My dad’s off-leash experiments with the dogs

Dogs at summer camp
Photo from Dad; Eden in far background, waiting for the team to catch up; Pyrrha dragging her rope; my mom in the foreground.

Dad calls me every so often to give me dog updates. Unequivocally, Pyrrha and Eden are loving life with him and my mom this summer. They get tons of exercise, personal attention, and play time with Dublin (which is especially great for Pyrrha, who really depends on other dogs to teach her how to behave, and Dublin is a model canine).

He also really likes taking them to a nature preserve and letting them roam off leash. This makes me very nervous, because of all of the contingencies and because we haven’t had a lot of solid practice with off-leash recall, but he doesn’t ask my permission and only tells me about their outings after the fact. Which I am honestly OK with. I would be an anxious mess if he asked me about it beforehand.

Dad called me last week to say there was an “incident” with Pyrrha at the preserve, and I almost had a heart attack waiting for him to tell me what had happened. Did she bite a child? Did she get in a dog fight? I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But this was the incident: Pyrrha saw a deer and took off into the woods after it. Instead of going after her, Dad said he decided to keep hiking along with Eden and Dublin, who always stick close to him, and hope that Pyrrha would figure out how to find them. He said they walked for a good while, and Pyrrha was completely out of sight. After some more time passed, he started to get concerned that she was lost for good. Just as he was about to backtrack and start hunting for her, he said he heard these pitiful whines from the forest, and Pyrrha was darting around, crying, because she couldn’t find them. When she finally made her way back to the pack, he said she was the happiest he’d ever seen her. I am not sure if she learned anything from this “incident,” but I’m relieved that nothing more dire happened.

Dad said that shortly after she rejoined the group, two big dogs who were also off-leash came into the clearing, and everyone did their greetings politely and tossed off a few play bows. No barking! No lunging! No inappropriate greetings whatsoever. Pyrrha and Eden love other dogs, but they absolutely cannot greet them on leash. They lose their minds and look like vicious monsters if I can’t divert them or increase distance. So, this was a very happy outcome to hear about. Both of our dogs really love other dogs, but you would never guess that if you saw them pass dogs on leash. I’m always happy when they get to interact in an appropriate, happy way with other dogs off leash.

More to come on some theories about off-leash life and well-adjusted dogs, particularly reflecting on my time observing dogs in Europe…

Busy life, busy pups

Babies

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?

Happy Friday!

Ears! And a fig branch. #pyrrhagram
Pyr in the yard, with a fig branch.

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you have pleasant weekends ahead, and good plans to beat the heat! We’ve been taking our walks late in the evening, when the asphalt isn’t scorching and the temperatures have cooled (if only slightly!). Whew. I imagine this weekend will have short romps in store for Pyrrha, with lots of time napping on the cool hardwood floor…

Meet Rainer!

Meet Rainer, our third foster from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue!

Rainer in the kitchen

Rainer is a sweet, shy boy who was brought into a rural shelter as a stray. That’s all we know about him! The shelter estimated he was 10 months old, but I think they were on crack, because he has to be much, much older than that; his teeth are pretty worn down, his muzzle is quite gray, and he doesn’t have even an ounce of the kind of puppy energy typical of an adolescent GSD.

That side eye! Kills me.

He is quite shy and withdrawn. He acts so much like Pyrrha did when we first got her: very curious about everything, can’t stop pacing and patrolling. But, like Pyrrha, he has a gentle disposition. He is nervous about people approaching him, but he calmly submits to petting and attention when approached slowly.

As you can see, below, he didn’t have much problem approaching Guion on his own initiative in the backyard:

Getting some love from Guion

So far, his interactions with Pyrrha have been GREAT, something we are so thankful for! They were both pretty nervous for the first few minutes and ignored each other in the yard for about 15 minutes — tons of calming signals being thrown around (curves around each other, lots of sniffing, lots of avoidance, lack of eye contact).

But then Pyrrha started throwing around some play bows, and within a few moments, Rainer had warmed right up!

