Let’s play!

Our clients ask great questions about dog-dog play:  Is that play, or are they fighting?  How do I know my dog’s having fun?  Should I break it up or let them work it out?  Of course, the best answers are given while observing dogs in action.  But we think these general tips will set you on the path of understanding pooches @ play.

Good play is a lot of give & take, where dogs take turns with toys & chasing/being chased.  If one dog isn’t comfy (retreating, tail tucked, belly up, ears back, yelping) and is feeling bullied because the other dog isn’t letting up, it’s time to step in.  Happily interrupt & redirect the dogs from each other.  Keep calm, with no tension in your voice or body.  Decide if the dogs can resume playing after a short break, or if  their play styles are a mismatch.  We love this video.  Whether your pup is @ a dog park or having a play date, you’ll learn how to recognize happy, healthy play.  Watch:

Dogs usually pace the play by taking breaks along the way.  Notice that one pup might walk away, shake as if drying themselves, drink water or lay down.  This signals the other dog that they are pausing.  In nice play, the other dog will respect the break and relax, too.  Here’s a great example of how intense play could be mistaken as fighting.  But notice that the dogs’ play styles are well matched, and they use breaks to pace the play:

Some dogs don’t pace themselves well and/or they don’t respect another dog’s break request (calming signals). They get overly excited during play.  Often these are young puppies & adolescents with unrefined social skills.  You can help your dogs enjoy longer, calmer play sessions by initiating proactive play breaks.  Teach them that a phrase (like “all done!”) means head to you to sit for treats.  Reward their calm sits by releasing them to play again:  “Go play!”.  Keep it fun so the dogs don’t mind interrupting their play for you. (Of course, @ a dog park with other dogs, you shouldn’t use food. A calm pet or praise will do.)

Speaking of social skills, it’s OK for dogs to fairly & clearly define their personal boundaries with each otherHere’s a lovely example of a tolerant, socially skilled adult dog calming & setting boundaries for a bouncy puppy:

(Much thanks to the folks @ Castor & Pollux for sharing this adorable video of Walter and Charlie the puppy with us!)

Recommended reading – from the best of the pack!

Article:   “Dog Park Etiquette” by Pat Miller

Blog posts:

Video:  Turid Rugaas on Calming Signals  (a must-watch for all dog guardians!)


© 2011 Critter Consulting


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