10 things my fearful dog isn’t afraid of

When you live with a fearful dog, I’ve found that it’s easy to get weighed down by all of their issues. The fears are often the only things you can think about when you consider your dog and watch them interact with the outside world.

Pyrrha by the back stoop
The first day we had her; this is where she hid from us for a few hours.

Pyrrha is our fearful dog, and she will always have fear issues. I’m coming to terms with this reality, but I also want to take the time to consider the ways in which she’s made progress and the things she’s overcome since coming to live with us in May 2012.

This probably seems like a silly list to someone who has a confident, stable dog — and trust me, if I had to list the things Eden wasn’t afraid of, we’d be here a while — but these things represent milestones in Pyrrha’s gradual development.

So, here are:

10 Things My Fearful Dog Isn’t Afraid of

  1. Me! (Now, she treats me like I hung the moon and the stars, but for the first few weeks in our home, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Our relationship has clearly transformed since then.)
  2. House guests. (She’s even not afraid of male house guests anymore, which is a big accomplishment for her.)
  3. Squirrels, birds, and any other small vermin. (Her wavelength: Mmm, mobile snacks!)
  4. Other dogs, when the dogs are in an off-leash context. (Despite her reactivity to other dogs on walks, she actually adores other dogs and loves playing with them.)
  5. The guitar. (Used to hide in her crate when Guion played the guitar; now sees it as a normal part of life.)
  6. Riding in the car. (She loves car rides and has always traveled like a champ.)
  7. Fireworks.
  8. Thunderstorms.
  9. The elderly.
  10. Skateboards or bicycles or other similar moving objects on the street.
The queen
Pyrrha today; a much changed dog.

If you have a fearful dog, how have you seen her or him progress? What are some things your fearful dog isn’t afraid of?

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!

The most intent beggar

She is deeply in love with Jonathan. And ginger cats. #germanshepherd #pyrrhagram
How can you say no to those eyes?

Food. It’s a powerful motivator.

My friend Jonathan spent the weekend with us, and Pyrrha spent her time alternately nervous around him (if he tried to approach her) OR plaintively begging from him (because he plied her with a steady stream of Trader Joe’s ginger cats). As you can see, she was really working her adorable angles with him.

This just brought to mind another observation about shy dogs, or at least, our shy dog: Pyrrha would prefer that new people don’t try to interact with her at all. But if these aforementioned new people happen to be willing to slip her food? She won’t leave them alone!

Does your dog’s behavior change when food is present?

Another lazy weekend in the yard with the dogs

This weekend was a nice mix of productive (lots of yard work) and lazy (lots of TV while it rained).

The dogs, as you can see, were thoroughly relaxed.

There were bouts of play…

Gimme dat stick… and then there was a lot of just lazing around.

Dogs in the yard on Sunday

Dogs in the yard on Sunday

Dogs in the yard on Sunday

Dogs in the yard on Sunday

I think the best part of fostering a shy dog, after you get over that initial hurdle of getting them to trust you and actually like you, is getting to see them RELAX. And just be happy. We have a floppy, open-mouthed foster boy now, where we previously had a nervous, slinking, easily startled former stray. It’s so heartwarming.

Kiwi vine is really thriving
Our kiwi vine is really going crazy.

He is a sweetie, and I have to keep believing that the perfect home is still out there for him.

Handsome Rainer

Spread the word! Rainer is still looking for his forever home!

If you are interested in adopting Rainer and live in the southeast United States, fill out an application at Southeast German Shepherd Rescue! Or spread the word that he’s up for adoption! Here’s his online adoption profile.

In which our shy dog is not so scared of roofers (or their dogs)

Yard and house and dog
Yard + house needing new roof + dog.

Sometimes I think Pyrrha is a normal, confident dog hiding in the guise of a shy dog. (Or maybe that’s just what ALL shy dogs are…).

For example:

Last week, we had to get our roof replaced. I was not so sure how Pyrrha would handle this, but I imagined she would be rather upset by the whole ordeal: A team of strange men walking around and on top of the house, making loud noises, etc.

But here’s what happened: She was initially nervous and slinking around when the roofers arrived the first day. As I was leaving, my husband alerted me to the fact that one of the roofers brought his dog along (without asking or notifying us about it at all) and left the dog–a medium-sized mixed breed–in our backyard. I was kind of peeved by this news. Who brings their dog along to a construction job, without asking anyone? I had to leave for work, slightly disgruntled, but thankful that Guion was going to be around for part of the afternoon.

Fast forward a few hours: Guion calls me at work. “What do dogs look like when they’re trying to play with each other?” I laugh and he says that he’s let Pyrrha into the backyard to meet Blacky, the creatively named roofer’s dog, and things seem to be going well. Pyrrha apparently raised hackles and snarled a bit at first, but then she started throwing Blacky some play bows and soon, the two were chasing each other around the yard. I was thrilled to hear it, and happy that it went well, considering that I would have never attempted such a thing.

The next day, I walked out into the yard around noon to talk to Guion and Pyrrha followed me out. One of the roofers was sitting in a chair in our yard. I didn’t see him at first, and I was nervous how Pyrrha would react (normally, with growling, hackles up, slinking away, etc.). To my utter amazement, she walked right up to him, sniffed his hand, and wagged her tail. I was SHOCKED.

“Guion, has she met that guy before?” I asked my husband.
“No,” he said. “She’s never seen him; I’ve never even seen him before.”

Pyrrha proceeds to lay down at this man’s feet and look calmly at the two of us, wondering, I’m sure, why we were gaping at her with our mouths open.

“This dog is shy?” The roofer said, when I called out to explain her behavior, and possibly warn him. “I don’t believe it!”

Sometimes I don’t either…

The little things

Oh, hi
Pyrrha gets up close and personal.

This photo cracks me up. And simultaneously warms my heart. It’s the little things with a shy dog, you know? The things that guardians of “normal” dogs probably take for granted: A wagging tail when you walk in the room, a stupid grin, a tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, rushing nose-first into your camera with a big smile. All these things indicate HUGE progress for Pyrrha. And so they’ll always make me feel a lot of joy. She is doing well and continuing to open up and every tiny sign makes me feel so happy and proud of her.

Coming up next week: Long, long walks and a visit to “dad” at work, plus thoughts on when to start more intensive training.

Happy weekend, everyone! Enjoy the little things!