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.

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!