Sunday, May 1, 2011

Speaking Dog: Puppy Playtime

You don't have to be a dog person to get a kick out of watching puppies or dogs play. It's just so cute, and it's a guaranteed method of eliciting a few chuckles--that is, unless you're soulless of course. ;) Thus, with exception to those who have been captured by dementors, you're likely to enjoy and devote time to A LOT of puppy playdates. :) Playtime is invaluable for puppies to learn appropriate social behavior in the canine world. Good playing enhances bite inhibition, develops communication skills, and maintains friendly responses to other dogs. However, keep an eye out for bad play behavior that can lead to adolescent aggression or serious injury. To start, here are a few basic facts:

1. Puppy play is a wonderful means of socialization. If marathons of the Dog Whisperer or the stacks of Puppy How-to's have taught us anything, it's that socialization is key. During the formative months of his life, socialization will develop Fido's character, temperament, and behavior towards other dogs and other humans. Socialization will affect how your dog will relate not only to you and your family, but also to strangers, other dogs, and his environment.

2. For dogs, the objective of their play is to give and receive as many intermittent bites and nips as possible. Weird right? For us humans, the objective of our playing is to win. We strive to assert superiority over our "playmates" when we participate in sports, board games, video games, etc. It's hard to grasp the idea that the goal of puppy play is actually give-and-take!

3. Puppies are rude. Rude, rude, rude. They are still learning the most basic of social skills. You may see them attempting to goad other dogs into play by persistently nipping at the neck and/or ears, reaching their paws over the neck of another dog, or excessively barking at another dog. Some adults are less tolerant of rudeness and may correct your puppy. Corrective action is a quick snap to the nose, where the adult bites down on the muzzle of the puppy. It's probably one of the least pleasant things you'll see or hear, so try to keep your puppy from getting into trouble by watching out for him and telling him "no" when he's getting too impertinent. If he persists, remove him from the situation. :)

4. After reaching maturity (usually 2 years), dogs tend to be less inclined to play. Not all dogs are the same, but after reaching this point, they are less likely to befriend new dogs and instead prefer to socialize among their established friends. Sounds like us humans, right? :)

Geroff me!

Good play consists of:

Balanced play where both dogs are participating and obviously having fun (as opposed to one dog attempting to force another to interact).

Mutual inviting play gestures such as bowing, tail wagging, and play pouncing.

A sense of carefree inhibition exhibited by relaxed/loose bodies that look inefficient and silly. :)

Chase! This is Leo's favorite game. Chasing is a manifestation of sharing and give-and-take play so long as one of the dogs isn't running scared or into hiding. If the latter occurs, interrupt the play.

Inappropriate play consists of:

Ganging up on another dog

Neck biting/collar grabbing

Mounting another dog. This is the easiest way to start a fight.

Body slamming


Placing the head over the shoulders of another dog. This is a direct challenge to fight.

Possessiveness or aggression during tug-of-war. Otherwise, this is completely appropriate and fun!

If your dog is showing signs of inappropriate play behavior, interrupt play by rapping him on the head and saying "no" firmly. If he doesn't get the point after four or five times, remove him from the situation to avoid any potential conflict.

Have fun! If you have any cute pictures of your dog playing that you would like to share, please send them to me at! I'll be sure to include them in another post! :)

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