We often get asked if an owner’s dog is playing or being a bit too much… Read on as we explore what we feel is good play and social skills and what to look out for in dog-to-dog interactions.
Work hours and other commitments can mean that some dogs don’t get to see and meet other dogs regularly…this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but personally having owned a dog reactive dog I like my dogs to be sociable around other dogs. For me this definitely doesn’t mean that my dog is able to run up to every dog they see, in fact I would say a dog that is unable to walk past another dog without interacting isn’t necessarily sociable either (but this is possibly a whole other post).
During our Foundation Puppy classes we try to allow off lead play (depending upon the mix of dogs), we feel this gives us the opportunity to talk about canine body language and help owners support their dogs in appropriate play opportunities.
Ole (the larger dog) has self-handicapped by lying on the floor. You can see his teeth in the picture, but you can also see his lips cover his teeth in a relaxed manner.
Here are some of the things that we are looking out for in play….
Golden rules of play
* Is it even – this doesn’t necessarily mean that play is 50/50 all the time, but that turn taking is happening. Throughout play one dog may be getting another dog but then these roles are likely to reverse at some point and overall the play session should be balanced.
* Is one dog trying to escape and get away? – if one dog isn’t enjoying play then check if they are trying to escape….hold back the dog that is pursuing and see if the escapee runs up to them to try and re-engage in the game or uses the opportunity to flee to a quiet spot.
* Do both dogs have options? – do they have means of escape? Are they pushed up against a wall or stuck in a corner? If so I’m going to encourage them out of that space to provide better options for play and options for both dogs.
* Has the speed got too frantic? – Sometimes with an increase in speed arousal can spike and puppies can make poor choices, when offering play with unknown dogs we will be looking at ensuring the environment is suitable to manage that play…that we will be close enough on hand to support the dogs should they need it or that we have trained behaviours (like a recall) that we can rely on.
* Are pauses in play being respected – often during play one dog will pause maybe sniff the ground or in some other way disengage. This is often used to take the ‘heat’ out of play and to slightly slow it down or or defuse it. Pauses in play should be respected by the other dog, particularly important when you have a younger dog (who may not respect these pauses) playing with an older dog.
Behaviours you may see during appropriate play
* The play bow – this is often seen as an invitation to play, but can also be seen as ‘what follows is intended to be play’.
* Although you often see dogs teeth during play the lips and mouth in play are often relaxed and rounded.
* Behaviours often change about during play and aren’t fixed e.g. chasing stops for periods of bouncing or switching of roles.
* We often see bouncing, ineffective/inefficient movements
* There is an exchange of behaviours e.g. you get me I get you.
* Dogs show a consideration to a mismatch in size e.g. a bigger dog may handicap itself to make play more balanced.
The above are just a few points of interest around play and there is so much more we could write and talk about. If you do have concerns about your dog’s play style feel free to message us.