In which Pyrrha has an uneasy “play” date with Silas

Sunday delivered the most beautiful spring weather. We spent the whole day outside with Pyrrha, mowing the lawn, tending to our plants. We ran a brief errand and bumped into our friends James and Sara and their Great Pyrenees mix, Silas. We told them about Pyrrha and said we’d be hanging out all day in the yard if they wanted to come over and bring Silas.

Pyrrha in the freshly mowed lawn
Pyrrha, sitting in the freshly mowed lawn.

At this point, I knew that Pyrrha reacted fearfully toward other dogs on lead, but I’d heard from her foster that she was great with them in open spaces. I figured that this would be a good interaction, especially knowing that Silas was super-calm and steady. Enter my first dog-parenting misjudgment.

We were in the backyard with Pyrrha when James, Sara, and Silas showed up. As soon as she saw Silas, she EXPLODED. Snarling, barking, growling, hackles up, teeth flashing everywhere. Thankfully, James and Sara are as calm as their dog is. I didn’t know what to do, but James encouraged me to lead her to the back of the yard and then let go. He then released an unleashed Silas and I held my breath.

Silas, I love you
Silas, being his wonderful, chill self.

Pyrrha did not lunge at him, which I was afraid of, but just started slinking around him, sniffing him. If he ever faced her, however, she started snarling and growling again. But Silas was SUCH a champ. He was the perfect dog for her, because he refused to respond to any of her bitchiness. He’d just saunter away and let her do her thing.

Dogs, coexisting
The dogs, somewhat coexisting.

After about 10 minutes of Silas studiously ignoring her, she started to calm down and they began to coexist together. They certainly weren’t going to play with one another, but they were happy to be side-by-side and even face-to-face for the rest of the afternoon.

What I Learned: I definitely underestimated how Pyrrha might react to a new, big, strange dog in her new yard. Silas was THE best possible dog to meet her like this, however. I think he may be a critical part of her rehabilitation. And James and Sara were awesome, too; they didn’t take Pyrrha’s behavior personally and knew that she’d get over it. Which she did.

Dogs and James
Silas relaxes; Pyrrha sniffs out James.

I’m listening to your majority opinion now, and I think all of you are right: Pyrrha still just needs more time to calm down and adjust and grow in confidence. There will be plenty of time for doggy play dates. For now, we just need to work on some basic bonding and training. But the afternoon wasn’t nearly as disastrous as it could have been, and I daresay she was almost disappointed to see Silas go at the end of the day. I think Pyrrha and I both learned a lot. So, a thousand thanks to Silas and his wonderful humans; you guys deserve dog socialization medals.

I am going to take it slow with Pyrrha for now and politely decline any future, well-meaning invitations for play dates. However, I feel like the fact that she was able to happily coexist with Silas after some time bodes well for her future. She can get there eventually, but for now, we’re going to start with some more basic bonding work instead of rushing her into the presence of new dogs.

Those of you with shy dogs, how did you gradually introduce them to other dogs? What are some of your recommended techniques?

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11 thoughts on “In which Pyrrha has an uneasy “play” date with Silas

  1. Well it sounds like you had a best case scenario happen, even with your uneasy gal. I definitely agree that bonding and training is the most important thing right now, but I would also take advantage of your friends’ extremely non-reactive dog during this time as well. It really is good for her to continue to get exposure, and Silas sounds like a calm energy that could really help her out – especially in public situations.

  2. I agree that training, bonding, and time will help. I’ve found that taking my dog to daycare gives him a chance to play with other dogs and socialize while supervised by people who are trained to know when to step in. We also just started doing “pack walks,” which can be good, though maybe overwhelming for shy dogs at first. Good luck, it sounds like you’re already aware and doing a great job!

  3. We introduced a new, shy dog to our extremely un-shy, playful puppy and it went very well – no issues at all.

    Now, however, we are now having problems with the shy dog behaving extremely aggressively to small barking dogs we meet outside… She virtually turns into a raging monster and snarls, barks, growls, dances, pulls on the leash, becomes very hard to hold…. She attacked a small dog a few days ago when she slipped out of the door (the dog was OK but shaken afterwards). We don’t let her off leash anymore when we walk her. At all other times she is a super sweet, pleasing, playful dog good with great manners, good with people and kids, and best mate with our other dog.

