Sunday walk by the river: Reactive vs. confident

We had lovely, unseasonably warm weather this past weekend, which was very welcome. The dogs got a ton of exercise, and they were very calm and content. They seem to enjoy each other’s company more when they get lots of exercise; both of them were getting along beautifully, initiating play sessions appropriately, with no disagreements to be had.

Babies on front porch after #dailywalk. #germanshepherds

On Sunday, we took them on a long walk by the river near our house. As I’ve mentioned before, on the busy stretches of the trail, our strategy is to have Guion walk Eden in front, and I walk Pyrrha behind, working on our classical conditioning protocol the whole time. Because of this, I get to enjoy the walks less, because I’m constantly on high alert for her two triggers (other dogs and small children), but I think it’s been a good strategy.

River walk
Eden and Guion, trailblazing.

There were LOTS of dogs out on Sunday, as I expected, and Pyrrha did pretty well, all things considered. She only had one outburst, when two women with four dogs came close to us and let all the dogs stop and stare at Pyrrha, and I had nowhere to turn (except into the river!). (The dogs were friendly, but Pyrrha just can’t handle the proximity.)

I’ve been taking the clicker with me when I’m working with her on walks, and I think this has been helpful in signaling to people that I don’t want them and their dog to approach us. I hear people say, “Oh, she’s working with that dog,” and then they keep moving. Sometimes, when we stop to let dogs pass, some people seem to assume that we’re waiting for them and their dog to come greet us. The clicker seems to be helpful in communicating that this is not the case, and that we are training here.

River walk

Pyrrha’s anxiety lessened as the walk went on, too, which I was glad to note. Even though we kept passing dogs, near the end of our long walk, she was far more relaxed about them passing and was accepting treats a lot more gently and readily.

River walk

Eden continues to be unfazed by everything! She met kids, a man in a wheelchair, other dogs, and other people on the walk. I’m thankful for the abundance of good experiences she’s had so far, as they continue to increase her confidence and her already firmly held belief that the world is FUN and AWESOME and EXCITING.

I confess that I sometimes get jealous of these two, Guion and Eden, who get to lead the way and have happy interactions with people and dogs. I get stuck behind with Pyrrha, trying desperately to keep her from reacting. And if she does react in fear, she just looks like “another aggressive German shepherd.” Sometimes I want to wear a signboard on walks that says, in big letters, “SHE’S JUST SCARED; SHE ISN’T A KILLER.”

The confident, stable family members at the river. #rivannatrail #ediebaby

I try to look on the bright side. At least she’s not reactive to adults or teenagers. Pyrrha loves being outside and taking walks. And she actually loves other dogs — just not when everyone is leashed. And at least we have one shepherd who can be our breed ambassador, the friendly, goofy baby who loves everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to stay encouraged, when Pyrrha’s progress seems so microscopic. But I just have to keep believing that she is getting better. And take a deep breath. And just enjoy walking the dog.

Pyr gets a visit from her favorite uncle

This past weekend, my sister Kelsey and brother-in-law Alex came to stay with us, and we had a wonderful time with them. As I’ve mentioned before, Alex may be the only man that Pyrrha truly loves. She is somehow naturally magnetized toward him, and she is unusually affectionate with him for as long as he is around.

The only man she loves. #family #pyrrhagram
She loves Alex.
Straight up: she won't let any other man do this. #dogwhisperer #pyrrhagram
Seriously, she won’t let any other man do this.

We also got to take a nice, long walk on the trail along the river, in which we saw a large herd of deer. Pyrrha was, of course, very interested once she saw them.

Stumbled on a herd of deer

Watching the deer

That night, she got to spend lots of time in the yard with us while we made dinner (homemade pizza in the cob oven that Guion recently built). All in all, a good weekend for Pyrrha: her favorite man came to visit, and she got lots of attention and affection.

Crazy sky tonight. #lazydog #summersky #backyardliving

Backyard meditation with the shepherd. #backyardliving #pyrrhagram #germanshepherd

How did you and your dog(s) spend the weekend?

Sunday walk by the river

Sunday walk by the river

This past Sunday, I took Pyrrha on a long walk along the muddy river near our house. We have both been cooped up for far too long, owing to the cold weather (which I am admittedly a huge baby about).

Sunday walk by the river

Our outing reminded me of the deep joy I receive from a long walk with my dog. I don’t think there is anything that can compare. It is such a peaceful, renewing activity. I derive so much joy from watching her just be a dog: sniff every third plant, stand guard after every rustle in the woods, get ready to chase after every single squirrel.

Sunday walk by the river

Sunday walk by the river

I was desperate for a dog for so many years, as you know, and yet my desires for a dog have always been simple: I have always just wanted a dog of my own to walk with me. And now I have one.

Off-leash encounters and a long, hot hike

Heat stroke?
Post-hike heat exhaustion.

Sunday morning, I was determined to take a hike with Pyrrha–even though the temperature had already reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when we left the house at 9:45 a.m.

