A behavior of Pyrrha’s that I’m not sure how to interpret or solve

With bated breath #ears #beggars #gsdlife #germanshepherds #twinmotives

So. Here’s the behavior, which has more or less been happening since we adopted Eden:

When I come home during the day to let them outside, Pyrrha freaks out and redirects her excitement in the form of aggression toward Eden. Pyrrha growls at her, nips at Eden’s neck, and generally just fusses and sasses (barking, growling) in Eden’s face until they get outside. And even once they are outside, Pyrrha continues this general antsy, aggressive behavior for a minute or so until she can control herself. Eden, the poor thing, is usually a bit afraid to venture out into the yard until Pyrrha calms down, and I don’t blame her. I, too, dislike being chomped on the neck without good cause.

Fights are not necessarily started, but Pyrrha will body-slam Eden for a minute or more until she seems to regain her right mind. The more I try to physically intervene, the more ramped up Pyrrha seems to get. My tactic so far has been to let Pyrrha out into the yard first, let her chill a bit, and then let Eden out. This works most of the time, but I acknowledge it’s not getting at the root of the issue, because Pyrrha still reacts this way every time I come home.

My bigger questions are: What is causing this behavior? What does it mean?

My simplest guess is that Pyrrha is just REALLY excited when I come home, and she doesn’t know how to properly handle this emotion, and so she expresses it in excitable aggression toward the closest target (e.g., Eden). Notably, she does not practice this behavior if Guion is the one to let them out (presumably because she’s not that excited when Guion comes home).

I want to figure out how to get Pyrrha to a place where she doesn’t feel like she has to react this way but being mystified to the cause leaves me with few solid, workable ideas.

So, my trusty, intelligent readers: How do you interpret Pyrrha’s behavior? What would you do if it were your dogs?

12 thoughts on “A behavior of Pyrrha’s that I’m not sure how to interpret or solve

  1. In short: rewarding calm behavior. Is P. in a state where you can ask her for a sit or a down before you let her out, or is she just too amped up for that? If so, maybe in conjunction with letting her out, go out with her and ask for some behaviors. If it’s possible to do this with /both/ girls, even better.

    Are you leaving them alone together? Is there a way to separate them so that they aren’t together until P. can calm down?

    My girls do this when we’re about to go for a walk, but they are equally excited and seem to be enjoying their play so I haven’t really done anything to intervene, until it involves grabbing one of my shoes 🙂

  2. Both of our dogs get overly excited when their Daddy arrives home from work, and each of them nip at the other, run and grab whatever toy that is near, and normally raise quite a hoopla. After a few short minutes, and after getting attention from Daddy, all is calm. I think what I witness every night is just pure excitement for them to see their Daddy when he has been gone all day.

  3. My Cairn Terrier, Gatsby, does the same thing to his sister, Hatter! Whenever any sort of big truck comes by – UPS, Mail, Trashman, etc. – Gatsby goes NUTS (it’s actually happening right now). If Hatter is around him, he goes after her. It’s so weird, and drives me crazy!

  4. Just curious, do you notice Pyrrha getting more ramped up in a tight space, like an entry way or small foyer? Because confinement seems to exacerbate some dog’s arousal and it was a trigger for aggressive behavior between two of my dogs.

    If so, putting up a gate so that both dogs are in a larger room when you get home might help.

    Lara Elizabeth is right that you need to reward calm behavior. But Pyrrha might be too aroused for her to sit or stay. My Honey gets so excited to see any visitor that she whirls around in circles. I think it’s asking too much to get her to sit or stay when she’s so hyper so I give her an “active” cue like asking her to bring me a toy or jump up on the sofa. It redirects her attention, gives her a moment to settle her excitement, and keeps my visitors from being stampeded by an aggressively loving golden retriever.

    Maybe you have some similar “active” cues for Pyrrha. And good for you in trying to find a way to make Pyrrha and Eden happy and comfortable when you get home.

