Doggy play time can be difficult for owners to monitor and intervene in. Some people struggle to understand what healthy play should look like.
Play can include some growling, biting, and different dogs on top, but how do we know when to intervene?
Happy dogs resemble wet noodles! Their body language is wiggly and happy. When your dog is a noodle it’s safe to assume they’re enjoying themselves.
My first rule is if ONE dog stops having fun we need to intervene. All parties of play time need to be having fun, or we can risk our pups becoming uncomfortable or fearful around others. If a dog is becoming uncomfortable with play by trying to escape the situation or showing signs of fearful body language, we NEED to intervene. Don’t leave them to sort it out on their own because if the offending dog is not respecting the uncomfortable dog’s signs to stop, the uncomfortable dog may escalate.
Size, relationship and ability matter. The way we interact with our closest friends compared to strangers is different and it’s the same for our dogs. Don’t assume all dog to dog play will look the same or that all dogs will be friends. Rough play amongst friends is different from social play with a stranger dogs.
Similar sized dogs would be safer to play as strangers, large size discrepancies might be OK with strangers if the larger dog self-handicaps himself. I would not allow tiny dogs to play with an unknown group of extra large dogs. Dogs with limited mobility or injury should be monitored closely in play and again would be better off with a small group of friends who give them breaks and respect limitations
Any injury = stop play. If a party gets hurt, stop the play immediately. Pain can quickly escalate to aggression. Get the information of each dog to ensure health records are up to date. Accidents happen sometimes but if your dog is injuring or bullying dogs on a regular basis, adjust your expectations for their social group. Speak to a trainer or behaviour expert to help address your concerns about your dog’s play style
Don’t let your dog be a bully, and don’t force shy ones into the party. If your dog is bullying another, take them for a bit of a time out and calmly remove them from the situation. When they calm down, allow them to re-enter play. If they continue to bully after the time outs, play time may be done for the day. On the other hand, it is important to not push the shy dogs into situations they are uncomfortable with. Shy dogs may prefer quiet one on one play dates with dogs they can build a relationship with. Respect who your dog is as an individual.
Small play groups are best. Montioring small groups of dogs is easier and allows them all to have the option to have space when needed. Healthy play should also have frequent short breaks from the action.
Be aware that situations can change quickly. Play can seem like it is going great, then escalate to aggression. It is important that we are paying attention to our dog’s body language and monitoring their level of comfort. Our friend at Modern Canine Training have created some great videos on body language http://bit.ly/2oRXjWm to educate owners all over for free! If you dog is showing signs of being uncomfortable a break is great!
Keep valuable resources like prize toys and food away from play, these can lead to guarding behaviours which can end the fun quickly.
Tired dogs can get grumpy. Endurance is not the same for all dogs and some dogs tire more quickly than others. They may be done playing, need rest and to be removed from the situation.
Owners should be supervising and intervening. I don’t allow my dogs to play with the dogs of absentee owners. All owners should be watching their dogs and their behaviour.
Teaching your dog skills like recall, leave it and to relax help play to be successful. I love watching dogs play and the friendships and relationships that can form can be great. Set your dogs and puppies up for success by letting them have positive experiences with known social dogs.
If you need to intervene and remove your dog from play, do so safely and calmly. Do not perform dangerous behaviours like making your dog “submit to” others or force interactions that can be uncomfortable. This will not improve their play skills but can cause them to have uncomfortable feelings around you and/or other dogs. Just calmly remove them, encourage relaxation and if needed end play for the day and find another activity to address their energy needs
If you have concerns about your dog’s play style or social interactions with other dogs, contact a professional in your area to help!
(originally posted on Facebook April 10 2017)