On Saturday, Eden’s first birthday, my family took the dogs (and Dublin) to Fisher Farm, this wonderful nature preserve near my parents’ house. We wanted to wear the dogs out and let them practice their off-leash recall, so we brought long drag lines for our girls and a little bag of tiny pepperoni and treats for reinforcement.
I didn’t have my camera with me, so unfortunately, I don’t have any great photos of this wonderful afternoon. But these were the highlights:
Playing in the River
Dublin, being mostly lab, is a natural water dog. Our dogs aren’t, as far as we can tell. On Friday, at my grandparents’ house, Eden jumped in the lake when we called to her and quickly panicked. I’m glad we were there to help her get out, because she did not like being fully submerged in the water and unable to stand.
But there’s a little river that runs through Fisher Farm, and we thought the girls would like that. We were right! They both had a blast splashing in the water and running through it. My dad was able to snap a few blurry phone pics:
(You get the idea, right? They had SO much fun.)
And, if you’re interested, there’s even a tiny video of the girls running in the river.
Off-Leash Recall Practice
Watching them romp in the river was wonderful, but I think our adventures in off-leash recall were the most heartening to me.
Dublin, as I’ve mentioned, has the most perfect recall I’ve ever seen in a dog; my dad can call her back from chasing a squirrel or approaching another dog. She’ll stop on a dime for him. Our girls? Not so much.
So, to practice, I had a bag of treats, and we had both girls on drag lines during our hike through the woods and in the fields. We’d practice letting them get ahead of us and then calling them back, at varying distances, and rewarding them warmly with praise and treats. They all quickly caught on to this gambit, and soon, all three dogs would come running to us whenever we called. I was so pleased.
Pyrrha is still an absent-minded wanderer at heart. I don’t think she’ll ever be fully reliable off-leash. I’m also the only person that she really wants to come to, which can naturally be a hazard if I’m not around and she escapes. But I was especially pleased with Eden’s performance. Of all three dogs, even Dublin, Eden was the one who wanted to check in the most. If she got out of sight from the humans, she was always the first to turn around and come back to us, even without being called. Her natural disposition toward people is evident here.
I hope we’ll continue to make the time to practice this in a safe place. It made my heart happy to see how joyful and relaxed both girls were off leash. Pyrrha especially is such a different dog. Having to wear a leash makes her so tense.
Curious to hear from you: What’s your dog’s recall style? Is he or she a wanderer? Or does he or she stick close by you all the time?
Pyrrha Chases a Deer
Toward the end of our hike, a female deer suddenly shot of out of the brush near the field, and Pyrrha was off like a shot. I mean, she was GONE after that deer. My natural hunter (Dublin and Eden were not at all interested). I panicked a little, and Dad and I started to run after her. The grass was very tall, and the woods she ran into were deep, and she was completely out of sight.
But… a few minutes later: Pyrrha comes running back up to us, exhilarated and breathless. Such excitement on her face! No deer meat for dinner, but I was very proud of her for returning to us, without much frantic encouragement or freaking out on my part. She was on deer alert for the rest of the hike.
All in all, it was a perfect afternoon, and an ideal dog birthday party.
Life has been so busy around here (lots of travel, house guests, events, etc., just beyond our normal work/life madness) that I haven’t had much time for blogging. I hope to write some more thoughtful posts soon, but in the meantime, I’m afraid all I have are some cute pictures and mini-anecdotes.
Recent dog/life lessons:
Cherries Are Toxic to Dogs
Our neighbor has two mature cherry trees that branch into our yard, and so we had this abundant harvest of red cherries for about a month. Guion made wonderful cherry cobblers, and we were thrilled with this unexpected boon. The dogs, unfortunately, were also thrilled, and loved to go harvesting for fallen cherries themselves. Cherries, as with most stone fruits, are toxic to dogs (the pits contain cyanide!). Eden was gobbling them up before we could stop her, so we had to erect a temporary fence situation in the yard. (She was experiencing lots of diarrhea and some mild vomiting. Lots of pits found in her crate…) Now, she’s fine, and we’re all relieved. But I can see she’s still scheming how to get in there and get her forbidden fruits.
If you’re curious if you have any toxic plants in your yard, the ASPCA has a wonderful and very comprehensive resource on this: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants.
