Isn’t it fun watching dogs playing with each other? I get a kick out of how Rosy loves leading a chase and is so happy when she is wrestling with her best friends. Mostly, dog play is all done in good fun, but if the dogs get overly excited or if someone starts bullying more than being a buddy, or if two dogs gang up on one, then the play can change and someone winds up getting alarmed or scared or nipped. Kind of like human kids at play – it can get out of hands at times.
Here is something you can do to help it stay all in good fun.
On a regular basis, make it a habit to interrupt the dogs playing, frequently, by calling your dog out of play and taking little pause breaks. If you are with friends, have them call their dogs to them as well. Everyone will take a breather. If you have a puppy, call it over, have it sit or go into a down, praise the pup quietly or give it a high value treat for coming when called or have a short petting session. With your adult dog, reinforce a short down/stay and offer a reward for coming to you so nicely. There has to be something good for her to want to stop playing and come to you, otherwise your dog may just ignore you. Think about if you are in the middle of doing something really fun, someone asks you to stop and come over, you do so and they say, “good” and pat you on the arm. I regularly practice calling Rosy over when she is either walking off leash or when playing with her dog friends. I always pay her a bit of a high value treat – something she really loves – then I let her go back to playing. Rosy has a great recall. Just saying…..
The most important part of this, and why you’ll do it often, is you want to interrupt the play BEFORE it escalates into being overly rough or bullying behavior begins. The point of this technique is not to wait and call the dogs to you in response to unwanted and potentially dangerous behaviors. You are working to prevent this.
If you wait until the behavior occurs, then redirect your dog attention by calling them to you, it does not prevent the bullying from happening in the first place and if you call and reward after they get in trouble, and do this a number of times, it can actually serve to unintentionally reinforce the unwanted behavior. Not what we want. Once they take that mini break – let them go back to their friends. By now, their attention has shifted. They may all investigate “that smell” together, play chase or it will be time for all of you to take a walk down the trail.
Additional Resources for Raising Your Paws Podcast Episode 30.
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Source for the story about the three S’s. Dog Smart by Linda P. Case. (On Amazon)
Resources mentioned by Katie-K9
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