The intrigue of the impeccably mannered London dog

Camden and Regent's Park area
This vicious, vicious guard dog at a pub in our neighborhood.

As I mentioned, we are living in London for the summer and the girls are enjoying summer camp at my parents’ house. (I don’t think they’re going to want to come home with us in August. They like it there more than their normal life with us, I think.)

Deprived of my two misbehaving monsters, I have become unaccountably dog crazy here in London, and I am particularly intrigued by the observation that 90%* of these city dogs are unbelievably well behaved. Like, stunning composure.

Field notes on the London dog

  • They spend a lot of time off leash in the giant, gorgeous parks. Most amazingly, to me, the vast majority of them exhibit almost NO interest in other people. I kept waiting, desperately, for an unmanned dog to come running up to me, seeking pets, but
  • Despite all this off-leash time in parks, I have yet to see a dog fight. I am sure they occur, but partly because the dogs get to be off leash, all of that leash tension is absent.
  • They exhibit a great degree of patience. Tethering dogs outside stores seems like common behavior here, and the dogs are amazingly self-controlled and quiet while they wait for their people. They also continue to show no interest in people walking past them (again, to my personal/selfish chagrin).
  • They are very quiet. Much like their British owners, I suppose, these London dogs have assumed that stiff upper lip and seem to always be full of decorum and composure.
  • Popular breeds, according to wholly anecdotal observation: Long-haired chihuahuas, border terriers, Jack Russell terriers, English cocker spaniels, long-haired dachshunds, French bulldogs, and miniature schnauzers. (I have seen exactly two Alsatians, both long-haired, and they were so beautiful I kind of wanted to cry. The trend for long-haired dogs seems quite pronounced here.)

I saw a French bulldog on the Tube the other day. His owner deposited him under her seat and he just put his head down and didn’t move for 15 minutes, until she told him it was time to get off. A marvel!

While walking in Hyde Park, this whippet and border terrier, below, were tearing around and playing with each other. They were so engaged that they actually collided with my husband’s legs but didn’t give him a moment’s thought.

Hyde Park and Kensington

(I have also never seen a whippet off leash before, in an unfenced area, so this was interesting. He did seem to be wearing some kind of shock collar, however.)

Along with making me miss my boorish American dogs, I continue to be enchanted by these London pups and their good manners. I keep wishing that we could have raised Pyrrha and Eden here, but I’m sure it has as much to do with the place as it does with the standards society sets for dog owners. For example: In London, you best have a well-behaved dog if you want to bring it out in public, else it disrupts the sanctity and composure of the urban space and brings shame on your good name. In America, caution to the wind! Let dogs be dogs. And don’t let anyone tell you what to do; land of the free, home of the brave, et hoc genus omne.

(*The sole example of a badly behaved dog I have seen was a leash-reactive miniature schnauzer outside our local pharmacy. He was straining on his leash, aggressively, toward a little cockapoo, and his middle-aged owner was yelling, “NICE! NICE! BE NICE!” Which was somewhat sadly/hilariously ineffective, of course. She let the schnauzer rush up to the cockapoo and in a split second, he tried to snap at the cockapoo’s face. She jerked him back on the leash and yelled, “BAD BOY! NOT NICE!” And they continued on their way. So, not every  London dog/dog owner is perfect.)

Hyde Park and Kensington

Have you observed dogs in other countries? What do you think? Are there cultural standards for dog raising? Is there any chance Pyrrha and Eden could one day be as polite as an English dog?

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?

What does your dog make you thankful for?

Are you doing stuff with food that will result in me having some? #dogsconstantthought
Are you doing stuff with food that will result in me having some?

We’re with my family for this Thanksgiving holiday. While I was gearing up for this trip AND our move, I’ve been stressed, yes, and Pyrrha has also been stressed, but when I stop for a moment, I realize that we have a LOT to be thankful for.

Thinking just about Pyrrha this season, during our second Thanksgiving with her, I am thankful that:

  1. She is so easy. We never worry about her getting into stuff in the house, making messes, or causing general headaches.
  2. She is patient with us.
  3. She is healthy!
  4. She is so food-motivated. This makes training (and coercing her to love Guion) a whole lot easier.
  5. She adores other dogs.
  6. She is quiet.
  7. She’s become much more calm about visitors and house guests. Although she’d still prefer that they didn’t touch her, she warms up to them a lot faster now, particularly with men (who are never her favorites).
  8. She’s always looking out for me.

Pyrrha continues to make lots of progress! It’s amazing to me to look back to last year’s Thanksgiving and realize that that was the first time she showed interest in retrieving. Crazy! Fetch is now one of her favorite games. It amazes me how much shy dogs can change, as static as they can seem sometimes. Yet another thing to be thankful for.