Bonding with his foster sis

They are very trustworthy in the yard together. I watched them a lot last night and this morning, and they seem very well suited to each other. He’ll romp when she wants to romp, but he also does a good job of deflecting her invitations if he doesn’t want to play.

Rainer strolling

Last night, I took them on a walk together around the neighborhood. Guion couldn’t be at home, but I could walk them quite easily by myself. Rainer was so gentle and easy to lead on the leash, for a dog who had presumably been a stray for quite some time. We passed several dogs, and although he was very excited by them, neither dog barked or lunged, which I was very happy about! Pyrrha’s presence seemed to be calming to him, and he followed her very readily.

It is very funny to me to watch Pyrrha be the model of confidence for another dog! Never thought I’d see that day.

He was pretty rough last night in the crate. He barked for about an hour between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m., which was zero fun times for everyone. Obviously, just quite scared and overwhelmed. However, I think he really has the capacity to calm down and get acclimated to home life.

Rainer in golden light

Right now, my primary concern for Rainer is his health. I am eager to have him get a full vet check soon; we are both a little worried about his hindquarters. He walks very gingerly up and down stairs and seems to have a lot of weakness back there. His balance is also poor. Guion will be taking him this morning to get him a thorough bath and nail clipping, so he’ll also be on the lookout for any other bodily issues.

All that said, however, Rainer is such a sweet boy! What an easy dog. For a shy stray, I think he has a TON of potential, and I think he will be ready for a forever home soon enough.

If you are interested in adopting Rainer, fill out an application at Southeast German Shepherd Rescue!

Playing with Georgia

We spent another lovely, peaceful weekend with my in-laws and with the fast-growing baby Georgia!

Look how long her legs are now!

Playing with Georgia

These two continue to get on brilliantly. They romped and played all weekend long.

Playing with Georgia

Playing with Georgia

While there were a few moments in which Pyrrha would get annoyed with Georgia’s constant puppy antics, for the most part, she was very patient and gentle with her. It’s interesting to me how great she is with Georgia and how she wasn’t all that enthused with Laszlo. (I also wonder if this has something to do with the fact that Laszlo was all up in her space.)

Playing with Georgia

Update on Pyrrha’s leash reactivity:

We took the girls on several walks over the weekend. We passed a handful of dogs, and Pyrrha had two negative reactions. The first was at a golden retriever who barked and lunged at her, so she responded in kind. The second was at a pair of smaller dogs (looked like an American Eskimo and a JRT) and her reaction somewhat surprised me there, since the dogs didn’t seem very interested in her.

When walking her solo, however (apart from Georgia), she had no reactions to other dogs who passed her. Again, this leads me to believe that her aggressive reaction has something to do with either protectiveness (over Georgia) or boosted confidence (because of Georgia’s presence), leading her to put on a big show.

While I am thankful that she doesn’t display this behavior when being walked solo (she very happily and gently met a black lab puppy last night on our stroll), it is still something to be worked on, particularly as we may be getting our third foster soon. I hope to enlist Guion’s help with this and to apply some of the principles of LAT or BAT.

Playing with Georgia

Otherwise, we are expecting to have Georgia (and her humans) come visit us in mid-May, for Guion’s graduation from his graduate program. We are looking forward to it already!

Weekend recap (and behavior update)

Disgruntled, I

We spent our Easter (and my birthday) weekend at my parents’ house for a mini-family reunion. While I was too busy (or lazy?) to take photos, we did spend lots of time with Pyrrha, taking walks and observing her on-leash behavior.

