Play-date with Ozzie

Ozzie relaxes

When we decided that we wanted a German shepherd, I sought out everyone I knew who had one. Marcy was one of those people. She is responsible for bringing young Bo to his lady, Liz, and so she’s a familiar feature in my community dog constellation.

Marcy has had German shepherds for years, and she is currently living with 3-year-old Ozzie, who is just as sweet and majestic as he can be. Many months ago, before I even knew about Pyrrha’s existence, I went to visit Marcy, meet Ozzie, and talk to them about the trials, tribulations, and joys of German shepherd ownership. They were both a great help to me in our journey toward rescuing Pyrrha. (And Ozzie officially solidified my desire for a long-coat GSD…)

On Tuesday night, we thought it might be nice for Pyrrha to finally meet dear Ozzie. Ozzie is one of those rare, lucky dogs who gets to go into the office with his human, and so Marcy brought him by after work.

Play-date with Ozzie

I won’t lie: They had a rough initial greeting. Ozzie was already unleashed in our backyard when I went to let Pyrrha out. He came rushing into the sunroom to see her and she flipped out—hackles, snarling, lunging at him. I was a little concerned, but after we pushed them both into the yard, and Pyrrha got over her initial displays of fear, they were best buds.

Play-date with Ozzie

What I’ve learned from this: Pyrrha does much better meeting a dog in a neutral space, with a very loose leash. She met Zoe in our front yard and there were no fear displays at all, and the pair transitioned very smoothly into the backyard. To date, our most frightening initial encounters have been when Pyrrha was in the backyard and another big dog came in (see: Silas). I will be sure to follow this protocol for all future play-dates at our house.

Sitting for Marcy

It was great to keep the company of another GSD person, however. Marcy is so experienced with the breed that she wasn’t disturbed at all by Pyrrha’s initial “greeting” of Ozzie. She could tell that Pyrrha would be fine in a minute, and she was. Marcy also wasn’t frightened by the way that Pyrrha plays, which is with a lot of flashing teeth, paw smacking, and play growls. “This is just the German shepherd way,” she said, while watching them rough-house. Watching two GSDs play could be a terrifying thing to witness for someone who had only been around gentle hounds, but Marcy thankfully knew what was up. Again, I’m so grateful for other dog people who know how to read Pyrrha and wait her out.

Play-date with Ozzie

These two are such a good example of the big difference between a black-and-tan and a black-and-red GSD. Pyrrha’s coat looks almost white next to Ozzie’s deep tones!

More play photos:

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie
And now we’re in love.

Hope we’ll get to do this again soon!

(*Also: Thanks for all of your great advice about how to get Pyrrha more comfortable going outside with Guion. We are going to try some of the things you recommended and I will be sure to keep you posted!)

Pyrrha learns some manners from Zoe

[It turns out that I am really terrible at taking photos of dogs playing together, so please forgive me for this set.]

Play date with Zoe
Those are some pretty stalk-y eyes, Pyrrha.

My dear friend Kendra has a super-sweet 8-year-old black lab mix named Zoe, whom you may recall from our house-sitting stay with her a year ago (or her play-date that we facilitated with Bo). Zoe is extremely gentle and submissive; I think she spends half her life on her back, offering her belly to people. I like to think of her as a well-mannered but occasionally frisky older lady. She is a doll.

I also thought she’d be a great dog to have over for a visit. Last Tuesday night, Kendra brought Zoe over. We introduced the dogs on loose leashes in the open front yard and the greetings went off without a hitch.

Play date with Zoe
Sniffing around.

As I watched them interact, I was reminded of the fact that Pyrrha, at 17 months, is still basically a puppy. And Zoe was a laidback older lady who did not necessarily want to romp all the time. It was like watching a giggly 12-year-old girl (Pyrrha) trying to get a serious, polite 55-year-old woman (Zoe) to wrestle with her… or something…

Pyrrha kept enticing her to play, trying to jump on her back or nip at her legs, and Zoe would respond with a well-timed and serious growl, which clearly meant, Leave me alone, you PEST!

Play date with Zoe

Pyrrha didn’t always get the message, but I’m glad Zoe was there to teach Pyr some manners. Kendra would apologize for Zoe’s growling, but I told her not to worry about it at all; I wanted Pyrrha to learn from it. We would split them up for a time, when it became clear that Zoe had had enough of Pyrrha’s antics.

