In which Pyrrha catches a squirrel

Sitting pretty. Or a bit sloppy.

It’s every dog’s dream to catch a squirrel.

Squirrels skritter so high above ground, though—running along telephone lines, shimmying up tree trunks, flying from branch to branch. Dogs never even come close to them. Yet dogs continue to dream, imagining that glorious day in which they actually catch a squirrel, those fuzzy, taunting chimeras of the treetops.

That glorious moment for Pyrrha was today.

This morning, we’re headed back toward home after our early morning walk. Pyrrha spots a squirrel at the base of an oak tree. I let her drag me over to it, because, hey, she wants to sniff and she’s never even come close to catching a squirrel before. They’re always up the tree in a millisecond, even before she can get her nose to the ground. Then she tries to jump in the air after them, which is foolishly adorable, because they’re 30 feet in the air by that point.

But this particular squirrel, however, made a serious tactical error. I don’t know if he was sleepy, lacking in some vital senses, or simply stupid, but he decided to circle around the base of the tree in the other direction. Big mistake, dude. Pyrrha was there in a flash and the next thing I know, my dog has a LIVE SQUIRREL in her jaws, giving it a gleeful death shake.

I think this was the happiest moment of Pyrrha’s young life.

As for me, I was completely frozen. I could only stare at this predatory scene unfolding before me. When I came to, I started to scream, which, naturally, was the most logical thing to do in this situation. The squirrel jumped out of Pyrrha’s mouth a few times, but she was always able to pick it back up again before I could drag her away. I was at a loss. I wasn’t about to try to pry a live squirrel from her jaws. So, I kept screaming a bit.

It felt like a million years, but in about 30 seconds, the squirrel finally made a break for it and was able to scramble back up the tree while I pulled Pyrrha away.

As I did my best to drag Pyrrha away from the scene, I could hear the squirrel fussing and cussing at us from the tree. Fair, squirrel, fair. What an unfortunate way to begin your morning. I do really apologize for whatever injuries you sustained, but wow, you really did give my dog a huge boost of self-confidence this morning. She walked home like she was Queen of the World. So, sorry about that. I, at least, won’t underestimate Pyrrha’s latent hunting abilities again…

Has your dog ever caught a live animal? What did you do?


Pyrrha and I visit Guion at work

One of the things I’ve been learning about Pyrrha is that she needs a lot more exercise than she lets on. (She’s a healthy 1-year-old German shepherd, after all!) Most of the time, she lazes around the house, getting up only to patrol the front windows or wander into the kitchen to see if we happen to drop something tasty.

However, it’s clear that she has a whole reservoir of energy that’s lying mostly untapped. I think she could run for hours, were she so inclined. In an attempt to tap into this hidden energy reservoir, I decided to take her on an hour-and-a-half walk last week. After I got home from work, we decided we’d walk downtown to meet Guion at work and run a few errands with her.

An evening walk
An evening walk.

Walking with Pyrrha tends to be somewhat slow-going at first, because she has to smell every other plant and shrub and piece of trash. For now, I’m very lenient toward this behavior. I know some people who only give their dogs permission to sniff on command, but I don’t see sniffing as a vice; rather, it’s her way of reading the daily news. In time, I think I will introduce a command to get her to leave something alone or to move on, because she does have a tendency to linger, but for now, the walks are slow, because the girl is laboriously sniffing.

An evening walk
Alert! A dog ahead!

Despite the fact that she’s very new to leash walking, I think she’s in really good shape. She’s very responsive to me while on leash and doesn’t pull (except when a squirrel or bird is tempting her). The main thing she needs to learn about leash manners is not crossing in front of me constantly and tripping me; she has a bad habit of walking right in front of one and stopping. Anyone’s dog ever do this? How would you train away from that behavior?

Guion works part-time at a wine co-op downtown. He manages the quiet office there, so once we arrived, he invited us in while he closed up. Pyrrha seemed fairly anxious about this new space, but after she patrolled the borders for a few minutes, she laid down by the door and started to calm down.

Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
Visiting “Dad” at work!
Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
Checking it out.

