Dog’s at play: is for dogs at least, the highest form of socialization. It’s as natural as humans going to picnics and parties. This is because during play sessions they learn limits and boundaries as well as learn to polish their other social skills.
I have always allowed my dogs, and my dog playing with another owner’s dog to play as hard as they want to. I will only stop play if one or both dogs seem to be taking things a little to serious. But that very seldom happens.
Sometimes when my friends and neighbors see dogs at play they try to break it up because they think they are hurting each other. I have one neighbor who has a 8 pound mixed breed that loves to “sneak attack” my 45 pound pointer mix and then run away. She is just trying to get my dog to give chase, and when my dog catches up my dog uses her nose to roll the other dog over in the grass and then holds her with a paw or with an open mouth. The little dog then kicks her legs in the air and barks in a very high tone as if she’s laughing or giggling. It’s not a squeal, it’s a bark, but the owner always wants to remove the dog. But as the neighbor moves in, my dog lets the little dog up and they begin the whole game over again! My pointer will also do the same thing to her, and will play the submissive role!
This same game also went on with my Pointer and my German Shepherd, (see video posted here a few days ago), and before that my Dalmatian and the neighbor’s Lab, and my Pointer and my best friend’s Border Collie mix.
The point is, it’s just play. It’s really no different than a group of young kids playing football in the back yard or a pickup game of basketball at the playground. The only difference is, the contestants all have four feet instead of two.
The thing we as humans need to understand is that, if one of the dogs didn’t like what was happening, or if one was being hurt, that dog would be trying to get away or would fight back and drawing blood. If things ever begin to get out of hand, I stop the play session and make both or all of the dogs calm down for a few minutes. Once they calm down they can go right back to playing.
When the dogs get tired, they know what to do. So I resist the temptation to stop play for that reason. When they need a break, they just take one. The smaller the dog, the more breaks they take. The hotter it is, the more water breaks they take. The point is, they know what to do, so you can relax, take a seat, and enjoy the show.
Remember: Before you allow your dog to play with other dogs you must first make sure that the dogs get along well and that they are properly socialized. Knowing the personalities of all of the dogs your dog plays with is the best way to prevent accidents from happening. Supervision is a must until you know that they get along. Don’t ever leave them alone until you know for sure that the will not get into a fight.
One last thing worth mentioning: You are the guardian of your dog. You are responsible for it’s safety and the safety of everyone and every dog he comes into contact with. If you think a play session is getting too rough, or if you don’t want your dog to play with another dog, for whatever reason, you have the right and the responsibility to stop it and remove your dog.
Have you read Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz? She writes a lot about dogs at play, and her research involves taking video of dogs playing at the dog park and analyzing it. One of the things she mentions to watch for if the play seems rough is whether or not the bigger dog is handicapping itself. She says that if it’s truly play, the bigger dog will get lower to the ground to make itself “smaller.” It’s a great read.
Yes, I have read that. Thanks for mentioning it, I forgot to add it into my article. In our group of dogs, this happens all of the time.