Halfway through the night, though, Zoe perked up and decided that she’d cave to Pyrrha’s persistent invitations. The two did several crazed laps around the backyard and then we brought them inside. They were both panting and winded, thankfully, and even young Pyr seemed too tired to incite any further wrestling.

Play date with Zoe
Girls following Guion inside.

All in all, I’d say it was a successful date! Although for Zoe’s sake–since it’s evident she’s not wild about Pyrrha’s shenanigans–I think they’d make an even better hiking pair. Kendra and I will have to set that up soon…

Does your dog have an older dog in his or her life who teaches canine manners?

Encountering off-leash dogs

Photo by Anne Cutler.

I recently took a walk with a friend on a big section of a popular trail in town that runs along a river. The trail system spreads for miles around the city and it’s a very popular route for dog people, for obvious reasons. In just an hour of walking, we saw tons of people with their dogs: A pregnant woman with her older shih tzu and pomeranian puppy; a little boy with his all-white American bulldog; an elderly man and his elderly mixed breeds; a parade of labs; a woman and her chubby Australian shepherd; a woman and her very vocal dachshund; a young guy and his Great Pyrenees…

The one thing that did surprise me, however, was how many of these dogs were off-leash, despite the fact that there were many signs posted along the trail stating that all dogs have to be leashed. None of these off-leash dogs seemed particularly “dangerous”–the two old dogs were so slow that they were barely walking, and the young lab who was off-leash was so fixated on the stick in his owner’s hand that he wasn’t looking at anyone else. We also saw a young male spitz/collie mix who seemed to either be a stray or to have been left behind by his humans, because he wasn’t with anyone. (He ran off in the woods before we could get that close to him to look for identification tags.)

Confession: I can be as guilty as the next person about sporadically breaking leash laws. Dublin and Dally are never leashed when we’re at the park in my hometown, mostly because the park is sparsely populated. If we do ever see a dog, we leash them, but they’re usually romping free, and Dublin, for one, is extremely responsive to verbal commands. I’ve hiked a trail with Bo off-leash, too, but it wasn’t an official trail, so there were no leash laws governing it. In general, though, I always leash and try to use common sense about it. It’s safer for everyone. So, I know this. I just wanted to admit my hypocrisy up front.

But. On this particular trail, seeing these many off-leash dogs did make me a little nervous about using this trail in the future. It’s not like it’s a sparsely used park or an unofficial path in the forest; this is a heavily trafficked trail system, used by all sorts of people: Dog people, young families, teenagers, bikers, runners, and even the city’s homeless.

What if we have a dog who isn’t great with other dogs rushing up to him or her? Our dog would always be leashed, but you can’t control an unleashed dog from rushing forward. (*Side story: Zoe and I narrowly escaped a potentially frightening situation like this. I was walking her in her neighborhood, and a young German shepherd was loose in his front yard. There were college students standing out in the yard, too, but none of them were looking at the dog, who started to charge toward us, growling. I stopped behind a hedge and shouted over it, “PLEASE leash your dog!” Thankfully, they heard me and grabbed the dog and we could continue without fear for our lives…)

How do you prevent this situation from escalating–an unleashed dog rushing up to your leashed one? Have you ever encountered this before?

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

Unqualified, unconditional regard

Click for source.

“Another human being will never bring us to the same unqualified, unconditional regard that a dog does. Our full immersion in language brings with it qualification and condition; once we enter the world of signs, we can never again be so single-minded.”

— Mark Doty, Dog Years

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy weekend, everyone! Hope it is restful. I may be arranging a small play-date between Bo and Zoe while their owners are out of town. Should be fun! Let’s just up the Bo-ster isn’t too rambunctious for Zoe, the dignified older woman…

The four-month plan

Here's what I think about your training plan. Click for source.

We’re now officially four months away from moving and welcoming a dog into our new home. After a year and a half of concentrated waiting, four months sounds unbelievably close.

In this interim, here’s my (overly ambitious?) four-month plan for our future dog once we bring him/her home. I’m hoping to work through The Power of Positive Dog Training, which has been my favorite step-by-step training manual I’ve read so far. All that said, here’s the game plan!

MONTH ZERO: Goals for the months leading up to the move and adoption

  1. Move into new place! Make home as dog-friendly and dog-proof as possible.
  2. Interview GSD owners, meet some area GSDs.
  3. Send out applications to various GSD rescue organizations. Make home visits, speak with foster parents, and meet prospective dogs!
  4. Sit down together and establish house rules for the dog (furniture, bed, room privileges, etc.).
  5. Figure out our daily care schedules for the dog: Who will be home when, if we need a dog walker, etc.
  6. Give Guion a crash course in positive reinforcement dog training! And pretty much an overview of… everything I’ve learned in a year and a half of canine study.
  7. Start buying dog supplies! I’m really excited about this, even though I know it will be a lot of initial expenses.
  8. Choose a vet. Get recommendations from other pet owners in town.