#gsd #germanshepherd #souschef
And again with the food-wanting face in our messy house.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you US-based readers and pups!

How does your dog inspire gratitude in your life?

Georgia visits and Rainer gets exiled

My husband graduated from his graduate program this weekend, which was very exciting, and my in-laws came to visit, bringing along their sweet pup Georgia (whom you may recall from our earlier visits).

Georgia baby!
Georgia baby is growing up!

She has gotten bigger, but not as big as I thought she’d be! Georgia is about six months old now, and I’d say she’s still only about 30 lbs. For those with goldens or golden mixes, how big would you think she’s going to get? I imagine she may never be much more than 40–50 lbs. Sweet little thing! She is still so spunky, and has such a fun, cuddly personality, and we love her…

… but Rainer? Not so much.

Rainer’s introductions to Georgia did NOT go well. Their first meeting was outside, on leashes, and Rainer ran full throttle into Georgia and got her by the throat. Really bad sign. No calming signals, no politeness, nothing: just straight into attack mode.

I was shaken by this, obviously, as was everyone else; thankfully, Georgia was OK. After things had calmed down, we let Rainer into the kitchen with the baby gate up and kept Georgia on the other side of the gate in the living room. But things did not improve. She tried to sniff him, and he lunged at her, ready to bite. We waited for a while, hoping he could calm down, but he seemed incapable of it; he was just fixated on her and doing whatever he could to knock down that gate and get to her.

This was not behavior that we could manage all weekend in our tiny house, so Rainer got to live in the sunroom for two nights.

Rainer in exile
Rainer in exile in the sunroom.

Rainer still got time outside with Pyrrha in the backyard, and I took him on two walks by himself, so he wasn’t completely isolated, but I know he was sad to not be inside with us. We just couldn’t have him snacking on Georgia, so this was the best solution for the weekend. Sigh.

Kitchen table chats

That aside, however, the rest of the weekend with Pyrrha and Georgia went well. They still get on very nicely, even though they had a few sibling squabbles over toys (nothing too serious and nothing that a time-out for both of them couldn’t fix).

Sniffs
At least these two still love each other.

Pyrrha will be spending a week with Georgia in June while we’re at the beach, so I am of course always glad to see how much they enjoy each other’s company.

Caged beasts
Caged beasts!

Moral of the weekend: Thankful to have taught these dogs that crates are happy places! Rainer, Pyrrha, and Georgia all got treats and kisses when they went into their crates, and they go into them willingly, without a fight. This made the whole dog-separation shenanigans all weekend SO much easier. And easier on my conscience, because I knew that they didn’t feel like they were being punished when they were crated.

The other lesson learned, however, is that Rainer probably isn’t great with small dogs.

Based on my short descriptions of his behavior, what do you think about Rainer’s aggressive behavior with Georgia? It didn’t really look like fear aggression to me. Do you think it could have been territorial aggression? Or just straight-up prey drive? Ever seen such a thing in a dog before? (No signals, no typical dog-greeting behaviors, just straight into attack mode.)

What do you think? And how can we help Rainer with this? I am now frightened for him to meet any small dogs going forward.

Good dog, bad dog

Over the past few days, Rainer has been the GOOD dog, and Pyrrha has been DRIVING ME CRAZY.

Still getting used to each other
Good dog, bad dog.

I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately. I’m guessing that she’s still kind of stressed out that Rainer is still around. She harasses him in the yard (to which he is marvelously and beautifully patient, and never lashes out at her, even though she deserves it); she barks at him when he gets out of his crate; she whines all the time. It’s very frustrating. Poor Rainer takes it all like a champ, too.

I’m not really sure how to manage her behavior, honestly. I let them out in the yard now at separate times, particularly in the morning, when she seems most antsy. I try to remove her from situations that make her nervous, still utilizing the baby gate and preventing her from getting accidentally cornered. (She doesn’t know how to extricate herself from situations with him. He’s not threatening at all, but his mere presence will make her get irritated. See the nose licking calming signal in the photo above.)

Pyrrha didn’t ever act this way with Brando or Laszlo (our former fosters), so I’m not sure why she’s exhibiting this behavior now. Every dog is different. Rainer, for some inexplicable reason, makes her uneasy. (Even though he strikes us as the most chill, laidback guy.) We’ve been doing our best to mitigate her anxiety, but I’m just pointedly frustrated by it. Saying she’s the “bad dog” isn’t exactly fair; she is just KILLING ME with how annoying she’s been!

