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?
While we were at the beach this past week, Pyrrha was lucky enough to attend doggy summer camp with my in-laws and their sweet puppy Georgia.
As you can see, Pyrrha had a great time. We are so thankful that she gets along so well with Georgia! It makes leaving her behind a whole lot less stressful on me. This was the longest we’ve ever left her for! I felt like a neurotic mother. But she was totally happy and that put me at such ease.
Our in-laws reported that while she played happily with Georgia all week, she still didn’t really want much attention from them, which is what I more or less expected. It takes Pyrrha a LONG time to really warm up to people. She is often only able to interact with people when I am around; when I’m gone, apparently, she keeps to herself and would prefer that you did the same. Poor, weird dog. I hope that this behavior can improve in the future. Even though she continues to make a lot of progress, I am often reminded of how much more progress can still be made.
HUGE thanks to Mike and Windy for keeping our baby girl while we were at the beach! And thanks to Georgia, for being such a great and happy pup.
OK, it wasn’t her first vet visit, because she went when the rescue brought her in, but this was our first vet visit together.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a spot on her left flank that she was chewing at and the skin beneath looked rather pink. I tried Bitter Apple spray; we tried deterring her whenever we noticed her biting the spot; but nothing worked. She hadn’t broken the skin, but I felt like it was going to approach that point unless we took some more serious action.
So, we went to the vet together.
We chose this vet based on a number of very enthusiastic recommendations, even though the practice is quite far from our house and there are multiple closer veterinarians. But I think it we made a good choice, based on this first, quick visit.
The good news: The front-desk staff, the vet techs, and the vet herself (Dr. Powell) were SO great with Pyrrha. They could clearly see that Pyrrha was nervous about everything that was going on, and so they moved slowly, spoke in dulcet tones, and let her sniff everything and everyone before trying to touch her. Pyrrha wasn’t happy about being stuck in a little room with all of us, and she certainly didn’t like having her spot poked and prodded, but chewy liver treats helped a lot by way of distraction and she never growled or put up any kind of fight (which was my great fear). Instead, I could tell she was anxious, from the wide whites of her eyes, and her body language, but she was so brave. She even performed her new trick* for everyone, after the exam was over. (*”Be pretty!” Which means: Sit back on your haunches and wave your front paws in the air. It is killer-adorable.) I was proud of her. As always, this shy dog is constantly exceeding my often low expectations. I need to stop selling her short.
The bad news: Dr. Powell wasn’t sure what the spot was. She ruled out mites, mange, and ringworm, and thought any other skin condition would be unusual, because the rest of her skin and coat is so healthy. She’s running a culture on some samples now and we should hopefully hear soon what’s going on. In the meantime, we need to keep trying to keep Pyrrha away from it, which is difficult. Thankfully, she’s not obsessed with chewing the spot and only seems to nibble at it from time to time. More vigilance on our part!
Anyway. I think *I* was more nervous than Pyrrha was about this visit, but it went very smoothly, all things considered. I’m so grateful for gentle vets and their staff, who really understand shy dogs! What a blessing.
Whether she likes it or not, Pyrrha is becoming a veritable veteran of hospitality. We’ve had a glut of house guests this fall (almost every weekend!) and Pyrrha has just learned to roll with it. This past weekend, our good friends Kemp and Rose came to stay with us. Thankfully, like most of our friends, they are great “dog people” and they quickly won her over.
She’s still not exactly Miss Casual when new people show up, but Pyrrha has made great strides in warming up and gaining confidence around strangers who stick around for a few nights.
One weird thing: She seems to have something of a short-term memory with overnight guests, especially if they’re men. After an hour, she will have warmed up to a new man and be willing to lick his feet, initiate play with him, etc. But the next morning, when he comes out of the bedroom, she acts like she’s never seen him before and runs away from him. (She’s occasionally done this with female house guests, too, but it’s a more common behavior with men.)
Any idea what this could mean? Does Pyrrha have a mild form of selective amnesia?
I know that she’s more scared of men in general, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain why she’d be scared of a man she was buddies with the night before. I guess it’s all about warming up gradually over time? She’s still, after all, working on her trust and confidence around Guion, and he’s been here with her from Day One.
Pyrrha and Guion are still working on their relationship, but they’ve been having fairly successful play time together in the evenings. These photos are from a few weeks ago, but you get the idea.
Guion has reported to me that she will never initiate play or respond to play invitations from him if I’m not home. When I’m at work, he says, Pyrrha usually sulks around the house and just coexists with him.
Part of this is due to the fact that she’s a very mellow dog by nature, especially during the first half of the day. At night, however, she starts to get frisky and wants to romp, wrestle, bark, and gnaw on human limbs. We’ve tried to capitalize on this by having Guion play with her during those bursts of energy (hence these dark, blurry photos on my old camera).
