A four-dog play-date

We hosted a springtime play-date, and these three good-looking dogs came over:

Loki, the Newfoundland

Four-dog play-date

Josie, the German shepherd

Four-dog play-date
Josie. (I love her; she’s a little pocket shepherd!)

and Finn, the Llewellin setter (Finn’s first time coming over to play with us!)

Four-dog play-date

I did not get any good photos of the play, so apologies. It was hot, so the pups were doing limited romping and lots of moseying around the yard, looking at each other.

Finn was a little bit nervous about the play-date, and Loki didn’t like him much. It was the first time I’d seen Loki testy with another dog, which was interesting. My best guess is that it has something to do with the fact that Finn is intact. Also interesting: Eden went into her first heat the very next morning after our play-date, but the boy dogs did not care about her at all. Finn was enamored with Josie (who is spayed) and could not leave her alone! Josie’s mama said, “I think she must smell nice to the boy dogs; they always love her.” Indeed! Josie was an all-star, just rolling with the punches, putting up with any brattiness from Eden (and reacting calmly when Pyrrha tried to start something with her). Good girl, Josie. Wish you would rub off on our crazies!

Four-dog play-date
The shepherd girls check out Finn, who is a little unsure of their advances.

As I alluded to above, Pyrrha did not attend the play-date, sadly. She did not interact well with Josie (totally Pyrrha’s fault, and not Josie’s), which was sad and surprising, as the two of them played together beautifully the first time they met. She got all up in Josie’s grill and started posturing with her (putting her head over Josie’s shoulders and giving a really intense, bug-eyed stare), which escalated into snapping and growling. I intervened quickly and put Pyr inside for the duration of the play-date. Usually it’s Eden that I’m more nervous about with new dogs. Sigh.

Pyrrha’s play style has changed since we added Eden to the household. She’s gotten more tense about other dogs in the yard and simultaneously more standoffish during play time. She still seems to enjoy having other dogs around, but she seems less at ease about negotiating introductions/greetings. After the initial meeting is over, Pyrrha is fine, and coexists peaceably — but if she can’t get over that initial hurdle, she just escalates her anxiety. I don’t know what this means or how I can help her.

It’s a very specific issue, but do you have any ideas what could be making Pyrrha more testy? Have you ever seen this play dynamic change when you added a new dog to your home?

Four-dog play-date

Weekend play-dates with Roland and Loki

The dogs enjoyed a busy, action-packed weekend, which included two play-dates.

On Saturday: Play-date with Roland!

The good dogs at the play date. Eden not included.
Roland and Pyrrha greeting friends.

All the dogs seemed kind of lethargic about this play-date; they shuffled around each other and seemed generally sleepy. But at least they got some time outside together, checking each other out and just chillin’.

Play date with Roland

It was a warm, humid day, so maybe the temperatures slowed everyone down?

On Sunday: Play-date with Loki!

Play date with Loki
The young stud, with slobber.

Play date with Loki

Both girls were ECSTATIC when Loki showed up.

Play date with Loki

Pyrrha hasn’t seen Loki in a long time, and this was Eden’s first time meeting him — and her first play-date with a dog who was significantly larger than herself. Needless to say, they were both very enthusiastic about the presence of this handsome dude.

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play date with Loki

Play-Date Behavior Question: Eden has the very annoying habit of incessant barking when a dog comes over to play. I think it’s a bark that stems from excitement/overstimulation, but it’s super-annoying, and I think it really unnerves some dogs. What can we do to help her with this? Have you ever experienced this in your dog?

Play date with Loki
Three happy (begging) pups.

How to introduce unfamiliar dogs

As you know, we have learned the hard way from some dog-to-dog introductions (see Rainer attacking potential adopter’s dog) that introducing strange dogs to each other is a very important and delicate process.

Heath and Loki
Young bros Heath and Loki sizing each other up.

Most of you probably have already heard these tips before, but here are some of the things I’ve had to remind myself of, repeatedly, when introducing dogs to each other.

Calm yourself first

Especially after the Rainer incident and seeing how badly introductions can go, I get SO nervous about new dogs meeting. Pyrrha, obviously, picks up on this, and this only ratchets up her anxiety. The big thing I’ve had to teach myself, every time, is to slow down, BREATHE, and loosen up. I close my eyes for a second, I take deep breaths, I loosen my posture and my grip on the leash (not entirely, but so that Pyrrha isn’t feeling any tension on her harness or collar). Dogs reflect our moods and study the nuances of our body language so much more than we even realize. Putting myself in a calm state is always the first thing I have to do when introducing new dogs.