Meanwhile, we have been doing “car training” with Rainer every day. I’ve been following our trainer’s method of treating him for just looking at the car, coming close to the car, any interaction whatsoever. Then I’ll toss a treat away, in the opposite direction, to keep him from feeling trapped. Tonight I hope to work up to getting him to actually sniff and put his head in the car on his own. Thanks for all of your advice and tips! You’re right about needing to make car trips FUN; all the places we’ve taken him (and will need to keep taking him!) are stressful (e.g., the vet). We need to go get him some drive-thru fried chicken…

But the really exciting news, though, is that Rainer has a family interested in him! Hoping to learn more over the coming days. Will be sure to keep you posted on this sweet dude (and Pyrrha’s never-ending neuroses).

Rainer: Resource guarding and tension at home

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Life with Rainer continued fairly smoothly over the weekend — he got more comfortable with the crate, he’s learning that paying attention to people brings rewards, and he seems to be reliably house-trained at this point.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

They got me up early on Saturday morning (6 a.m.), which I wasn’t thrilled about, but they got to spend most of the day outside, chilling in the yard, while Guion worked in the garden and on his hop plants.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

They’ll play brief games of chase, but more often than not, they’ll just choose a separate corner of the yard and doze there.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

On Saturday evening, my friend Maddy and I took them on a walk around the neighborhood, too, and they were both great. No leash reactivity issues from either of them!

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Sunday, however, we had an incident. I was practicing calligraphy in the office and the dogs were sleeping in the living room (just the next room over). A Kong had fallen out of Pyrrha’s crate, so I, unthinkingly, just threw it out into the living room. A few seconds later, I heard those horrible sounds of a dog fight. Totally my fault.

I wasn’t in there, so I didn’t see who started it, but Rainer had Pyrrha by the neck and teeth were flashing from both dogs. Pyrrha was screaming; it was terrible. I was able to pull her away from him by her back legs (which, in hindsight, could have been dangerous for me) and get her into the study and close the door. After a few minutes of cooling down, I moved Rainer into his crate and Pyrrha came and laid down at my feet.

She was very shaken by the incident and continues to be very nervous around him now. Since then, he’s challenged her over her bed (which he has apparently claimed as his own) and any stick, bone, or toy that he finds.

We’ve removed anything that he could lay claim to from the house and the yard (although it is a little hard to clear it of sticks). We now do not leave them for any extended period of time in the yard together. They are still fed in separate rooms at separate times, as we have done from the beginning.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

I need to brush up on my reading about resource guarding and how to manage it among dogs. This behavior from Rainer surprised me, because he showed no signs of it the first three days he was here. I guess he’s just getting more comfortable here and feeling like this is HIS place?

Meanwhile, Pyrrha remains quite frightened of him. She’s always followed me around the house, but now she can’t let me out of her sight. She squeezed herself into our tiny, tiny bathroom this morning while I was getting ready for work, something she’s never done before. It makes me sad.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Have you ever had to deal with resource guarding issues between your dogs or fosters? What techniques worked for you?

Weekend recap (and behavior update)

Disgruntled, I

We spent our Easter (and my birthday) weekend at my parents’ house for a mini-family reunion. While I was too busy (or lazy?) to take photos, we did spend lots of time with Pyrrha, taking walks and observing her on-leash behavior.

Behavior Notes

  • She spent the majority of the weekend hanging out with her girlfriend Dublin, which was nice. The two of them get along well, as they always have. They’ll wrestle for a few minutes, perhaps fight over a toy or an old bone, and then go lounge in separate corners of the yard.
  • She had some GI issues over the weekend, which I won’t go into further, but I am beginning to think that our girl has a sensitive stomach. I’ve finally learned that she can’t handle rawhides or most chews. I want to try deer antlers, though, because I’ve heard those aren’t as upsetting. Do any of you have a dog with a sensitive stomach? Do you have any chews/bones that work for your dog? She LOVES chewing and she adores bones, so I hate to deprive her of them entirely, but they make her so sick.
  • Her on-leash reactivity was mostly OK. We walked her with Dublin (a confident, no-nonsense dog who isn’t rattled by anything) several times, and Pyrrha did not have any aggressive reactions to any dogs that we passed or encountered. This was encouraging. There was one moment, however, when she was on-leash by herself with me, and a leashed dog walked down the street. Pyrrha barked at this dog, but that was the only response.

All of your comments and advice have been immensely helpful. I am planning on re-reading Control Unleashed and trying LAT with her on our walks in the neighborhood. I think your suggestions that her aggressive display is a function of fear/trying to act tougher than she actually feels is accurate. Dublin’s presence on our walks suggests to me that Pyrrha felt “protected” by Dublin and thus no need to put on a show for other dogs; with baby Laszlo, however, I imagine she felt like she needed to guard him against other dogs, OR she felt more nervous and unsure about what to do with other dogs when she was with a puppy companion.

Anyway. More to come on this issue, I am sure. We are traveling AGAIN this weekend, this time to visit Georgia and my in-laws! So, more dog stories to come!