Those of you who have been reading along here for a while may remember Rainer, the shy, foxy-looking German shepherd who we fostered for a little over four months.
Rainer was so gentle toward us and toward Pyrrha, but he had some serious territorial aggression toward other dogs, and he once tried to kill (actually kill, not just scare off) a potential adopter’s male dog — a terrible, terrible day which resulted in several ER visits for humans and dogs. He also showed lots of aggression toward baby Georgia when she came to visit, and he was always riled up by seeing other dogs on walks.
For this reason, when he was adopted by a young Marine, we counseled him to be extremely cautious with Rainer and other dogs and to continue the positive reinforcement training around his fears. That said, Rainer certainly had the potential to be good with other dogs, because he loved Pyrrha, and she loved him; they never had a serious quarrel.
Just last night, I got a text from Rainer’s adopter, who said that he was doing well — and to my shock and delight, Rainer had a puppy sibling! An 8-month-old German shepherd, whom you can see dozing here:
Rainer looks so chubby and content; I love it. Cody, his adopter, said that Rainer has been great with the puppy. I asked him how Rainer was doing in general, and his sole comment was: “He has been a real blessing.”
I’ll take it! I’m always amazed at how much our former foster dogs have grown and matured since we had them in our home. Rainer was perhaps our hardest case, and I can’t say how much joy it brings me to hear that he is doing well — and coexisting peacefully with a sibling.
Have you ever been surprised by a dog’s behavioral change, particularly once he or she was in a new environment?
So. The worst part of our recent holiday weekend was this:
Pyrrha nipped my 10-year-old cousin, M., and it wasn’t playful.
I supervised their first introduction, and Pyrrha was actually great with her. M. is a tall girl, and I think that helped; she isn’t small and high-pitched. Pyrrha let M. pet her, drape her arm over her back, and she was very relaxed about it. I told M. that Pyrrha was fearful and not that fond of children, as a warning.
Some hours later, however, M. was walking up from the lake, toward the dogs, who were on leashes on a zip line. She came straight up to Pyrrha with her arms outstretched, and Pyrrha barked and growled at her, and then grabbed the back of M.’s shirt. She scraped M.’s skin with her teeth, but there was no blood.
I quickly rushed Pyrrha inside and then went back out to check on M. She was tearful and frightened, naturally, but she was OK and rather brave about the whole encounter. But then I started to cry a bit, too, feeling really terrible about the whole incident.
I think I was so upset because it was the first time I’ve seen Pyrrha demonstrate fear aggression toward a human. And the fear aggression resulted in a warning nip to a child.
As my dad pointed out, it wasn’t a bite; if Pyrrha had really wanted to bite her, she would have. And it would have been serious. This was more like a scrape than anything else. But I knew it was not coming from a playful place, and that was what made my heart sink. And I should have prevented the whole thing from ever happening. Thankfully, my uncle and aunt were pretty relaxed about the whole incident. I felt so terrible, though.
I was honestly astonished that it happened, particularly as Pyrrha was so relaxed with M. for the first half of the day. I’m still not sure what the trigger was this time; I think it was a mix of M. coming up from the lake, Pyrrha not recognizing her, M. coming straight for Pyrrha with her arms out, and Pyrrha feeling trapped by being on the zip line. But I was surprised and saddened, because the rest of the day, she was in a very relaxed state, untroubled by people coming and going.
The incident has made me seriously renew my commitment to Pyrrha’s fear issues. I admit I have been lax about training with children, because we don’t have any children and children don’t visit our house regularly. (If they do, Pyrrha is always very closely controlled.) But we want to have kids one day, and Pyrrha’s behavior really frightens and distresses me. Is it stupid to think that, with gradual training, she would be OK with having children, our future children, in the house 24/7?
I’ve always known she isn’t comfortable around children, but this incident has made me wonder if she will ever be. It’s something I’d like to revisit with our trainer. I’ve talked with her some about it, and she recommends the classical conditioning protocol we’re following with her leash reactivity toward dogs (and applying it to children in proximity).
So. There’s that. I didn’t really want to write about this, because it makes me sad.
What do you think? Do you have a dog who is fearful of children? How have you handled it?
Our resident adorable monster turned 1 on Saturday!
It feels a little hard to believe. Eden joined our family when she was 5 months old, just a skinny little thing, and now she’s growing up into a pretty young lady. She still acts like a wild adolescent 100% of the time, however — something I’ve been told may not change until she’s 3 or 4…
But we love her! We’re thankful for how she’s helped Pyrrha become a more confident, calm dog. The two of them have developed a very happy friendship, which I am pleased to note, after a somewhat tenuous beginning. Now, they have reached a pleasant equilibrium with one another, and they seem to enjoy playing together more than ever before. Watching them play tag and wrestle in the backyard is one of my chiefest delights.
Guion is especially happy to have “a dog of his own.” After Pyrrha unequivocally picked me as the Only Human in Her Universe, Guion was naturally feeling a bit left out. One of our goals for a second dog was a dog who loved Guion. Enter Eden! Thanks to their daily morning games of Frisbee, Guion and Eden have developed a strong bond, and she is just crazy about him. It’s very sweet. (As an added benefit, Eden and Guion’s congenial relationship has also encouraged Pyrrha to warm up to Guion.)
She continues to prove herself as a gifted Frisbee athlete, and we are thankful that her athletic interests involve retrieving (anything and everything). She also loves all people, sometimes too much; we really need to continue working on the don’t-maul-the-guests-with-your-enthusiasm behavior. But after we get past introductions, she’s able to present herself as a calm, mannerly lady, which makes us happy.
Eden has brought a lot of joy and madness into our house, and we are looking forward to many years with her!