After we helped Guion close up, we went to the library (where she waited outside with Guion) and then Pyrrha and I walked home. It was a beautiful, balmy summer evening and I was only too happy to spend a large chunk of it walking my good dog.

I think we’ll keep her.

Pyrrha visits the Wine Guild
What a good girl.

A long walk with Bo


Yesterday afternoon, I took Bo for a peaceful hour-and-a-half walk. We strolled around our future street/neighborhood, which was absolutely beautiful; everything is in bloom right now. All the trees are pink and white and green; everyone seems to have tulips or wild violets or little pansies springing up in their yards. (I didn’t get any pictures, unfortunately, because it looked like it was about to pour the whole time and I didn’t want to jeopardize my camera…)

The walk made me even more excited to move to our future house and to get to live in this part of town. It’s such a pretty and pleasant network of streets and houses. We walked down to a tiny park (under 5 acres), about two blocks from our future house, and I envisioned taking our dog down there for our morning walks. The park isn’t exactly spectacular (just a basketball court, a playground, and a smattering of picnic tables), but it is a bit of grassy space to provide at least a small reprieve from the sidewalks.

Bo is delightful company. After about half an hour, he stops tugging and heels quite nicely. He’s a very attentive boy and likes to pause every so often to look up at your face, as if he was checking in on you, just to see how you were feeling; it always warms my heart. Bo also thinks all people are out just to strike up a friendship with him. Par example: A runner passed us on the road and glanced our way. When Bo caught his eye, he broke into what can only be called a smile and sprung up happily, almost skipping with joy after the runner. He’s adorable.

I am really looking forward to getting to do this kind of thing with our future dog, of course, but for now, Bo is the perfect substitute.

My companions


“You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog as large as myself, that my Father bought me–They are better than Beings–because they know–but do not tell.”

— Emily Dickinson, in a letter to Thomas Higginson

Happy weekend, everyone! My productivity at work is totally shot today: My boss brought in his 4-month-old Pomeranian puppy, Immi. I will be getting nothing done today…

A few nights with Zoe

Zoe on the kitchen floor. Source: Me

This past weekend, my husband and I house/dog-sat for some friends of ours. Kendra and Ehren have a 7-year-old black lab/border collie mix named Zoe. Guion was excited that they had a piano in the house; I, naturally, was way more excited that they had a dog.

I’d met Zoe once before at a crawfish boil that Kendra and Ehren hosted. I was extremely impressed by her calmness and tolerance. She patiently submitted to having a grabby 10-month-old baby stick his hands into her mouth and ears. I was anxious about it, but Kendra was right there and assured me that Zoe would be fine. And she was. Zoe rolled her eyes up to look at Kendra, as if to say, “Look how patient I am. This baby is trying to gag me and I am letting him. Because I am a very good dog.”

And she is.

Zoe in her chair. Source: Me

Understandably, Zoe was pretty anxious about what we were doing in her house on Saturday night. She is extremely submissive and doesn’t really have much desire to protect anything. She rolled over on her back continuously until we were able to calm her down. We spoke softly to her, slipped her a treat, and soon she seemed much more at ease about our brief residence in her home.

On Sunday mid-morning, I took Zoe on a long walk around a circle of pretty residential streets. She pulled a lot at first, but once she figured out that we weren’t going to move until there was some slack in the line, she calmed down and was an excellent walking partner.

Going on daily walks is actually one of the things that I am most looking forward to about getting a dog. (I may not say this after we have the dog, especially in brutal January, but still!) I eat well, but I do not make time for much physical activity, and I am looking forward to having to care for an animal who requires a good amount of daily motion.

There is also something very soothing and meditative about walking with a dog. There is no need for conversation; you merely listen to each other, observing nature and feeling your bodies relax and refocus. I love walking dogs and I wish I could do it all day long.

The other thing that Zoe reminded me of is the calmness of touch. I’m reading Suzanne Clothier’s book Bones Would Rain from the Sky right now, and in it she talks about how she was impressed by famed horse trainer Linda Tellington-Jones’ injunction to always use “soft hands” when working with animals. Remembering this charge is a great way to prevent yourself from lashing out in anger or impatience.