The one issue I can’t seem to solve is this: Pyrrha refuses to go outside if I’m not there. Even if she has to go, she will wait for hours until I come home. If Guion opens the door for her to the yard, she literally runs away from him in the opposite direction (often retreating to the safety of her crate). He has been good about never forcing her, but we’re kind of at a loss as how to fix this. If I’m home, she will go outside with him, but only if I’m nearby and even then, her body language is very hesitant.
If he absolutely has to get her outside, he has to put her on her leash and walk her around the outside of the house to the fence! It is very weird and getting a little ridiculous.
All of you are way more experienced than I am, so I’m seeking your dog wisdom here! What do you think is going on? How can we help Pyrrha overcome her fear of Guion opening the back door? I’m all ears!
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:
The trail was comparatively quiet, with few other dogs, cyclists, and runners.
It was a legal space in which to go off-leash.
Pyrrha was very tired and hot and not really in the state of mind to be running off.
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?
(I don’t have any photos, unfortunately, because being a hostess precludes one from being very active with a camera…)
Last night, we had about 25 people over to our house to celebrate Guion’s birthday. This was our first big party at our new house, and it was definitely the most people we’d ever had over in Pyrrha’s presence.
We have lots of visitors and weekend house guests, so Pyrrha is used to having strangers show up, but we’ve never had this many people descend at once. My initial plan was to keep her inside, especially if some of our friends brought their toddlers. (*Pyrrha has done well with children above the age of 5, but younger kids tend to make her pretty nervous. For the safety of all involved, I thought I’d keep her in the house.) However, no kids showed up, so I decided to let her go in the fenced yard with all of our guests.
At first, it was clear she was overwhelmed by all of these people. Thankfully, however, we have low-key friends (and a lot of dog lovers among them). Most people tended to leave her alone, or greet her calmly, which helped her a lot in warming up. After 10 minutes or so, Pyrrha started to chill out and kiss up to everyone. She started going around the circle of chairs and greeting each person (and then trying to lick their plates).
Tangent on shy dogs preferring women over men:
Throughout last night, it was clear that Pyrrha warmed up to women much faster than men. I think this may be generally true of shy dogs. One of our guests asked me why this was, whether she liked the smell of women more than men, etc.
My best theory is that there is a marked difference in male and female body language and in the way that men and women greet dogs. This is gender stereotyping, but in my experience, men tend to greet dogs more gregariously: Rougher pats on the head, grabbing toward the face, leaning over the dog, trying to incite them to rough-house, etc. Men also have deeper voice registers. In contrast, women tend to greet dogs in a slower, gentler manner: Holding out a hand for the dog to sniff, crouching down, speaking in a soft and high-pitched tone.
Some of Guion’s guy friends have teased him about the way he calls Pyrrha and greets her. He’s started mimicking my higher-pitched voice and slow, bending movements. It’s pretty adorable. “Oh, Guion, get out your ‘Pyrrha voice’!” They happily mocked him. And he does. In his defense, I heard him retort, “This is the way Abby calls her, and she loves Abby, so I thought I should try it!” It’s pretty cute, but she also responds to it! Acting like a lady may just get a shy dog to warm up to you faster…
Story One: On our morning walk, we met a man and his super-handsome, studly 18-month-old German shepherd (big ol’ head, definitely from European lines), Zuma. Pyrrha might not be a breed-ist after all, because she was terrified of him. He was very friendly and gregarious, but her tail was tucked and her lips were curled back in a snarl… and YET. She kept rushing up to him to sniff him. What is that about?? She was very interested in him and didn’t want to walk away from him… but her posture and facial expression was one of utter terror/fear aggression. What does this mean? How do I combat it?
Story Two: After I walked out the door to go to work, I had to come back in a few seconds later, to give my husband his keys. Normally, when I leave for work in the morning, Pyrrha watches from the window with a tight (I read it as sad) expression. However, when I unexpectedly walked back in the door this morning, she was OVERJOYED to see me. Actually jumped in the air toward me! (Never seen that before.) Wiggling and wagging all over the place, totally ecstatic that I was “back” from work after 10 seconds… Made it really, really hard to get back in that car. I do love our special-needs shy dog; she keeps the emphasis on the special.
Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:
The Power of a Walk. My thoughts exactly, Kristine! I was feeling this way so much this morning, about how calming and centering it was to begin my day outdoors with my dog at my side. (Rescued Insanity)
Exposing a Shy Dog to New Experiences. Now there’s an inventive socialization endeavor: Kayaking! I really have no idea how Pyrrha would react to that… Looks like it went well for Pager, though! (Peaceful Dog)
Dogs in Need of Space. A helpful poster for “DINOS.” I feel like we’ve all kind of been there with shy dogs before… If only more people could see this! (Will My Dog Hate Me?)
