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?

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.

Advice needed: Aggressive behavior from Pyrrha on walks

So, since we’ve been fostering, Pyrrha has displayed a totally new behavior on walks with our fosters. She has never done this with us before, not even a shade of it.

Pen Park with Laszlo
Pyr walking trails with my sister and brother-in-law.

Here’s the scenario:

We are walking with Pyrrha and the foster (whether it was Brando or Laszlo) in the neighborhood. Another leashed dog and its human start approaching us. When the dog gets close enough to pass by us, Pyrrha FREAKS out. She lunges at the dog, barking ferociously, hackles up. I pull her back with all my might, utterly stunned and shaken. (And embarrassed!)

I am pretty sure that this new behavior is not a fear display. In the early days, her fear exhibited in her hackles up, tail curled under, ears back, lips curled up, slinking away, quiet growling; THIS is lunging forward, vicious-sounding barking, full body thrown at the other dog. Although it may still have its roots in fear, it does not look like a fearful display; it just looks outright aggressive.

I don’t know what this means. Someone suggested that she’s protective of the foster. I guess this could be, but I’m unsure. I need to walk her on her own, without another dog, and see how she does. Again, I have never, never seen this before and I don’t know how to handle it. She has now reacted this way to passing dogs on walks with both Brando and Laszlo. (As a side note, she hasn’t flipped out with every single dog we see; it’s only certain dogs. Last night, she freaked only after Laszlo had barked at the other dogs.) It’s only with dogs, too. We passed some unusual-looking people, children, kids on scooters — nothing.

I started to question my posture and energy, but I don’t feel like I was tensing up, because normally, when other dogs would pass us, she was SO happy! I wasn’t nervous when other dogs passed us. She’d pull me to them and start play-bowing. I just had no idea this behavior even existed inside her.

Any advice?

What do you think could be causing this behavior? Ever seen this in your own dog (a totally surprising reaction in a familiar environment with familiar stimuli)?