A four-dog play-date

We hosted a springtime play-date, and these three good-looking dogs came over:

Loki, the Newfoundland

Four-dog play-date

Josie, the German shepherd

Four-dog play-date
Josie. (I love her; she’s a little pocket shepherd!)

and Finn, the Llewellin setter (Finn’s first time coming over to play with us!)

Four-dog play-date

I did not get any good photos of the play, so apologies. It was hot, so the pups were doing limited romping and lots of moseying around the yard, looking at each other.

Finn was a little bit nervous about the play-date, and Loki didn’t like him much. It was the first time I’d seen Loki testy with another dog, which was interesting. My best guess is that it has something to do with the fact that Finn is intact. Also interesting: Eden went into her first heat the very next morning after our play-date, but the boy dogs did not care about her at all. Finn was enamored with Josie (who is spayed) and could not leave her alone! Josie’s mama said, “I think she must smell nice to the boy dogs; they always love her.” Indeed! Josie was an all-star, just rolling with the punches, putting up with any brattiness from Eden (and reacting calmly when Pyrrha tried to start something with her). Good girl, Josie. Wish you would rub off on our crazies!

Four-dog play-date
The shepherd girls check out Finn, who is a little unsure of their advances.

As I alluded to above, Pyrrha did not attend the play-date, sadly. She did not interact well with Josie (totally Pyrrha’s fault, and not Josie’s), which was sad and surprising, as the two of them played together beautifully the first time they met. She got all up in Josie’s grill and started posturing with her (putting her head over Josie’s shoulders and giving a really intense, bug-eyed stare), which escalated into snapping and growling. I intervened quickly and put Pyr inside for the duration of the play-date. Usually it’s Eden that I’m more nervous about with new dogs. Sigh.

Pyrrha’s play style has changed since we added Eden to the household. She’s gotten more tense about other dogs in the yard and simultaneously more standoffish during play time. She still seems to enjoy having other dogs around, but she seems less at ease about negotiating introductions/greetings. After the initial meeting is over, Pyrrha is fine, and coexists peaceably — but if she can’t get over that initial hurdle, she just escalates her anxiety. I don’t know what this means or how I can help her.

It’s a very specific issue, but do you have any ideas what could be making Pyrrha more testy? Have you ever seen this play dynamic change when you added a new dog to your home?

Four-dog play-date

22 thoughts on “A four-dog play-date

  1. Well I’m obviously partial to Loki’s smiling face 🙂
    Bummer about Pyrrah. Could maybe just be the new dog ratio, since last time it was just her and Josie? Or maybe she was having an off day – happens to the best of us! I’d be tempted to try again just to see if it is a trend or an exception.

  2. Sometimes dogs just don’t get along no matter how much we’d like them to. It’s a bummer for sure! But we don’t always love everyone we meet, right? I’ve had to pull Avery out of playgroup before because a new dog showed up that he didn’t care for. And like Pyrrah, he’s definitely changed what he will tolerate and what he won’t since we’ve added Penny. He also sometimes feels he has to defend her as well if he sees her playing really roughly (which she likes but Avery does not) with a dog he doesn’t know. I was assured by our trainer that that is natural, dogs who live together and care about each other will do that.

    Do you guys use squirt bottles during play groups? It comes in really handy when a dog keeps posturing or if you get a dog that continually humps.

      1. A voice of sad caution here: I used a squirt bottle on Silas when he would dig on the sofa, and now he is terrified of anything that sprays. Which is a bummer when I need to put on topical medications. Confident Eden can probably handle it, but I’m not sure I’d try it on Pyrrha.

      2. Jessica, you’re right… good call. I think Eden wouldn’t be fazed, but Pyrrha would probably be frightened.

  3. My advice is to stop doing the initial meet and greets in your yard! Take the whole group for a walk first and let them just BE together as a group before being forced into the confines of the yard which then P knows as HERS and there could be a territorial issue there.

    Initial meet and greet outdoors yes, but perhaps not IN her yard until they’ve all had a chance to get the wierdness out and release a little tension on a walk.

  4. Awesome idea to have structured play groups! For what it’s worth, her play style changing is a fairly common reaction when an adult dog has a new dog added to their home. I definitely agree with the above comment that starting with a group walk would be beneficial. If on the walk Pyrrha just isn’t having it, you can put her inside before letting the others loose in the yard. If she appears to have settled then I would just have a squirt bottle and/or shaker can ready in case you need to correct her. I definitely think pack walks would be a huge help in this situation. Get a group of friends and do structured walks where the dogs aren’t allowed to actually interact face to face. I started a group specifically to help one of my dogs and while she didn’t change over night, after a few weeks she began to improve immensely! You’re awesome for putting in the time and effort to help her!