    I hope you’ll let us know what you try and if it works.

  5. I think I’d try letting them out separately for a bit and see if or how her behavior changes if you do. Does she direct her excitement towards something else if she can’t get to Eden? Can you create a routine for her (without involving Eden for the time being) that lets her burn off a little steam and stay focused on you so that she doesn’t need to take her excitement out on Eden?

  6. I deal with something similar to this.
    Our dogs have a dog door, with access to a small secure outdoor area. There is a gate in there that leads to the “play yard.”
    Whenever that gate is opened, Faolan jumps around, barks, and grabs Neeko’s neck. She takes it just fine, and plays back, though I feel he is a bit too rough at times. I agree with your observation about the redirected excitement.
    If we hold Faolan back, and do not allow him to go immediately into the play yard with Neeko and Bruce, it reduces or curbs the behavior.

  7. One of my previous dog walking clients did similar thing. The dogs were given a treat when left alone, usually a big carrot. One of the dogs knew when I was about to leave, and so her excitement about the carrot would build up and then be redirected to her housemate. Who would just stand there and take it.
    So I would try to minimize my ‘I am leaving now’ behaviors. So I’d pack my bag subtly, then maybe sit down, put my coat on, then have a drink, I just tried to mix up my leaving routine, so they didn’t realize what was coming. Like you would with a dog with separation anxiety I suppose. Then I’d casually reach for the carrot, no big deal, and ask for a sit, straight away. Any waiting around would just build up the excitement. So maybe some sort of behavior redirection? Maybe asking them to lay on two separate mats, on either side of the room? It’s easier said than done though I know, good luck!

  8. My Olle gets very excited when I come home and used to leap up at me. My trainer suggested swapping out that behaviour for a different one. So I would actively offer him a toy when I got home and play with him for a few minutes. I would take one to work with me so that I had it in my hand when I opened the door. Eventually he would redirect his excitement to the nearest toy by himself. These days he is more restrained but if he gets excited he still searches for a toy. Tug toys worked best for us, but something else might work better for Pyrrha.

  9. Some great advice by everyone else! I totally agree it would be great to get her to grab a toy instead. Zoey loves to “herd” Kaya when she plays fetch but we always make sure Zoey has a “pacifier” in her mouth like a stick or another ball or else she will try to bite Kaya the whole time.

    One thought I had if they are separated when you get home, you could let Eden out first. Then leash Pyrrha, get some really good treats & just work on some behaviors, get her focus away from Eden & onto you. Then unleash her when she’s calm enough. I’ve had a lot of success with Kaya, asking for many behaviors very quickly in a row. It gets her really focused & drains her energy. But maybe you would be better off just sitting with her for a while quietly, who knows?! Might be worth a try though.

  10. Penny totally does this and will redirect on to Avery when she gets excited. She doesn’t growl or nip but does go after his jowls licking them. Avery takes it like a champ but I don’t like it. We try to get her to redirect onto a toy instead and for the most part this works. We always try to keep toys in the kitchen (where the backdoor is) so that she has that option. She gets lots of praise when she gets the toy. We do the same thing outside as she can sometimes get worked up if someone walks by the house or she hears a dog. She does great outside and will grab the toy instead of going after Avery.

  11. The key here is definitely to train an incompatible behavior.

    Some great ones (getting a toy, asking for a sit or a more active behavior, etc) have already been suggested; some of these are particularly great because they require P to have something in her mouth… which prevents her from biting at Eden.

    The idea of letting Eden out first and then working with P to get her calm is also worth trying.

    The key is to stop rewarding the crazy behavior (in this case, perhaps with your attention, perhaps with letting her out of her crate, perhaps with letting her outside) and to instead look for small instances of calm or other, more desirable behaviors. If you’re interested, Crate games (a susan garret dvd) includes teaching dogs how to sit at the back of their crate and not come out until you release them… it might be a good way to build some crate / release related self control that could come in handy during this part of your routine.

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