While Guion was out grabbing lunch, I sat on the living room floor with Zoe. She crawled over to me and put her muzzle up against my leg. I started slowly massaging her back and neck. She seemed to like it, and so she rolled over, inviting me to do her underside. If I paused for a second, she urged me on with her nose, as if to say, “Don’t stop now!” We continued this session for a good 15 minutes and it was very peaceful. I was reminded of a scene in the documentary “Dogs Decoded” that talked about how petting a dog releases a similar burst of the “happiness/bonding” hormone oxytocin in both the dog and the human.

It made me wonder about dog massage. In April, the New York Times ran an article about dog massage that sparked my interest: Dog Massage? Isn’t Petting Enough? I saw that Modern Dog Magazine also ran a short, illustrated piece about how to massage your dog. I’d like to learn more. Has anyone ever tried this before? Do you practice it regularly with your own pooches?

Overall, the long weekend with Zoe just increased my already burgeoning desire to have a dog. It was a good exercise in canine parenting and Zoe was a wonderful and patient teacher. I look forward to getting to see her again soon.

36 ways to socialize my future dog

A classy poodle being socialized in Austin, TX. Source: Flickr user pooneh

“Socialization” is a popular buzzword among dog people. Most behavioral problems in dogs tend to be linked to their owner’s failure to “properly socialize” them. I’m inclined to believe that this may very well be the case. I imagine this is why so many people are talking about it.

I think about the challenges of socialization a lot, especially since we’re planning to adopt a young adult dog. I’m often afraid that it will be “too late” to socialize a dog that may have had its bad social skills reinforced. I’ve heard many people say this isn’t true, but I still get nervous about it. Is it extra-hard to socialize a dog when you’ve already missed that “critical socialization stage” in its youth? I try not to worry about it too much.

That said, we’re blessed to live in a very dog-friendly town and surrounding area. My town has a pedestrian mall that welcomes dogs. Our city is filled with beautiful parks, including three off-leash dog parks, and is surrounded by the lovely Blue Ridge mountains and its many winding hiking trails. I want to take my dog everywhere, as much as this is possible. I want a dog who is calm, happy, and trustworthy in almost every situation, but I know that this takes a lot of time and patience.

While I’m waiting on our future dog, here’s a cursory list of all of the people and places that I’m planning on introducing him or her to:

  1. Old men.
  2. Old women.
  3. Men of all shapes and sizes.
  4. Women of all shapes and sizes.
  5. People wearing hats or masks.
  6. People in wheelchairs.
  7. Teenagers, who congregate freely on the pedestrian mall in large packs. They will not be difficult to find.
  8. Young children (ages 3 to 10). Start off with kids we know and can trust around the dog.
  9. Babies. Introduce from a safe distance at first.
  10. Homeless people on the downtown mall.
  11. Busking musicians on the streets.
  12. People of different races from Guion and myself.
  13. People on bicycles.
  14. People walking their dogs.
  15. Training class, which we will enroll in.
  16. Dogs on the downtown mall, which won’t be hard, because there always dozens and dozens of them.
  17. Dogs in the dog park.
  18. Cats! Is there any safe way to do this?
  19. Other small animals like rabbits, mice, guinea pigs. Echo concern on #16.
  20. Livestock, if at all possible.
  21. Riding in cars.
  22. Riding in a boat.
  23. Eating outdoors at a restaurant; handling the business of sitting patiently while we’re eating and waiting while being tied to a table.
  24. Outdoor concerts.
  25. All types of staircases.
  26. Hiking trails and state parks.
  27. Picnic areas.
  28. Lakes, probably Lake Monticello.
  29. Rivers, specifically the Rivanna.
  30. PetsMart in town.
  31. PetCo in town.
  32. Horse and Dog Lover’s store downtown.
  33. Veterinarian’s office and exam room.
  34. Dog groomer’s.
  35. Urban Outfitters on the downtown mall (which allows dogs inside).
  36. Backyard cookouts and potlucks.

OK. I can only come up with 36 places/people/things right now. I’m sure there are more.

Do you have any creative suggestions? What are some of the ways that you socialized your dog? Do you have any special advice for a newly adopted adult dog?