Sunday, November 22, 2009

Play dates - the good, the bad and the ugly

Yesterday and today we had play dates scheduled with a group of neighbors. Since Finn was not socialized before we got him, chances to play with other dogs will help him to become more relaxed and confident.

Or so I hoped. Of course an important part of that is that the other dogs are relaxed, friendly, and non-aggressive.

While walking our dogs in the neighborhood over the last 9 month, Finn has shown nothing but friendliness and tolerance for other dogs. Some we had had play dates with before but only one or two at a time. We met yesterday, with 4 other dogs, 3 we knew and one new one. Other than the young puppy yelping from too rough play, and a growl at Finn when he tried some mounting behavior, everything went great. (All the dogs are neutered, I think Finn wanted to roughhouse, and didn't know how so he tried that) I found out the one dog we didn't know, they had only had for 3 weeks. A mixed breed dog, lab or chessie mixed with something. I was a bit concerned, since they hadn't had him long, and he had just been neutered, but they all seemed to play ok.

Today we met in another yard, and we got there last. For about 15 minutes all went fine, then for no reason any of us could see, the new dog attacked Finn. Finn simply tried to get away, not understanding what was going on, but the other dog kept going for his face and throat. This wasn't simply a dominance issue, Finn backed down immediately. In any pack once the other dog backs down the fight is over. But this dog kept going after him. I immediately called Finn, to get him out of the yard while the dog's owners tried to pull him off. Finn could outrun the dog, if he would just go, but I don't think he heard me calling him, or was too focused on avoiding the other dog. Once the attack was broken, he came immediately to me and I let him out of the yard to safety.

I didn't see any wounds immediately, but when I got home I found he had been cut on his face and mouth. Painful, but not serious. Finn has had all his shots, and since they just adopted the other dog, I know he has had his. I'll talk to my vet tomorrow, but for now the wounds are washed, and Finn is keeping them pretty clean himself.

So, instead of Finn having a good experience of play, he was introduced to aggression, something he had never experienced before. Could I have prevented it? Yes, I should have been more cautious. 3 weeks is not enough time to learn what kind of personality a dog has, and not enough time for his new owners to establish who was boss. I should have waited for a time when he wasn't there. Dogs can surprise you, no matter how long you have them (like Finn and his mounting behavior, where did that come from??) but I should have realized there could be issues and kept Finn from this experience. It was my responsibility to make this decision for my dog.

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