearly 100 lbs., and was all frantic strength and muscle. This dog was a sweetheart, but a wild one. I could not walk him at all, and so, at the rescue’s advice, we bought a prong collar for him. I had no idea how to use it, never having used one before, and it certainly made him stop pulling, but did it teach him anything — except that people and other dogs on walks were causing an unpleasant pinching? Nope.
  4. Not trusting my instincts on dog body language. The worst example of this was when our foster Rainer met a potential adopter’s dog. The woman’s male German shepherd came onto our yard with immediately aggressive behavior (head down, hard stare, slow predatory walk) directed at Rainer. This made me really uncomfortable. She said, “Oh, it’s OK! He does this all the time. It’s herding behavior.” Instead of listening to my gut and telling her to go away, I let the dogs meet, and Rainer straight up tried to kill her dog. Worst day. (Everyone survived, a few stitches later, but it was such a bad day.) The positive outcome? That incident made me super-vigilant about observing dog body language and trusting my gut with dog–dog interactions.
  5. Not taking Pyrrha’s on-leash reactivity seriously when it first showed up. It is still unusual to me that she didn’t start reactive behavior until we started fostering, but I wasn’t interpreting the behavior correctly or doing anything to help her. I wish I had taken action sooner.
  6. Being a lazy and inconsistent trainer. Ugh, this one still plagues me. Inconsistency is my nemesis in dog training. I know, mentally, that I have to be consistent for the dogs to learn the behavior and repeat it successfully, but practically? I make sloppy mistakes all the time. Instead of making Eden lie down (our decided behavior to curb her mealtime madness) before she gets to eat, I sometimes let her sit. Or balance on her hind legs like a circus pony. Not helpful, Abby.
  7. Yelling at the dogs. I admit, this still happens from time to time. But yelling accomplishes nothing! They don’t learn anything from yelling. Eden is immune to it, and it just startles Pyrrha. And it’s not nice. So, that’s something I still need to totally expunge from my repertoire.

Surely there are many more! But these are the big ones that come to mind. Ugh.

How about you? Any mistakes you made with your dog that now make you cringe?



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!

What I’ve learned this week

Sweet puppy
Bo on a hot day. Source: Me

What I learned this week: Don’t walk a dog down an extremely crowded pedestrian mall on a 95-degree afternoon.

I should have thought more carefully about this one. Even though it was very hot, I was enjoying my weekly walk with Bo on Saturday. We usually walk through the downtown mall–a bricked walk through a row of shops that runs seven or eight blocks–and so I wasn’t thinking very clearly about it as I crossed over the bridge.

When we reached downtown, I was wondering why it was so crowded. Then I remembered that the big photography festival was concluding and all of the lectures and galleries centered around the mall. That’s why the streets were packed.

Poor Bo was a good sport for most of the walk. He was greeted by a friendly Frenchman, who whispered to him in French. He sat politely when a little girl came up to him and kissed him. He even voluntarily sat down–as I’ve trained him to do on our walks–when he saw other dogs approaching.

However, as the heat wore on and the crowds pressed even closer, Bo had had enough. I paused for a minute to greet a friend and when I turned around, Bo was lying on the ground, head between his paws. He looked at me imploringly, as if to say, “Do we have to go any further?” Poor thing. He was not going to budge. I stroked his head, spoke kindly to him, apologized for putting him through this hellish afternoon. But he didn’t care; he was done. I felt kind of terrible and tugging on his leash wasn’t accomplishing anything. The dog weighs almost as much as I do and there was no way I could carry him home.

Thankfully, I remembered that I still had a liver treat in my pocket (something that was not lost on him) and thankfully, this was a dog who was highly motivated by food. I pulled it out, waved it briefly in front of his nose, and he looked up and slowly picked himself off the ground to follow me. In this manner, we successfully made our way out of the mall and back to his home.

Overall, Bo handled the afternoon well. He is a submissive dog, but not shy; he wants to greet everyone and every moving thing. However, I think the noise and pressure of the crowds, plus the heat, were overly taxing even for this friendliest of all pooches. I was also worried about the hot asphalt on his paw pads, so we tried to take the most shady and grass-lined routes. All in all, not our most successful walk, but he’s an extremely forgiving companion, as far as I can tell.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what people do to exercise their dogs in sweltering climates. Even though I’m sure it was good for him to have an hour-long walk, he didn’t seem to enjoy it very much because of the heat. Do you live in a humid, hot climate? If so, how do you keep your dog fit and physically happy in the summer? I’m all ears!