Thursday, December 6, 2012

Learning about Dog Play

One of the areas of dog behavior and training that I'm still pretty uncertain about is dog play. How rough can you let it be, before you need to intervene? 

I know that while many people get kind of nervous at the first sign of growling, face biting, humping and such, I think the general consensus among dog training professionals is that a certain amount of rough play is OK, depending on the dogs and the context. 

Dogs with good social skills may get very vocal and wrestle, put their mouths around each other, and climb up on each other in a way that looks incredibly rough to us, and then disengage when they need to with everyone happy and unharmed. 

Other dogs, like Star, will miss or ignore the social signals that other dogs use to keep things from escalating. For these dogs, us humans will have to intervene more often. 
 
As I mentioned earlier, Star had some nice play sessions with Fozzie where they got loud and rowdy, and then got out if it on their own.

Then they were playing with a stick, and the rough play escalated into a fight. It was a bit scary and hard to disentangle this time.  No major harm done, but I'd really rather not repeat that experience! 

Speaking to the trainer at the shelter, I realized I don't have to.  It was fun to watch them racing around the yard, but there are plenty of ways to get a dog adequate exercise without putting anyone in danger. 

Fozzie enjoys running with a foster dog, but he always looks like he is a bit reluctant to do it, like he doesn't know quite how its going to turn out. I think I'm the one who needs to respect Fozzie's social signals, and protect him more from all these young upstarts I bring home. 

Much as I enjoy a good play session, it is actually kind of a relief to know that I don't have to let them go wild. I can intervene before anyone gets annoyed, or in the case of a particularly annoying dog like Star, I can bypass that whole potential for stress by exercising everyone in a way that is best for him or her. 

Do your dogs play like wild little beasties? How far do you let it go before you get nervous?

17 comments:

  1. Georgia used to play like a wild beastie, but is now more and more enjoying her own company.

    Many of her doggy friends are wild beasties too! We keep an eye on them but are quite generous with how much rough play they can enjoy [and I use that word deliberately because they have enormous fun wrestling, humping and putting holes into each other's necks]. They mostly seem to sort themselves out.

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  2. I was always told that one sign to look for was when the play goes vertical (rearing up on hind legs).This is a sign of a possible fight brewing and a good time to intervene and re-direct. Also, both dogs should be having fun, once things look a little unbalanced, then it's time to step in. I'm always amazed how reluctant people are to intervene and re-direct when things get a bit to carried away, if you want your dogs to learn some self control it's a great way for them to do so. You can do this without spoiling their fun, but get involved yourself and play a long with them for a minute or two to break any tension. If you had kids would you let them have open season on each other? I bet not, I believe the same applies to dogs.

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    1. This is such a helpful comment! I'm going to watch that about going vertical. Yes, my own stress level has definitely diminished once I realized I could intervene sooner rather than later...and probably my dogs prefer it that way too...:)

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  3. I let my dogs get pretty crazy. I think the key is knowing them and how they interact. Sadie is the one who most often gets too aroused by play so I know to keep an eye on her excitement level and she self-regulates herself by rarely engaging in wrestling play. Hurley's the one who most often will take it too far by continuing to play play play. Maggie's the one most likely to correct another dog when play gets too much. I rarely have to intervene but by knowing their play personalities, I can let them rough house, knowing I'll know when to step in. Maggie & Hurley regularly play by going up on their hind legs but that's always followed by them de-escalating play on their own. I intervene, of course, more often in the house, when it's more a matter of "they're going to break something" or "we're trying to watch something" rather than them getting into a fight. We've never had anything even close to a fight (because Maggie is the boss and the other two respect her authority 100%).

    Of course, it's an entirely different story when you're dealing with two dogs that aren't in the same family or when introducing a new dog into the family. What I allow in play with my own dogs, I would not allow them to do at a dog park or with a new dog. I've rarely had to intervene in those situations though because they don't play with other dogs the way they play amongst themselves.

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    1. It sounds like they do have a really good chemistry...so nice when dogs self-regulate like that!

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  4. I am always a nervous Nelly for the first few play periods between dogs, but after they get to know each other, I generally let them sort it out themselves. UNLESS I know that one of them has issues & then I will calm things down by distracting them. I do often have to get on to Pauley for being a little too wild in his play. He will flip over recliners & move furniture across the room if I let him have free play inside.

