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?

My biggest fear

I feel like I can say this here and be heard with compassion and understanding, even though I still feel afraid to say it.

I want to tell you my biggest fear, the potential moment that causes me the most dread and anticipated heartache.

So, biggest fear: I am afraid that if and when we have children, we won’t be able to keep Pyrrha.

I can barely even write about this without wanting to cry, but it’s been weighing on my mind and heart lately — even though I still think we’re a few years away from having children.

Pyrrha is extremely afraid of children, especially small ones. This has been a long-standing phobia of hers. The first family that adopted her returned her to the rescue after just a few days because of her extreme fear of their small children, which had the potential to slide into aggression. Without my intervention, I think she could have bitten several children, and she has already nipped my cousin, which I saw as a serious warning (it was not playful). She is overly interested in toddlers, and not in a sweet way, but in a way that makes me extremely nervous, so much so that she is always crated behind a closed door if there are small kids afoot. I cannot trust her in any environment in which children are loose. Kids themselves are unpredictable, but her behavior around them is not encouraging. She is able to coexist in a room with calm, quiet kids over the age of 8 or 9, so long as they don’t try to interact with her, but that seems to be her limit.

I adopted Pyrrha heart-first, not thinking very rationally that we’d probably have children one day and that her phobia of them could pose a problem. I wasn’t even thinking about the future when I saw her; all I saw was a sweet, shy, beautiful dog who needed a home, and I said YES and didn’t think anymore about it.

Regal

Practically, I am thankful that we have great resources, in our trainer and in her connections to behaviorists, who could help us navigate the perils of simultaneous child- and dog-rearing. I think Pyrrha could learn how to adapt to a home with noisy, scary little humans, but she wouldn’t be happy in such a home — and we’d have to really limit her life and interactions with the family to keep a child safe. And I don’t know if I could live with myself, seeing her so removed from our lives. Naturally, this is all very subjective and hypothetical, but I don’t think I’m overstating my fears — or hers, for that matter.

If I’m honest with myself, Pyrrha is one of the main reasons I haven’t wanted to have children. Because I know how unhappy they would make her.

The thought of having to give Pyrrha to someone else, to a stranger, KILLS me, as much as I’d feel if I had to give my own child to a stranger. Furthermore, the thought of surrendering her back to her rescue, who would slap a shock collar on her as soon as they could, makes me want to pull a Beloved. Yes, really. (English majors will get this reference? It’s too dark/sad to explain…)

Obviously, I’m not going to make any decisions about her future before we have children. Who knows? Maybe the miraculous will happen, and she’ll be able to coexist in a household with small kids. I don’t even want or expect her to like children, because I don’t think that will ever be possible; I’d just want her to feel happy and secure and have the wherewithal to remove herself from stressful situations. Naturally, we’d protect Pyrrha AND our potential child. But part of me wonders if it would be possible to do both simultaneously, as I’m not sure Pyrrha would ever be happy in a home with small children.

I don’t think I’m looking for any answers, necessarily, but I’m always happy to hear counsel. This makes me heart feel so heavy.

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?