Truly “neutral” ground is hard to find

All of the advice you read says to let the dogs meet on “neutral territory,” but I’ve found that this is quite difficult. Fosters are often just dropped off at our house, and even if we went to a nearby park, there’s still the possibility that Pyrrha would see that as “her” territory. Thankfully, Pyrrha has never shown signs of territorial protection/aggression (she is not very shepherd-y in that way), so our strategy has been to keep the dogs leashed and far apart in our spacious front yard, and then if that observational period/meeting goes well, we transition to the backyard and let them drag their leashes for a bit before unhooking them. Have you been able to find and utilize “neutral” ground when introducing new dogs?

Don’t try this alone

Always have another dog-savvy person help you! Particularly if you don’t know the dogs’ backgrounds (as if often the case with foster dogs who have come straight from the shelter). My husband is usually the one who helps me introduce our fosters to Pyrrha. Talk to your helper in advance about what your strategy is going to be (e.g., you walk that way, I’ll walk this way, and then we’ll see how they do, etc.).

Resist the urge to let them meet face-to-face

This is a hard one, and this is why the “walk apart from each other for a while” method is repeated. Most dogs are naturally going to pull you straight up to each other, and this is how the fights can start. I wasn’t sure how to pull off this “walking apart” business, but the best strategy I read seems to be to have one handler-dog pair walk in front of the other, kind of staggered, and then switch places, let the dogs sniff where the other dog has been, and carefully observe the next step:

Study that body language!

Brush up on the subtleties of canine body language, and watch for those calming signals (or, more importantly, the lack of calming signals). Be extremely wary of stiffened postures and hard stares. The slightest shift in a dog’s movement can signal a transition toward either play or fight mode.

Also: Don’t be afraid to tell the other handler what signals you’re noticing. I wish, wish, wish I had done this with the dog that Rainer attacked; I should have told his owner, “Your dog is giving Rainer a really hard stare. This probably isn’t a good idea.” But she couldn’t see that — and I couldn’t see what Rainer was doing. And so we ended up with a fairly serious dog fight. The dogs are already communicating with each other silently; as humans, we should remember to communicate with each other verbally about what we’re observing, otherwise we can both miss some pretty clear signals that the dogs are giving off.

Off-leash behavior vs. on-leash behavior

Once dogs have passed the on-leash greeting portion and seem to be amiable toward one another, I like to transition them into a spacious fenced area for them to be off leash together. As we know, leashes build tension, and dogs can really have the freedom to interact naturally with one another when the leashes are off. I like to let them drag the leads for just a few minutes once in the fence — in case something does escalate, we can intervene with more agency if a leash is still attached. But once things seem to be going smoothly, leashes come off, and we stand back and watch and let the dogs do their thing.

Play-date with Juniper
Juniper and Pyrrha. As you can see, this could have been tense, but Juniper is defusing Pyr by averting her gaze.

Online Resources

Break for some butt sniffing
Some good old-fashioned butt sniffing. (Pyrrha and Roland)

What have you learned from your experiences of introducing two unfamiliar dogs? Any helpful advice or wisdom you’d like to share?

Some special shepherds up for adoption

The rescue that we foster for, Southeast German Shepherd Rescue (SGSR), has a ton of beautiful, special dogs up for adoption right now. As we are in a brief foster-less interim period, I just felt like highlighting some of these lovely pups!

First up, this gorgeous special-needs girl:



Malaika is a 6-month-old puppy who was born with an S-shaped spine, which means that her back legs are paralyzed. But this disability doesn’t dampen this pretty girl’s spirit!

She is being fostered by a truly amazing and generous family in Virginia Beach, who is giving her everything she needs to succeed, including a wheelchair, physical therapy, training, and lots and lots of love!mal2

Look at her go! Here’s Malaika trying out her wheelchair recently. Such a happy girl! mal16

And here she is learning how to walk on her own! There are lots of heartwarming videos of Mali’s progress on her foster family’s YouTube page too, which I highly recommend.mal18

It’s been really touching to follow her progress. If you’re interested in Malaika’s story, check out the SGSR Phoenix Dog Program (an offshoot of the rescue that highlights special-need dogs). Here’s to hoping that Mali finds her very own home soon. She is such a brave and determined girl!