Behavior Notes

  • She spent the majority of the weekend hanging out with her girlfriend Dublin, which was nice. The two of them get along well, as they always have. They’ll wrestle for a few minutes, perhaps fight over a toy or an old bone, and then go lounge in separate corners of the yard.
  • She had some GI issues over the weekend, which I won’t go into further, but I am beginning to think that our girl has a sensitive stomach. I’ve finally learned that she can’t handle rawhides or most chews. I want to try deer antlers, though, because I’ve heard those aren’t as upsetting. Do any of you have a dog with a sensitive stomach? Do you have any chews/bones that work for your dog? She LOVES chewing and she adores bones, so I hate to deprive her of them entirely, but they make her so sick.
  • Her on-leash reactivity was mostly OK. We walked her with Dublin (a confident, no-nonsense dog who isn’t rattled by anything) several times, and Pyrrha did not have any aggressive reactions to any dogs that we passed or encountered. This was encouraging. There was one moment, however, when she was on-leash by herself with me, and a leashed dog walked down the street. Pyrrha barked at this dog, but that was the only response.

All of your comments and advice have been immensely helpful. I am planning on re-reading Control Unleashed and trying LAT with her on our walks in the neighborhood. I think your suggestions that her aggressive display is a function of fear/trying to act tougher than she actually feels is accurate. Dublin’s presence on our walks suggests to me that Pyrrha felt “protected” by Dublin and thus no need to put on a show for other dogs; with baby Laszlo, however, I imagine she felt like she needed to guard him against other dogs, OR she felt more nervous and unsure about what to do with other dogs when she was with a puppy companion.

Anyway. More to come on this issue, I am sure. We are traveling AGAIN this weekend, this time to visit Georgia and my in-laws! So, more dog stories to come!

Advice needed: Aggressive behavior from Pyrrha on walks

So, since we’ve been fostering, Pyrrha has displayed a totally new behavior on walks with our fosters. She has never done this with us before, not even a shade of it.

Pen Park with Laszlo
Pyr walking trails with my sister and brother-in-law.

Here’s the scenario:

We are walking with Pyrrha and the foster (whether it was Brando or Laszlo) in the neighborhood. Another leashed dog and its human start approaching us. When the dog gets close enough to pass by us, Pyrrha FREAKS out. She lunges at the dog, barking ferociously, hackles up. I pull her back with all my might, utterly stunned and shaken. (And embarrassed!)

I am pretty sure that this new behavior is not a fear display. In the early days, her fear exhibited in her hackles up, tail curled under, ears back, lips curled up, slinking away, quiet growling; THIS is lunging forward, vicious-sounding barking, full body thrown at the other dog. Although it may still have its roots in fear, it does not look like a fearful display; it just looks outright aggressive.

I don’t know what this means. Someone suggested that she’s protective of the foster. I guess this could be, but I’m unsure. I need to walk her on her own, without another dog, and see how she does. Again, I have never, never seen this before and I don’t know how to handle it. She has now reacted this way to passing dogs on walks with both Brando and Laszlo. (As a side note, she hasn’t flipped out with every single dog we see; it’s only certain dogs. Last night, she freaked only after Laszlo had barked at the other dogs.) It’s only with dogs, too. We passed some unusual-looking people, children, kids on scooters — nothing.

I started to question my posture and energy, but I don’t feel like I was tensing up, because normally, when other dogs would pass us, she was SO happy! I wasn’t nervous when other dogs passed us. She’d pull me to them and start play-bowing. I just had no idea this behavior even existed inside her.

Any advice?

What do you think could be causing this behavior? Ever seen this in your own dog (a totally surprising reaction in a familiar environment with familiar stimuli)?

Pup links!

Chihuahua mix on the bed. Source: SF Girl by Bay

Two little Pyrrha stories from today:

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)

Learning to “Speak Dog”: Why You Should Care about Understanding Your Dog. I loved this post, because it felt like a recap of everything I learned and read in this past year. A helpful, easy-to-read synopsis of why it matters that we understand our canine companions. (Tails from the Lab)

Dog Camping Heaven in Upstate New York. Um, can we go NOW? This looks incredible. Have you ever taken your dog to a place like this? (Go Pet Friendly)

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)

Play date with Bo and Zoe

While their mamas were out of town, Zoe and Bo got to have a play date. My friend Celeste and I, acting as their temporary caregivers, organized a little play date with the two. My dear friend Angela was also in town for the weekend and so the three of us enjoyed our afternoon with the dogs. It was a beautiful spring-like day and I think they had a lot of fun romping around Zoe’s yard.