    Unsettling problem, because she is a large dog… (an athletically built Ridgeback cross). We are her third owners (not counting foster carer) and she has been in a pound as a puppy. However, she didn’t show any aggression with the foster carer’s dogs, or other dogs where we lived before, she used to play with dogs in an off-leash park and behaved very mature and balanced with them. Now when we live in the suburbs surrounded by barking dogs, she doesn’t like stranger dogs anymore.

    I look forward to follow your progress with Pyrrha and see if we can use some of your experiences.

  4. Can’t recommend Look At That (LAT) enough for situations like yours. Introduce the clicker to Pyrrha in a separate 3 sessions, generalize to places you’ll be doing training – backyard, house, park, walks, etc.

    Begin clicking her for looking at other dogs (criterion: when her nose is facing the other dog at a distance) and then *delivering the treat right to her mouth* (most important part because oftentimes your dog will be so honed in on the stranger dog that the click will be ignored the first few repetitions. If it happens more than 5 consecutive times, you’re too close or you don’t have high enough value food).

    Distance: start where she isn’t reacting. Alert ears are okay. Being able to respond to her lovely sit cue you’ve been teaching her is a good sign. If she won’t, you’re too close.

    You might also begin pairing LAT with BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) which is negative reinforcement (taking social pressure away from Pyrrha by turning her away and heavily rewarding her for coming with you. This way, you teach her that not every single dog she sees will approach her and make her more nervous and feel like she needs to bark them away. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Together, these methods would look like this:
    — Enter with Pyrrha on leash. (I prefer my clients to step on their leashes/wrap them around their shoe as they are often very inclined to jerk back on the leash which just increases arousal in already aroused dogs).
    — Watch for Pyrrha to look at the other dog.
    — Click when she looks at the other dog.
    — Immediately turn away from the stranger dog and deliver the treat as you’re walking away.
    — Rinse and repeat.

    Eventually, you will get Pyrrha to the point that she is expecting the click/treat so she automatically: looks at the other dog for 1 second, swings her head around at you. This is a great calming signal for the stranger dog (a look away) to receive and it’s great as a foundation default (when you see another dog) Watch Me for Instructions.

    Resources: Control Unleashed by Leslie McDermitt (LAT) and Behavior Adjustment Training by Grisha Stewart

    Definitely start with just bonding but whenever you’re ready to tackle her fear-anxiety, good luck!

    1. Thanks so much; this is wonderful, thorough advice! I’ve heard great things about McDermitt’s book and in my reading about shy dogs after getting Pyrrha, the LAT acronym is the one that keeps popping up. Will definitely be trying these techniques soon; thanks so much for sharing.

  5. LAT helped us manage our ‘bad dog’ Kiba (he’s the one of our four that is rarely allowed to meet new dogs). He never got to a point where he could greet, even after our trainer had us move from LAT to more of a BAT scenario. We tried with four different dogs over a four month period, and we only go so far with him.

    It doesn’t stop us from bringing new dogs in. So for us, we choose to never let dogs interact together upon first meeting. when we bring in a foster or dogsit or even have a visitor – the new dog gets the gated off kitchen while everyone else is away from it.

    i generally try walking together after a week, pending the reactions i’ve been seeing. sometimes i let three of my four (not kiba) interact sooner off leash sometimes not. it depends.

    pyrrha showed you that she can be decent but she is very unsure about how the interactions would go. How was she with her foster pack? did she prefer the company of some and not others? smaller, larger, calmer, active? Silas seems to fit what she can tolerate and start to calm down around, so definitely use him going forward! esp with her leashed greetings – he will help her.

  6. Agree with a few others – Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed, is going to be your best friend. I’d also suggest you try to find a trainer who uses those techniques and has a “reactive dog” class you can attend.

  7. I agree with the suggestion to work on LAT. It was a lifesaver with Shadow. We also took her to a doggy play group at the SPCA which was run by trained volunteers. It gave us a safe place to work with her in a supervised setting.

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