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  5. I was a little nervous at first when Blueberry and Linus were wrestling around - but could quickly tell it was strictly play. But the vocal sounds both of them make probably make my neighbors what in the world is going on! They both can get pretty loud with the play growls and yips and barks, but it is all in good fun. Nevertheless, I find myself still off to the side, making sure it doesn't get out of control.

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  6. Sure makes a lot of sense. You should see 18 Frenchies playing at a meetup. You have a bunch of personalities very similar to what you explained. One did have to be removed from the mix
    Benny & Lily

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  7. Misty the alpha Poodle doesn't allow any kind of boisterous wrestling, either from our pack or visitors. We aren't sure how she does it. Could be hypnotism. Or blackmail.

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  8. Boy, this is something I am always sweating too. Nikki will not engage; she is the picture of calm behavior. Casper and Freedom on the other day, chase every day. I watch them and they seem to have a good time playing together, but I still get nervous when they get rough. When we have guests, everyone gets muzzled to be safe. I would love to hear more as I've always been curious about what cues signal trouble.

    Hey! Congratulations on winning the toy package! How fun!

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  9. With the pack we have many different personalities and our Callie who cannot be a part of rough play because she will escalate to harm mode in about two seconds. There are four who always chase each other and wrestle. When the new blind puppy Breeze arrived, I did intervene since she was developing sores on the inside of her back legs from the others grabbing her! We sometimes have a problem with Brook, the blind and partly deaf one when she's playing with deaf Azule. They can't hear each other and miss the cues. Overall, they are left to figure it out and we've had no problems. There is close monitoring with new additions of course.

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  10. Kaya and Norman love to wrestle! They get pretty crazy, but I never worry about them. With other dogs a pay a lot more attention. Kaya had to follow a no play with unknown dog rule for many months when she was losing her cool too many times. I realized later that a lot of it had to do with her overall training(or lack thereof:/

    I don't think there is anything wrong with erring on the side of cautious. I think "letting her figure it out" led me to a lot of my problems with Kaya. I always intervene when one dog is too dominating or if one holds on too long to the other dog's skin. I think the best thing is to teach them to respond to a back off command, like "hey". If they ignore you, it's not okay to keep playing. Last resort should be holding the collar because that adds a lot of tension.

    I would practice with really good treats and get their attention when play isn't that crazy. Growling is a funny one because Shaka would growl when she played and she sounded like a savage beast, but she would barely be making physical contact. It was just her style. But Kaya and Norman almost never growl so if they do, I know they are getting too excited and I will probably tell them to cut it out. My biggest pet peeve is humping. It is only fun for one dog and leaves the other to feel defensive and it pretty much stops play because the underdog can no longer move. Norman always gets the hump and the look on his face is the worst:(

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  11. My sister Tuvia and my brother Owen like to wrestle in the yard. It's usually pretty even. But when's she's had enough, the games over for Owen.

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  12. Our dogs play pretty rough. After months of having them I finally just learned to relax and look away so I didn't get so paranoid. However, when left alone Hades and Braylon have fought (they are separate if we are gone now,) but ever since they fought I am more tense about how much I let them get go nuts, even though it still never escalates. My pups aren't vocal but Taylor made all kinds of funny noises when she played. Braylon only makes noise if she is playing tug--then she starts growling and making all kinds of "scary" noises, but that's just how she plays. Hades makes noise if he plays with Jay, not other dogs. Sometimes it sounds like he is laughing. It's so cute! I feel like dog play is hard to understand because different dogs cue differently. If Braylon gets over-stimulated her hair stands up while she plays but it's not really a bad thing, it just means the play is more intense.

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    1. From reading your blog I never would have thought that Hades and Braylon have gotten into it sometimes...it shows you that it can happen even between pups who are good buddies, and also that even after it happens, dogs can return to being the best of friends! I marvel at their ability not to hold grudges:)

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    2. They were totally happy even right after! We found them cuddling the first time, scary as that was! We just know to separate them when we are gone, we have zero issues when we are home.

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  13. Mine are wild when they play, which is usually only once or twice per day for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Sampson is very vocal and rough (surprising for his gentle soul) and Delilah can take it and give it right back. It can be scary and intimidating to a newcomer observing my dogs. The best thing about these two though is this, the first time there is a yip that someone got a little carried away, the play stops.

    If they are a little too out of control, Hubby or I can say, Enough or Stop and they will generally listen. Thankfully they've never gotten out of control to the point that I was worried one of them would get hurt.

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