Slideshow below:

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Zoe was initially a little taken aback that we had introduced this gregarious, blond ruffian into her yard. Bo would try to chase her around, tackle her, but Zoe primly refused. After a few minutes of unsuccessful romping, Bo quieted down and they calmly followed one another around the yard. Zoe ended up seeking us for belly rubs while Bo, in typical fashion, rummaged through the compost heap (despite our best attempts to stop him).

After half an hour of play time in the yard, we took Zoe and Bo on a walk through the nearby neighborhood, which I think we all thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t wait to get to do this kind of thing with my own dog!

Do you ever organize “play dates”? Do you have any recommendations for making them go smoothly? Bo and Zoe were a pretty good match for one another. Even though Bo’s energy level exceeds Zoe’s, they’re both very mild-mannered and easy going pups. I hope I’ll be able to find one of those myself…

Lessons learned from Dublin and Aoive

We had a peaceful and very pleasant Thanksgiving with our families this year. Along with all of the food and family time, I also got to spend some quality time with Dublin, my family’s surrogate dog, and Aoive, my husband’s family’s dog.

Dublin is our neighbor’s chocolate lab mix, whom my father has practically adopted as his own. Dublin’s family was out of town for the weekend, so we were watching her. She spent most of her time at our house throughout the weekend, and so I got plenty of time with her.

Family + Dublin
My family + Dublin.

I woke up early on Thanksgiving morning and took her for an hour-long walk/run through the local university campus. We chased squirrels and tromped through the woods and had such a peaceful, happy hour together. For all of her muscular energy, Dublin is very good at moderating her strength to the person who is walking her. I’ve seen her walk slowly and calmly next to her young charges, ages 6 and 10, without pulling at all. With me, she walks a little more briskly, but it’s never uncomfortable. I think this quite a skill for a young dog to have.

Dubs and me, post-run
Dublin and me, post-run. I'm looking a little rough, but she looks lovely.

On Friday morning, my mom and I took her on another long walk through town and she was a great companion on the walk. (She did exhibit some gastrointestinal distress, however, which was clearly the result of all of us being too indulgent with her on Thanksgiving.) She politely greeted a shimmering pair of West Highland white terriers on our way back. Their human was apparently impressed with how calmly his dogs were when they met Dublin. That’s generally Dublin’s effect on humans and dogs, I think: She just chills them out.

Later on Friday, we went to visit my wonderful in-laws and there had a reunion with the beautiful Aoive. I hadn’t seen Aoive in quite a while, and I was startled by how much gray she had accumulated along her muzzle and face. She is about 8.5 years old now, but you’d never guess it. Her coat is still the softest and most velvety coat I’ve ever felt and her energy is seemingly boundless.

That to say, she was on her best behavior for all of us over the weekend. When she’s in the house and can’t be next to Windy, my mother-in-law, she stays tethered to an armchair. If Windy is out of sight, Aoive instantly gets anxious. I’ve never seen a dog more attached to one person than Aoive is to Windy. But this extreme attachment seemed quite moderated this weekend.

Aoive's true love
Aoive with Windy, my mother-in-law, her favorite human on Earth.

On Saturday morning, all of us took her on a 2.5-mile walk around the local reservoir. It was a gorgeous, warm, and sunny day, and I think we all had a marvelous time. Aoive even got to wade along the creeks and banks. She was taunted by a flotilla of Canada geese and agitated by their serene movements just a few feet from her snout. But the prospect of having to actually swim in the reservoir was enough to keep her just frantically pacing back and forth along the bank.

Old Aoive
Sweet Aoive waits patiently to be let back in.

Big lessons learned: I’m thankful to have dogs in my life. Even though I don’t have one of my own yet, I’m thankful for the ones that I get to encounter when we visit family. They bring a lot of light and joy into all of our lives.