Malaika’s adoption profile on SGSR



Audrey is a gorgeous 2-year-old who has been waiting way too long for her forever home. She has been with the rescue for a year now, and is being patiently and lovingly fostered in Virginia.

Audrey is a sweet and intelligent girl, and she is very tolerant of children. I got to meet her at an SGSR adoption event with Laszlo, while we were still fostering him. These little kids kept running right up to her, and she was very gentle and sweet with them and not startled at all. I was very impressed.

Her only flaw is that she has trouble with other dogs. The presence of other dogs seems to really agitate her (she had a hard time calming down at the adoption event because of the dogs nearby), and so she needs to go to a home where she could be the solo canine. I have hope that the perfect home is still out there!20130601Audrey-70Isn’t it hard to believe that this beautiful girl STILL hasn’t been adopted? Hold out hope, pretty one.

Audrey’s adoption profile on SGSR



I had to feature this 10-month-old stud because I think he looks SO much like Pyrrha! Can you see the resemblance too?

Loki is a high-energy young male who is being fostered in Virginia. He is very affectionate and gregarious lad, and he would benefit from a lot of obedience training, just to teach him some basic manners!Loki2I have a feeling it won’t take much time at all before Loki gets snatched up by a family.

Loki’s adoption profile on SGSR



Eva is a petite 4-year-old girl who was sadly returned to the rescue, through no fault of her own.

She is a gentle and shy soul who needs a comfortable home where she can be at ease. Eva is great with other dogs and enjoys playing with them. Children seem to make her a bit nervous, however, so she may be best in a no-child home. Eva2Eva just needs someone who will understand her. I hope that person will find her soon!

Eva’s adoption profile on SGSR

All of these dogs are available for adoption, so share with your networks, if you feel willing! SGSR adopts to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and parts of Georgia and Tennessee.

For more information, please visit:

Southeast German Shepherd Rescue
SGSR on Facebook
SGSR Phoenix Dog Program

Post-snow play

It snowed Sunday morning, but by the time Pyrrha had her friends over, the snow had melted and left a pleasantly chilly sludge. But the dogs, clearly, did not mind.

Dear Heath showed up first, followed shortly by Loki, who is now HUGE (probably 80 lbs.). Do you remember when he was just the little guy?

Do I have to go home?

Loki is not so tiny anymore

The boys are back in town


Heath and Loki

It’s usually just a blur of color-coordinated fur.

Happy puppy faces

Big bundle of color-coordinated fur


Our new addition was baby Nell-abell, our neighbors’ sweet, three-month-old puppy. She is the most confident, spunky little thing I have ever seen! Here is the pack checking her out, with great interest:

New girl in the yard

I was worried that she was going to be scared by all of the big dogs, but she really held her own and jumped right in there with them. She was also especially adept at ducking and avoiding collisions when the chase games got a little crazy. She is a smart girl with a great personality. I mean, look at this face! So funny.

Nell's face!

Nell-abell particularly hit it off with Loki. The pair were an absolute delight to watch: the biggest dog and the smallest dog in the yard, utterly smitten with each other.

Nell-abell and Loki

Love between Loki and Nell

Love between Loki and Nell

Love between Loki and Nell

Roland also came by at the end. He is perfect for wearing Pyrrha out, as their favorite play method with each other is a frenzied game of tag around and around.

Roland checks out Nell

Pyrrha was certainly worn out after two hours of play! That was the goal, after all. (Pyrrha also did better with the puppy than I thought she was going to do. She wasn’t as gentle with Nell-abell as Loki, but she did seem to temper her behavior to Nell’s size and age, which was heartening for when we go meet Georgia in a few weeks.)

Wiped out after the play-date

Looking forward to more play-dates and continuing to grow her circle of friends!

Play-date with boys

Boys, boys, boys!

This afternoon, Pyrrha hosted beaus Loki, Silas, and Parker over for a nice romp in the sun.

Play-date with boys

Silas, you may recall, was the first dog to meet Pyrrha at our house, just a few days after we adopted her. It did not go so well, mainly because Pyr was freaked out and spent the afternoon snarling and growling at Silas and then running away from him. She’s come a long way with her manners since then, and so we finally had Silas back over.

