An incident: Pyrrha nips a kid

So. The worst part of our recent holiday weekend was this:

Pyrrha nipped my 10-year-old cousin, M., and it wasn’t playful.

I supervised their first introduction, and Pyrrha was actually great with her. M. is a tall girl, and I think that helped; she isn’t small and high-pitched. Pyrrha let M. pet her, drape her arm over her back, and she was very relaxed about it. I told M. that Pyrrha was fearful and not that fond of children, as a warning.

The last Fourth of July
The dogs on the zip line at my grandparents’.

Some hours later, however, M. was walking up from the lake, toward the dogs, who were on leashes on a zip line. She came straight up to Pyrrha with her arms outstretched, and Pyrrha barked and growled at her, and then grabbed the back of M.’s shirt. She scraped M.’s skin with her teeth, but there was no blood.

I quickly rushed Pyrrha inside and then went back out to check on M. She was tearful and frightened, naturally, but she was OK and rather brave about the whole encounter. But then I started to cry a bit, too, feeling really terrible about the whole incident.

I think I was so upset because it was the first time I’ve seen Pyrrha demonstrate fear aggression toward a human. And the fear aggression resulted in a warning nip to a child.

As my dad pointed out, it wasn’t a bite; if Pyrrha had really wanted to bite her, she would have. And it would have been serious. This was more like a scrape than anything else. But I knew it was not coming from a playful place, and that was what made my heart sink. And I should have prevented the whole thing from ever happening. Thankfully, my uncle and aunt were pretty relaxed about the whole incident. I felt so terrible, though.

I was honestly astonished that it happened, particularly as Pyrrha was so relaxed with M. for the first half of the day. I’m still not sure what the trigger was this time; I think it was a mix of M. coming up from the lake, Pyrrha not recognizing her, M. coming straight for Pyrrha with her arms out, and Pyrrha feeling trapped by being on the zip line. But I was surprised and saddened, because the rest of the day, she was in a very relaxed state, untroubled by people coming and going.

The incident has made me seriously renew my commitment to Pyrrha’s fear issues. I admit I have been lax about training with children, because we don’t have any children and children don’t visit our house regularly. (If they do, Pyrrha is always very closely controlled.) But we want to have kids one day, and Pyrrha’s behavior really frightens and distresses me. Is it stupid to think that, with gradual training, she would be OK with having children, our future children, in the house 24/7?

I’ve always known she isn’t comfortable around children, but this incident has made me wonder if she will ever be. It’s something I’d like to revisit with our trainer. I’ve talked with her some about it, and she recommends the classical conditioning protocol we’re following with her leash reactivity toward dogs (and applying it to children in proximity).

So. There’s that. I didn’t really want to write about this, because it makes me sad.

What do you think? Do you have a dog who is fearful of children? How have you handled it?