There’s a long, paved trail that winds along the river, somewhat near our house. I had waited to take Pyrrha on this trail, since I knew there were several off-leash portions of the trail and I didn’t want to risk any unfortunate, stressful encounters. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling brave on Sunday and decided to take her with me.

She walked happily by my side, on leash, for the first hour or so. We saw a few other dogs on the trail, but they were either too busy swimming in the river or off in the brush to pay us much attention. Pyrrha seemed fine with this. She sniffed everything and vigorously followed every squirrel or song bird. I love being with her in the woods, near the river; dogs always seem happiest to me when they’re deep in nature, away from houses and cars and city noises.

Meeting dogs off-leash

We turned a bend and suddenly a small, blond mutt came springing out of the woods. Pyrrha and I were both a little startled. The dog looked at us for a second, but then heard her owner’s voice and dashed back into the woods. We moved on ahead of them, but Pyrrha was very distracted, as the mutt and her canine companion were following behind us off-leash.

Finally, we came to a point where the off-leash dogs were about to overtake us. The two women called out and asked if Pyrrha would like to greet them. I explained that Pyrrha was shy around other dogs and could be nervous around them, but the woman recommended I drop my leash. I did–and marvel of marvels, Pyrrha acted like a confident, normal dog! She dashed up to the little mutt, named Lucy, and was all happy wags. The two started to even chase each other around in happy circles. I was delighted.

Pyrrha then tried to run up to meet Ramona, the other dog, but Ramona was very shy and tried to run from Pyrrha, tail between her legs. This behavior started to make Pyrrha mirror her, and soon, both dogs were in an anxious, agitated state, so we pulled them away. That mirroring behavior was interesting and unexpected to me.

Going off-leash herself

After we parted ways with Ramona and Lucy, I decided to tentatively try Pyrrha off-leash for the first time. There were a few reasons why I felt like this could be a good time to try her off-leash:

  1. The trail was comparatively quiet, with few other dogs, cyclists, and runners.
  2. It was a legal space in which to go off-leash.
  3. Pyrrha was very tired and hot and not really in the state of mind to be running off.
  4. I knew that she liked to stick with me, even when she was on-lead.

To start, I let her drag the leash for a while. This seemed to annoy her considerably, but she put up with it. I tested her recall by allowing her to fall behind me and then calling her to catch up. To my delight, she responded very quickly and happily. After testing this out for a few minutes, I unhooked her leash and let her go.

I was very vigilant the whole time she was off-leash, scanning the trail for any upcoming traffic, other dogs, animals in the woods, etc., but Pyrrha was great. She was far more verbally responsive than I thought she was. When a cyclist zoomed past us, I was able to call her back to my side very quickly.

Do you walk your dog off-leash? How have you improved your dog’s recall?

Pyrrha’s first hike and introduction to the river

Last Saturday was lovely and warm and cloudless, and so we reasoned it was high time to get out and take Pyrrha on her first mini-hike. It’s exciting to do things like this with her, to realize that this is the first time Pyrrha has ever been on a hike with people; this is the first time she has ever seen a river, or golf carts rumbling past, or a little boy and his father mowing back part of the trail. Even though she is a year old, everything is still so new to her.

Rivanna Trail hike
Eager girl!

We set out on a trail system that loops around our city. It winds around the big river in town and it’s fairly quiet and easily accessible from our new house. The trail was very overgrown in places, but it was a beautiful day to be outside. (It was also a great test of how well Pyrrha’s Frontline worked, with all that brush. Miraculously, she didn’t pick up a single tick! Although she was very muddy and sprinkled with burrs…)

Rivanna Trail hike
Rivanna River.

Pyrrha’s big test of the day was “fording” the river. The trail crossed over the high, muddy river and we all had to cross it to continue.

Rivanna Trail hike
Cautiously sniffing out the river.

She sniffed the water nervously at first, but Guion took her lead and stepped out onto a rock. She followed him willingly.

Rivanna Trail hike
In the water!
Rivanna Trail hike
Maybe this isn’t so bad after all…

When she slipped off a rock and into the deep part of the river, you could see her eyes widen with fear–as her whole body, minus her head, was submerged–but she figured it out quickly and didn’t seem too traumatized. She hopped up on a big rock and shook herself off. When we turned around and headed back home, she walked into the river on her own accord and even seemed to enjoy it a bit. She is going to be a “real” dog yet!

Rivanna Trail hike
I think I like it out here.
Rivanna Trail hike
Pyrrha and me.
Rivanna Trail hike
Happy and tired.

We had such a good afternoon with her and I was so proud of her. The trail itself got a bit confusing, due to construction and its surprising intersection with a pristine golf course, so we didn’t make it out to the big park I wanted to visit, but at least we know how the trail goes now. And now we know that Pyrrha can handle a lot more than I think she can. Can’t wait to take another excursion with her!