Hosting a doggy play-date

In love
Crazy eyes in love. Heath and Pyrrha.

As you probably know by now, one of Pyrrha’s favorite things is playing with other dogs. We’re really grateful for this, because it evidently brings her so much joy, and there are so many other things that make her so scared. So, we have gradually turned our backyard into an occasional dog park. Here are some of the things we’ve learned about hosting a play-date!

Play-date with Ozzie
Ozzie and Pyrrha.


Cap the number of dogs, and know their personalities

I think, due to the size of our yard, and to the various complicating factors, four to five dogs is the max number of dogs we should have in the yard at one time. It helps knowing the personalities of the dogs coming, too. For instance, when we have rowdy adolescent males come over, we probably won’t invite a new puppy or a senior dog (and vice versa). It’s helpful to have a general idea of the canine personalities that are going to be in the mix. If you don’t know, we’ve preferred to play it safe and just invite one dog over at a time.

Set out a bowl of water

Nothing gets pups tired like wrestling and playing tag! We’ve found that, regardless of the season, the pups get thirsty very quickly.

Poop scoop

No one likes to accidentally step in a land mine.

Put away any toys

To avoid any tussles over toys, I like to clear the yard of anything that could potentially cause a possessive scuffle. (Even though dogs, like children, will usually find something to pick a fight over, such as that enticing stray stick…)

Play-date with Juniper
Juniper and Pyrrha.


Be vigilant and watchful during introductions…

As I’ve written about recently, we’ve become very careful and mindful during dog introductions. This is usually the most tense and delicate part of the play-date. If introductions go smoothly, usually, the rest of the play-date will too.

… but don’t zone out entirely

Keep an eye on the dogs. Watch your dog’s behavior and watch for any warning signs (such as stiff body language, hard stares, etc.). I particularly liked this post on The Unexamined Dog about watching for pauses during play. Healthy, happy play sessions should have lots of little rest periods. Be ready to break the dogs up to give them “time outs” if needed. We learned this with Roland and Pyrrha; they would occasionally play too hard and too long, and then the play would start to shift into frustration and annoyance. We’d intervene, call them apart from each other, and then in five minutes, they would be OK to play again.

Get those leashes off

If introductions have gone smoothly, dogs naturally play better untethered! (Although we may let them drag the leashes for a few minutes in the beginning, just to make sure that everyone is at ease.)

Sunday play-date with Roland
Chomp! Pyrrha takes a bite out of Roland’s leg.


Take a nap!

Pyrrha finally meets Bo
Bo and Pyrrha.

Do you ever host canine friends at your place? What have you learned from your experiences?


Update to German shepherd markings post

Play-date with Ozzie
Ozzie and Pyrrha, August 2012.

Since it seems to be my most popular post, I updated my Primer on German Shepherd Markings.

Photos and descriptions have been updated, and almost all of the dogs featured are dogs that were adopted through Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, which is pretty cool. The rescue seems to have spanned the whole range of shepherd coats, colors, and types.

I think many people don’t know that shepherds can come in so many varieties. I didn’t myself until I started researching the breed! Most people immediately identify Pyrrha as a GSD, because she has such a traditional coat pattern, but even when walking Brando next to her, people didn’t seem sure that he was also a GSD. It’s fun to me to learn about the wide spectrum of coats within this one breed.

Does your dog have a surprising coat pattern? Do people often mistake him or her for another breed?

Play-date with Ozzie

Ozzie relaxes

When we decided that we wanted a German shepherd, I sought out everyone I knew who had one. Marcy was one of those people. She is responsible for bringing young Bo to his lady, Liz, and so she’s a familiar feature in my community dog constellation.

Marcy has had German shepherds for years, and she is currently living with 3-year-old Ozzie, who is just as sweet and majestic as he can be. Many months ago, before I even knew about Pyrrha’s existence, I went to visit Marcy, meet Ozzie, and talk to them about the trials, tribulations, and joys of German shepherd ownership. They were both a great help to me in our journey toward rescuing Pyrrha. (And Ozzie officially solidified my desire for a long-coat GSD…)

On Tuesday night, we thought it might be nice for Pyrrha to finally meet dear Ozzie. Ozzie is one of those rare, lucky dogs who gets to go into the office with his human, and so Marcy brought him by after work.

Play-date with Ozzie

I won’t lie: They had a rough initial greeting. Ozzie was already unleashed in our backyard when I went to let Pyrrha out. He came rushing into the sunroom to see her and she flipped out—hackles, snarling, lunging at him. I was a little concerned, but after we pushed them both into the yard, and Pyrrha got over her initial displays of fear, they were best buds.

Play-date with Ozzie

What I’ve learned from this: Pyrrha does much better meeting a dog in a neutral space, with a very loose leash. She met Zoe in our front yard and there were no fear displays at all, and the pair transitioned very smoothly into the backyard. To date, our most frightening initial encounters have been when Pyrrha was in the backyard and another big dog came in (see: Silas). I will be sure to follow this protocol for all future play-dates at our house.

Sitting for Marcy

It was great to keep the company of another GSD person, however. Marcy is so experienced with the breed that she wasn’t disturbed at all by Pyrrha’s initial “greeting” of Ozzie. She could tell that Pyrrha would be fine in a minute, and she was. Marcy also wasn’t frightened by the way that Pyrrha plays, which is with a lot of flashing teeth, paw smacking, and play growls. “This is just the German shepherd way,” she said, while watching them rough-house. Watching two GSDs play could be a terrifying thing to witness for someone who had only been around gentle hounds, but Marcy thankfully knew what was up. Again, I’m so grateful for other dog people who know how to read Pyrrha and wait her out.

Play-date with Ozzie

These two are such a good example of the big difference between a black-and-tan and a black-and-red GSD. Pyrrha’s coat looks almost white next to Ozzie’s deep tones!

More play photos:

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie

Play-date with Ozzie
And now we’re in love.

Hope we’ll get to do this again soon!

(*Also: Thanks for all of your great advice about how to get Pyrrha more comfortable going outside with Guion. We are going to try some of the things you recommended and I will be sure to keep you posted!)

Until one has loved an animal

An English lady and her borzoi. Click for source.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

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Happy weekend, everyone! It’s going to be a dog-filled one for me: Running with Bo, volunteering at the SPCA, and then meeting Ozzie, a young GSD who belongs to our church secretary. Excited!