MONTH ONE: Bringing the dog home!

  1. Learn new name (if needed. I have a feeling we’ll probably want to change the dog’s name. We’re both kind of particular about names… And I feel like a lot of the GSDs I’ve seen in rescue have rather silly ones).
  2. Get acclimated to house rules: House-training, daily routines, rules about furniture and certain rooms, etc.
  3. If needed, gradually transition to a healthy and high-quality kibble + weekly supplements of fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans.
  4. Carefully train and transition to avoid any separation anxiety.
  5. Evaluate potential problem areas (possessiveness, shyness, fear-based aggression, excessive barking/boredom, fear of inanimate objects, thunderstorm phobia, etc.).
  6. Create cautious and mannerly introductions to different dogs. Think of other calm, responsible adult dogs to introduce him/her to. Bo and Zoe would be great dogs to start with.
  7. First vet check up.

MONTH TWO: Settling in

  1. Attend a training class as a family. The PetCo and the PetsMart in town offer training classes, but there’s also an independent dog training studio nearby that sounds very promising.
  2. Work steadily and consistently on leash manners, if needed.
  3. Practice basic commands together: Sit, down, stay, heel, wait.
  4. Make introductions to as many types of people as possible. Aim to have these interactions be incredibly positive.
  5. Begin walking in bigger, busier areas, like the downtown mall and other parks.
  6. First bath. Also train for exposure to grooming, nail clipping, etc.
  7. Target problem areas identified in Month 1.

MONTH THREE: Working hard

  1. Practice car ride manners.
  2. Work consistently on basic commands, adding a few others to the repertoire.
  3. Once I feel comfortable with his or her mannerisms toward people, spend some time with calm, trustworthy children.
  4. Go hiking!
  5. Keep working to eliminate any problem areas.
  6. Have some play-dates with other neighborhood dogs.
  7. Begin training for a reliable recall.

MONTH FOUR: Adventuring out

  1. First family hiking excursion!
  2. Keep honing basic commands until they’re solid.
  3. Take some runs together.
  4. Try swimming (in a river or creek?) for the first time.
  5. Work consistently on recall abilities; test with a long line in a field.
  6. Add to trick repertoire.
  7. Practice working with a Frisbee.

I’m sure I’ll look back at this and laugh at all that I thought I could achieve. But it’s a start! Any thing you would add? Do you think I’m being too ambitious? Or do you think there are important goals that I’ve neglected? Do share! As always, I’m eager to learn from you.

Review: Volunteering with Your Pet

Volunteering with Your Pet, by Mary R. Burch

Throughout my young life, my experiences with animals have always reinforced the truth that animals can bring life, joy, and mercy to people in profound ways. The compassion of animals is ultimately why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I no longer feel guilty about it. I have long been interested in animal-assisted therapy and so I was excited to see this book at the library.

The book itself is pretty old (published in 1996)–as evidenced by the fact that the author had to explain what e-mail was–but the advice contained in this little book is not dated. Burch gives her readers an overview of the history of animal-assisted therapy and devotes a chapter to the types of animals that can participate. So, whether you have a dog, a cat, a horse, a llama, or a bird, Dr. Burch has some advice for you.

I was impressed by her professionalism in training and inspired by her many touching anecdotes about the changes she had seen in her years as a therapy volunteer with her animals.

The book also impressed upon me the very unique temperament and nature of a dog who would be qualified for therapy. I can think of only a few dogs I’ve met who would be naturally wonderful therapy dogs (Zoe, for certain, and maybe even Bo, once he mellows out a bit with age), but Burch helps you see that many dogs, given that they have a fundamentally stable and friendly personality, can be trained to volunteer in any number of situations. I am hopeful that we will find a dog who could one day volunteer at a nursing home, school, or hospital. What could be better than allowing others to experience the unconditional love that you receive from your dog every day?

If you’re looking for a basic primer on animal-assisted therapy, then this is a great starting place. It would be nice if it was possibly updated with more current information, but on the whole, this book has a lot of sound advice about beginning to work with your pet in animal-assisted therapy.

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.