Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good with Puppies

Because she's reactive, I always assumed that Maisy didn’t really have very good social skills. I mean, why else would she act like such a jerk to other dogs? (For the record, I don’t actually think Maisy is a jerk, but at the risk of anthropomorphizing- again- I imagine other dogs think she is sometimes. Lunging, barking, and growling when the other dog is acting appropriately isn’t very nice, after all.)

It turns out I’m wrong. She’s actually got decent social skills, barring the barking and lunging, of course, and she’s quite good with puppies! I found this out when my friend Robin got a German Shepherd puppy named Via. Robin’s philosophy on socialization is to introduce a puppy to as many stable adult dogs as possible. Personally, I don’t know that I’d call Maisy “stable,” but Robin apparently trusts her enough to expose Via to her, and I trust Robin (she also teaches our reactive dog class).

So the girls have been playing together. Well, maybe not together, but definitely in tandem. I’ve got two videos of them playing to share. They were taken a couple weeks ago, when Via was about 10 weeks old. The first was taken during the first five minutes or so of the play session:

Now, what I love about this video is how calm and relaxed Maisy is, despite the fact that Via is a bit exuberant at times- Via loves to play with her paws and Maisy… doesn’t like that so much. You can see that Maisy tends to look or move away when this happens- subtle communications which say, “Puppy, that’s too much.”

When Via inevitably ignores that (she’s not much for subtlety yet), Maisy does a very nice job of escalating the warnings, first with a small snap, and then with a larger snap and lunge. She's actually quite patient, and puts up with a lot more from Via than she does from adult dogs. In addition to that, Maisy doesn't go over the top. She makes her point quickly, then moves on, making these corrections not only appropriate, but quite fair, as well.

This second video was taken about 15 minutes later:

As you can see, Via is getting tired. She’s begun barking, and in response, Maisy becomes stiffer and a bit quicker to snap at Via. Even so, Maisy remains fairly patient with Via, and prefers to de-escalate the situation by disengaging from her. We ended the play session shortly after this happened because Via was getting overly aroused, and Maisy was getting stressed, which isn't good for either of them.

Interestingly, Maisy’s corrections never quite work. Via usually momentarily stops what she was doing, but generally comes right back to swatting at Maisy with her paws, or biting her tail (oh, that tail is just too much temptation for a Schutzhund-bred puppy), or whatever naughtiness earned her a correction. I suspect this happens both because Via is very confident and because Maisy just isn't- she'd rather avoid a confrontation if she can.

I’m very curious to see how their relationship develops as Via grows older (and bigger!), especially since Maisy tends to be the most reactive towards large, dark-colored, prick-eared dogs. I’ve always suspected that Maisy’s reactivity is due to fear and anxiety, although I wasn’t quite sure what she was scared of.

Based on her interactions with Via, I’m beginning to think it’s because Maisy just doesn’t have the self-confidence needed to defend herself at close range. She could be a lot firmer with Via and still be appropriate and fair, but she just doesn’t seem to have it in her. Maybe she’s decided that the best defense is a good offense: if she can keep the scary dog away from her, she’ll never have to worry about defending herself.

At any rate, Maisy is good with puppies, and that makes me very happy.


Robin Sallie said...

Happy is good. I see a large, dark-colored, prick-eared puppy in Maisy's future.

Crystal said...

Me too!

What? A corgi will be bigger than her! ;)

trillium said...

I love reading your blog about Maisy. It's so obvious that you love her and want her to have the best life you can give her. Living where I do its not always easy to find people that think of their dogs as more than barn dogs. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just not the relationship I want to have with my dogs and reading about you and maisy makes me feel a little less of a freak. And now that I've lost so much weight and can actually do things with them they are just blossoming. We have big plans this year! Big!

Kristine said...

It sounds like your conclusions are right to me. My dog suffered, still does sometimes, from a lot of confidence problems when we first adopted her. She would bark and lunge at everything, seemingly before it could do the same to her. But really she prefers to run away from confrontation. Now that she has more confidence, though few social skills, it's a lot easier when she meets new dogs.

Anyway, thanks for sharing these videos. It's great to see Maisy almost enjoying herself with another dog. Via is simply adorable. I hope they can maintain their "friendship" as the puppy grows.

Crystal said...

Thanks, Trillium! I certainly don't think you're a freak... or if you are, I am too! Even where I live- a city where most dogs live inside- people think I take the dog thing a bit too far. *shrugs* It's not my fault my dog is so awesome!

Crystal said...

Kristine- I hope the same thing. I don't think they'll ever be rough-and-tumble buddies, but it would be nice if they could happily coexist.

kat said...

Aw Maisy is so cute!!!!!
I don't know if you agree but I wonder if Maisy was thinking about the ball a lot in this interaction. It would be nice to see them without a toy in the mix?

Crystal said...

Kat- Yes, Maisy is TOTALLY thinking about the ball. Both dogs have such different play styles that I think they need the distraction of the ball in order to coexist happily. Perhaps when Via grows up and has more self-control, they'll be able to hang out together peacefully, but I don't think they'll ever really play together well.

Robin Sallie said...

I think with Maisy's arrested development she will always be in stuck in parallel play. Via is learning that some dogs (and most cats) prefer parallel play.

I don't think Crystal has it on video but some times Maisy uses her nose to pass the ball to Via who chews the ball a bit and then used HER nose to pass the ball back to Maisy.

Crystal said...

I don't have that on video. Too bad- it's SUPER cute.

Robin, I think your comments about Maisy being stuck in parallel play are interesting. Back when I still took her to the dog park, she never interacted with the other dogs. She just looked for suckers to throw her ball. She's shown minor interest in playing with Beckett, her greyhound friend, but mostly just hangs out with him.

However, she DOES play with two animals. First is my sister-in-law's Wheaten, whom she's known since she was a puppy. They have very similar play styles- they both like to chase and be chased vs. engaging in physical/wrestling play. Second is her cat, Malcolm, who is both her brother and a friend since puppyhood. Again- they play chase games. Do you think her willingness to directly play with these animals is because she met them at a young age? Or is it because their play styles match up better? Or both?