Walks Are Therapeutic for Dogs and Humans
I’ve been away from home for some time, for family travel and business, and coming back to see the girls is especially sweet. Pyrrha, in particular, acts like I’ve been resurrected from the dead after I return from a few days’ absence. Such unbridled joy! Such wonderment! Such mauling of the legs and face! We take walks as often as we can now, to release my stress and to channel their energies. Nothing I enjoy so much as walking the dogs — even if the walks are short (to avoid other dogs), even if the weather is bad, even if they have to stop every second to smell every sixth leaf. The walks are always good.
Pyrrha Is Better with New People, According to New People
It’s hard to observe behavioral progress sometimes, which is why house guests can be such helpful barometers. We’ve recently had a lot of guests, and almost all of them have said one thing: “Wow, Pyrrha is so much calmer and happier — and less scared of me. What’s changed?” And I’m still surprised to hear them say it, because many days, I just see a dog who is ruled by her fears. But she IS doing so much better, and it’s so heartening to hear this confirmation from external sources.
I think Eden — wild, demon-possessed Eden — deserves the credit here. Her love of Guion, her exuberance toward strangers, and her overall playful attitude have influenced Pyrrha in a seriously positive way. No, Pyr will never love Guion like she loves me, or think that strange men are super-duper fun, but she may continue moving in a positive, confident direction. And that thrills me to think about. Maybe we’ll keep Eden after all… 😉
As summer marches on, what’s new in your lives?
Thanks to you all for your advice regarding our goal of switching up sleeping arrangements and gradually giving Eden more freedom in the house.
We’ve made a few domestic changes, and I’m happy to report that things are going well.
- We’ve moved the dogs’ crates into our (finished, walk-out) basement, so that Guion could use the main floor bedroom as studio space. This is also our entertainment/music room, so they like to chill on the couches or in their crates when we’re watching Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones, The Wire, etc. (So many shows!) They’ve adjusted to this transition smoothly.
- We’re crating them at night, after a few experiments with leaving them out at night time. We’ve discovered that both dogs like to wake up at 4:45 a.m., regardless of the day, and burst into our room and jump on our faces. This is not our favorite thing. So, for now, crate time for bed time. They seem fine with this arrangement, and there is no crying or whimpering about it. And we get to sleep in at least until 6…
- Our weekday arrangement is now: Both dogs crated from 7:45 a.m. until noon > Hour of backyard play when one of us comes home for lunch > Both dogs get free reign of the main floor from 1 to 5 p.m. We close all the doors and put up all tempting items, and the dogs have freedom to move around in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. To our delight, they’ve been GREAT at this arrangement. Eden hasn’t torn up a single thing; there have been no accidents; and, specifically, Pyrrha is lessening her reactive freak-outs when I come home and they’re loose in the house.
We are still proceeding with caution, but I’m very pleased with how well this new set-up has been going. It also makes me happy to know that they don’t have to be crated all day on weekdays and can enjoy that modicum of independence to sleep where they please and move about freely. Eventually, I think we’ll work up to a place in which both dogs won’t use the crates at all during weekdays. For now, though, this arrangement has been going smoothly. I’m happy, and I think the dogs are happy!
What’s your domestic, weekday schedule with the dogs? What kind of privileges do they have when you’re not home?
While we spend the long holiday weekend away at a family wedding, Pyrrha and Eden were lucky enough to attend “summer camp” with my parents, who graciously agreed to watch them (while also sitting my younger sister’s latest acquisition, a rabbit). They’re amazing.
Dad and Eden particularly developed a special bond. He woke up early every day to rollerblade with her, play Frisbee, or go for a run. When we arrived to pick them up, she was desperate to be at his side every moment. But he was finally able to wear her out enough at the end of every day to coerce her to cuddle with him:
He also took both dogs to a baseball game, and said Pyrrha did well; she only had one outburst, over a cranky dog who tried to challenge her, and otherwise was fine with lots of people, kids, and dogs milling around. I was very proud. He also said he enjoyed walking the dogs with Dublin around the neighborhood:
Mom and Pyrrha bonded more to each other, because they prefer the quiet life (and because, I think, my mom strongly resembles me in disposition and body language).
I don’t know who was sadder to be separated from each other, Dad or Eden! The day after we left, I got a text from him that simply said, “I had no idea I could have so much fun with a dog.”
High praise coming from my father, from whom I received my dog-crazy gene! We’re looking forward to reuniting them soon.
Meanwhile, I’m just SO thankful for such dog-loving parents. It’s rare that I leave the dogs behind without being consumed by worry, but I never have any anxiety when they’re with my folks. If anything, I think the dogs were reluctant to come home with us!