A Poppy Weekend. A recap of a weekend exposing Sage to a toddler. This sounds like a good idea. Pyrrha is OK with older children, but toddlers make her very nervous. How did you expose your shy dog to very young kids in a safe, controlled way? (The Misadventures of Sage)
Able Mabel, Revisited. These photos of this fit, healthy bulldog are so encouraging to me. Now this is what bulldogs should be able to do! Run around and play and breathe naturally. (Pedigree Dogs Exposed)
Fresh Dog. This sounds like an interesting product: Dry shampoo for dogs. Especially intriguing since Pyrrha detests baths… Do you think it would work? I’m intrigued. (Pretty Fluffy)
Wacky for Watermelon. These photos crack me up. And I tried it today with Pyrrha, too! She may not have Pixel’s level of obsession with watermelon, but she was definitely very fond of it–especially since our temperatures soared to 97 F today. (Many Muddy Paws)
Some of the pretty (and adoptable!) faces I spent time with this weekend:
I spent about 8 hours this weekend at the shelter and my body is TIRED. I have so much respect for the full-time staff at our SPCA; they work really, really hard every day. I got home and I was so worn out. But I had a great time.
Some thoughts about what I learned over my two days with the lovely dogs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA:
Penny and hyperactivity. Penny (see above) is a dog that most volunteers don’t enjoy walking. She can launch herself above your head and is packed full of energy. The second you open her kennel door, she throws herself against your body and starts nipping at every inch of you. She’ll bite your thigh, your fingers, your jacket, anything she can get her mouth on. I quickly realized that none of this nipping and biting stemmed from aggression; it was simply overwhelming excitement. Penny is the kind of dog who probably speaks exclusively in multiple exclamation points and all caps. “OH MAN, SOMEONE IS TAKING ME OUT!! I CAN’T WAIT!! I CAN’T WAIT! MUST BITE SOMETHING!! MUST JUMP SIX FEET IN AIR!” She is stressful. But once she’s finally outside and she’s calmed down a bit, she’s quite sweet. It’s not great to live your life in a kennel. Penny’s hyperactivity is certainly aggravated by her lifestyle at the shelter. But when you have 70 dogs in one building, kenneling is the most reasonable option; there is no other alternative. I hope Penny will find a home soon. I believe, with the right person and the right channel for her boundless energy, she would be a great dog. She sits perfectly on command. She’ll even sit beside you for 10 full minutes and just let you pet her–but only after she’s torn around the fenced in enclosure for a while.
Balking. I encountered a sweet little dog this weekend who gave me some challenges. Abe (not pictured) is a darling border collie-spaniel-corgi mix. He looks like a shrunken border collie or a miniature flat-coated retriever and he is just precious. He was very shy when we got him out of the kennel, but as soon as we were outside, he perked right up and was wagging his tail all over the place, delighted to crawl up into my lap and smile at me. Suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love. And yet Abe was very difficult. He was perfect on the walk, but as soon as we approached the door to return to the kennels, he stopped dead in his tracks. He began to whine and refused to budge a step further. I was able to lure him down the hill with some liver treats, but he soon figured out my strategy and stopped responding to them altogether. A more seasoned volunteer saw that I was struggling with him and came over to help me. She also tried luring him to the door, but he wasn’t having any of it. We finally decided that we were just going to have to carry him inside. Thankfully, Abe is only 30 pounds or so. I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done if he had been any bigger! I don’t know why dogs occasionally balk when they’re on leash, but I’ve encountered my fair share of dogs that do (usually smaller ones and often terriers). With Abe, I think it was a combination of fear. With other dogs, it’s usually pure stubbornness. Have you ever encountered a dog who balks? Any advice?
Sassy. Sassy (see above) is a new dog at the shelter. That’s not a great picture of her, because she’s actually very regal and lovely; she looks like a German shepherd-Siberian husky mix and looks a lot like a wolf-dog when she’s stalking around in the woods. Sassy, despite her unfortunate name, is actually quite shy. I really enjoyed my walk with her because she’s unbelievably good on the leash. Sassy is extremely attentive to humans and despite displaying some potentially troublesome fear issues, she seems very intelligent and highly trainable. I hope she will go to a good home soon; I was half-tempted to sneak her into our tiny apartment myself…
Vivian and joy. Vivian (see above) was the last dog I walked on Sunday afternoon. She’s a slender and graceful fawn-and-white pit bull and she’s always smiling. Vivian is also shy, frightened of hands and loud noises, and she moves like a stray dog–slinking down to the ground, always attentive, always watching. Vivian is extremely attracted to other dogs and so it was somewhat difficult to get her out to the trails, since she was constantly leaping and launching herself at every dog nearby. I could tell she had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took her to one of the many fenced-in enclosures on the SPCA property. As soon as I snapped her leash off, she started tearing around in circles around the perimeter of the fence, mouth open in a huge grin, having the best time. It made me really happy. I think that’s what brings me the most joy from my time at the SPCA: Getting to see dogs act like dogs. I was delighted to spend time with the effervescent Vivian; she made me remember why I was there in the first place.
That’s what I learned this week. Can’t wait to go back soon!