    1. These are all great tips, Morgan! Thanks so much for your comment. I like the idea of doing group walks; I think she could do well in that environment.

  5. What a beautiful group!

    It’s so interesting how different the dynamic can be with any given combination of dogs – yet another reason I’m wary of dog parks.

    The group walk is a great suggestion.

  6. First of all, I’m in love with Loki! What a beautiful dog!

    Also, I wanted to share a little situation we had at work last year. We had this wonderful border collie join our playgroup. He started coming at 5 months old and was literally the best border collie I had ever met: no yapping, no herding, and no trying to control every single situation. He was docile and and played gently with everyone.

    When he was just over a year, his mom decided to get a new puppy. Pippa is more of a traditional border collie as far as personality goes: herder, bossy, too smart for her own good. Even at 5 months, she was set in her ways.

    AS they continued to come together, Doc (the first dog) became more stand offish and aggressive with other dogs. HE didn’t like anyone messing with his sister or getting in his space. He started snapping at other dogs, even if they would pass him within a 2-foot radius . We tried separating the two but it didn’t help.

    I think it was a combination of things: maturing into an adult as well as becoming too protective of his sister, not to mention the conflict I’m sure he felt over his new role. I don’t know if this is anything you can relate to, but I do feel like dogs may feel pressure to step into a role when a new dog enters the family, especially one that is younger. It’s working thinking about, I think.

    How is Pyrrah doing with Eden being in heat? I know females can be pretty testy during this time.

    1. Thanks for sharing this anecdote; how interesting! I think you’re right; it’s probably a combination of things that are going on with Pyrrha.

      We’re now only on Day 2 of the first heat, but so far, the girls have been great; no extra squabbling or anything like that! Hope it will continue that way!

  7. I suspect it is about 85% age related–she’s a grown up dog now, and so is Josie. Josie’s “puppy license” has expired, so Pyrrha “has” to keep her in line.

    1. Interesting! I hadn’t thought about that, but that does make sense to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; I always appreciate hearing from you! Josie is just a delight, so many kudos to you!

  8. This sounds like a carbon copy of what happened in our house with Morgan when we brought Küster home. She was a fabulous puppy nanny and God bless her, we’d never have survived it without her. But we’d lost the old dog in our pack a month before that and something about having Küster around sent her into hyper vigilance mode. At this point, I don’t trust her around any of the other three dogs. She’s gone after Bunny quite a few times, went after Blueberry near the end of Blue’s life and had a pretty wicked tussle with Küster one winter day at the dog park. I have tried really hard to figure out what, if anything, the triggers are for her that get her started, and I can’t figure it out. When she gets in one of her crazy moods, nothing distracts her away from it.

  9. Last week I watched a DVD by Nicole Wilde CPDT-KA (www.nicolewilde.com), Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play (www.TawzerDog.com for purchase). It was 2 DVDs totaling 2 hrs 15 min of video at dog parks and commentary by Nicole on dog body language and dog-dog interactions. She showed and discussed that when dogs really get into playing it is a dyad. What she showed was several dog-dog dyads happily interacting and a third dog, often awkward socially, who thought the play looked like so much fun and wanted to join. The third dog was often driven off by one of the dogs in the play dyad.

    After seeing the video, I realized this is what was happening to Luna. She’s not skilled in dog-dog interactions. She was constantly being chased away when she tried to join in two dog play group. This ultimately led to her stressing up too much for the dog park. Truthfully, she never should have been there, my misjudgment.

  10. Fascinating. I’m about to get a third dog and have been worried about play dynamics from my oldest dog. I think I’ll check out Nicole Wilde’s DVD. Honestly, I don’t want a “third” dog, but I couldn’t pass up this dog, so I have to find a way to make it work.

    As for Pyrrha, I was wondering if you introduce her to the play group with Eden absent. I’d give her anywhere from 5-30 minutes alone. Then I’d “work” her when Eden was introduced so that she can’t concentrate on the fact that Eden is playing outside of her control.

    Depending on how well she knows the other dogs, I might do them one by one introductions, too. Playing together once is a good start but typically not a close friendship, so I’d go slow and ramp up how many dogs are playing in the yard.

    Keep us updated on what works and what doesn’t! This is good stuff.

  11. Love those doggies coming to visit! Especially the Newfie, such a beautiful big dog! 😉

    I have to say that Killian has changed in his behaviour towards other dogs as well since Ophelia came to live with us. She has been “his” puppy from the start. He used to be a completely carefree dog who always acted before thinking about what he was doing, but Ophelia changed that. He’s become a little more careful about his behaviour and is more serious then he used to be.

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