Play-date with boys

This time, as you can see, Pyrrha was quite taken with him and Silas was, as always, a great sport. It was heartening to me to remember how Pyrrha reacted to Silas back in May and to witness what a different and happy dog she is now.

Play-date with boys

Play-date with boys

Loki also showed up; the kid has really grown! He might even weigh more than Pyrrha does now. He is precious as ever and is still gaining confidence but always a great sport when he gets bowled over.

Play-date with boys

Play-date with boys

Then we had our next-door neighbor Parker, the boxer/pit mix, join in the fun. Parker is a high-energy sweetheart, and he and Pyr like to watch each other through the fence slats, but we’ve never officially had him over.

Play-date with boys

Play-date with boys

They hit it off very well and spent most of the time engaged in Pyr’s favorite game, chase-until-you-drop.

Play-date with boys

Looking forward to keeping up this Sunday tradition! And now we just need to throw some more ladies in the mix…

Pyrrha and her young suitors

We enjoyed a lovely Sunday play-date with Heath, the handsome golden retriever, and Loki, back for his second round.

Sweet Heath

Heath showed up first and he was a perfect match for Pyrrha’s energy level. The pair did a lot of rolling around, kissing snouts, and chasing. They were a delight to watch.

In love

Ears flying

Look of adoration

Handsome dude

Here Pyrrha displays her best “be pretty!” for Heath’s mama, the Keeper of the Treats:

Be pretty

Essentially, they ended the afternoon completely smitten.


Young lovers

Loki showed up later and then it was all one big love train.

Butt-sniffing train

Trio at play

It’s fun to watch Loki, the baby, gain confidence and work his way into playing with the big dogs. (Although, at 55 lbs. at 5 months, Loki will very soon be THE big dog.)

Loki is getting bigger

As you can expect with two young, unneutered males, there was also a lot of humping going on, but Pyr didn’t seem to mind it much. She’d take it in stride and then turn around and give the boys a taste of their own medicine.

Ganging up on Pyr

Puppy play-dates! Always the highlight of my weekend. Hope to have Heath and Loki back again soon!

Double play-date weekend

After a very sad weekend (the death of a colleague and the unbearable tragedy in Newtown, CT), it lifted the spirits to have some puppies over to play. Get ready for the deluge of photos…


Play-date with Juniper

Juniper, our landlords’ pointer/pit mix, came over for a brief romp while our plumbing was being repaired. She is a muscular sweetheart. This was Pyrrha’s first introduction to Juniper and the two of them played very nicely together. It is fun to observe how differently every dog plays. Juniper is a playful growler and she likes to use her strong body to block and check, as if she were a hockey player. And so Pyrrha would alter her body language accordingly.

Play-date with Juniper

Play-date with Juniper

Play-date with Juniper

Play-date with Juniper

Cute little incident: Juniper is apparently both cuddly and protective. I would crouch down to watch them play, and Juniper would sidle up next to me and lean against me. If Pyrrha tried to approach us, Juniper would snap at her and challenge her to a wrestling match. I thought it was cute and interesting; I’ve never seen a dog so quickly take “possession” of a new person.


On Sunday, we had lots of friends come to play: Loki, my coworker’s five-month-old Newfoundland was the first to show up. And he is such a doll. Just look at that face!

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Pyrrha’s gregariousness was a little much for him at first, but he warmed up very quickly and was soon flopping around and chasing her.

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Loki (Sunday play-date)

As you can see, he was very soon holding his own:

Loki (Sunday play-date)

Roland, a dear favorite whom you may remember from previous play-dates, arrived next. (Check out Loki’s expression in the following photo… Cracks me up.)

Then came Roland...

Then came Roland...

And then we had a newcomer, Stella, the young Jack Russell terrier, who was none too pleased to join in the fun. She was terrified when she first arrived and emitted these sad, high-pitched screams whenever the other dogs would approach her. Poor girl. I don’t necessarily blame her: She is about the size of her playmates’ heads.

And then came Stella

And then came Stella

Stella eventually sought us for comfort and was more than happy when her mama, Audrey, showed up to take her home.

And then came Stella

And then came Stella

Aside from poor Stella’s fears, everyone else got along very well and we had a great (if chilly) afternoon in the backyard. I’m looking forward to keeping up these Sunday play-dates again after the holiday season.