Hike in Pen Park, in which I almost have a heart attack

Afternoon at Pen Park
Pen Park trails.

I was cooped up all weekend finishing calligraphy projects, so I was desperate to get outside. I could tell Pyrrha was antsy, too. On Saturday, the three of us took a little excursion to the huge, beautiful park in town, Pen Park, which runs along the river and has miles of wooded trails.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Come back and play!

The only dog we saw all afternoon was a sweet little German shepherd puppy. Interestingly enough, she was even more shy about Pyrrha than Pyrrha was about her. Pyrrha went right up to her for a sniff, and the puppy hid behind her human’s legs. We moved away, but as you can see from the photo above, Pyrrha wasn’t quite ready to leave that interaction. I’ll consider that minor progress in the dog-fear department, at least on Pyr’s end. (*Side note: It did make me think, however, about how many poorly bred German shepherds there are and how many are prone to fear, just like our backyard-bred girl. I have met so many fearful shepherds, more than almost any other breed. It’s also interesting to think about the relationship between fear and the perceived inherent aggression of shepherds. Just some tangential wondering.)

Afternoon at Pen Park
Hurry up, humans.

Half an hour later, a trio of white-tailed deer came crashing through the trail in front of us. This was VERY exciting to Pyrrha, although I don’t think she could decide whether to be afraid or to start the chase. She did “track” them for a good while afterward, following their path very closely, nose to the ground for a long ways.

Aside from the deer, the trail was very empty for a Saturday. So, I decided to make a big mistake.

“You want to try her off-leash?” I asked Guion. “She did so well with me a few weeks ago. I think she’d be great.” He agreed and off the leash came.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Off leash!
Afternoon at Pen Park
This was a good idea for about 30 seconds.

Yeah. That was a good idea for about 30 seconds. Turns out I vastly overestimated little Pyrrha’s recall abilities. About a minute after that photo was taken above, she took off after the scent of something in the woods.

At first, I thought, “Ah, she’ll loop back around to us once she sees that we’re moving.” So, we walked a little ways, and I could still see her crashing through the woods. But she didn’t loop back.

My heart started pounding. I started yelling her name. Nothing. I could still see her, but she was running in wide circles through the woods, getting deeper and deeper in. Then I really started to panic. Guion and I both broke into the brush, getting our faces full of spider webs, crying out her name. She was still in sight of us, and would look at us occasionally, and then start looping around us, just having a great time.

At one moment, she broke away even further and I couldn’t see her anymore. Shit, shit, shit, shit, we just lost our dog. Oh, my gosh, we just lost our dog. This was the mantra running through my brain.

Thankfully, Guion was faster than I was and when she came around for another loop, he was right there in front of her. And she ran right up to him, her eyes wide, and panting. This was unusual in itself, because she doesn’t normally come to Guion. We both thought she looked a little frightened herself, as if she wasn’t sure how to get back to us or what to do in the thick woods.

Back on the leash she went. I nearly cried from relief. I felt really guilty the rest of the afternoon, for being so foolishly overconfident. But I guess that’s what having your first dog is for, right? Making lots of mistakes and then learning from them.

Afternoon at Pen Park
Back on the leash.

I’m just really, really thankful that this mistake had a happy ending. We went home, all very tired, and drank lots of water. Now, we’ll be working on actually teaching her recall, instead of assuming that she just gets it. No more off-leash time for you, Pyr. Not for a while anyway.

Make me feel a little better. Have you ever made a mistake like this, thinking your dog could do something that he or she really couldn’t? Hope it has a happy ending, too!

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Hiking with Bo

Carter Mountain with Bo
Bo is paying extremely close attention to that apple in my hand. Source: Husband's iPhone

We had glorious early autumn weather here this weekend and so we decided to hike up to Carter Mountain Orchard with friends. Failing to be outside on a weekend like this would be a severe crime. Liz, Bo’s mama, was out of town for the weekend and we were left with the beautiful Bo as our charge. I thought he’d have a great time in the woods and so we decided to pile him in the back of our Jeep and head out there.

My husband informed me on our way up that it was Festival Day, which meant that the entire town–and their dogs!–were at the orchard. I was nervous. Festival Day at the orchard was stressful for me as a human; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be totally overwhelming for Bo.

Thankfully, however, our hour-long hike up the mountain proved to sufficiently tire him out, and by the time we reached the throngs of people, Bo was in a calm, resting state.

A few things I learned from the outing:

  • Bo is extremely even-tempered; he’s the perfect dog to handle a big crowd, especially once he’s a bit tired. Dozens of kids came up to him and most were very polite and sweet with him. He took it all in stride–even when a rather pushy father stuck his toddler in Bo’s face. The toddler kept grabbing Bo’s tongue and pulling it and Bo didn’t even flinch. I gently moved Bo away from the kid, who started to scream, but the father eventually got the message: Yep, it’s time to keep your kid from torturing patient animals. However, I was very relieved to have such a trustworthy dog with me.
  • Taking a retriever to an orchard means that said retriever will try to retrieve every fallen apple on the ground… even when there are literally hundreds of fallen apples. I think he was eventually overwhelmed by all of the tasty retrieving options and finally gave up.
  • I saw two German shepherd puppies among the crowd up there and got to pet one who had recently been adopted from a breeder in Chesapeake. The puppy was very sweet and didn’t seem too overwhelmed by the madness. As he walked away, though, I couldn’t help but notice his already extremely bent hindlegs, in the GSD show fashion. It made me a bit sad.
  • Bo is especially fond of my brother-in-law, Win.
  • Bo is weird about drinking water that’s not from his specific bowl at home. He was clearly thirsty when we reached the top, but when we offered him a bowl of water at the orchard, he only took one lap and then moved away. We kept trying to tempt him with it, but he was uninterested. Strange.
  • On the hike down, we took him off leash and he was wonderful. He’d wander a few yards ahead of us but always stopped and turned around to make sure we were still following. A quick whistle or call of his name would bring him back to the trail after he went bounding after a random scent or squirrel. His recall is not superb, but he will always stop and listen when you ask him to; it’s just getting him to come that’s the hard part. A play bow on my part was often a helpful incentive. And a ginger cat cookie from Trader Joe’s…
  • One of the most joyful things in the world is watching a dog running free in the woods.
  • Resounding opinion of all of our hiking friends: “Bo is the perfect dog.” He’s pretty darn close.

All in all, we had a perfect day and I’m so happy that Bo joined us. I can’t wait to go on similar adventures with our own dog! And hopefully Bo will come along too…