Understanding How Your Puppy Plays
I was in Southwest Ranches yesterday installing a Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® system on a three acre property for a client and his American Bulldog, Pepper. I like the bigger properties because there are normally less issues and the installations go pretty smoothly. After the system was installed and we had finished up the training, my client mentioned that he had just rescued two Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies. He said that they were great, but he said that he was always separating them because they were trying to hurt each other. I asked him if the puppies were fighting or just exhibiting adrenalized play. He wasn’t sure…
Many puppy owners look at their cute, little bundles of joy and assume that the only thing that they will ever do is to cuddle and sleep. This is not the case. During the first year of your puppy’s life, he is figuring out how he fits into the world around him, how he should act, and how he should respond to other animals, sights, smells, etc.
One of the most important aspects of this learning process is understanding the proper behavior around other dogs. This all began when your puppy was born and had other brothers and sisters immediately around him. As he began to interact with the others, his mother would guide him in the right direction to understand “what everything meant”.
The most important lesson that your puppy’s mother began to teach him was the ability to understand leadership and focus. Your puppy’s social structure is based around a “pack” where there is a leader. Safety is maintained by focusing on the leader’s direction. If this is not maintained, his society looses it’s strength and safety. The problem that your puppy has is that he was taken away from his mother and siblings before the lesson could be completely taught. He still has work to do.
Now we come to your puppy playing with other dogs and/or puppies. Believe it or not, your puppy naturally knows to play certain games. These games include tug-of-war, tag-you-are-it, follow-the-leader, and king-of-the-hill. These are all games that have a clear outcome (i.e. the winner of tug-of-war ends up with the toy and everybody else has nothing) and are based on dominance. The winner of any of these games did not have to hurt the others, he simply, successfully demonstrated his dominance in a specific set of roll playing.
Sometimes these games can look really aggressive to us and we think that the dogs are hurting each other. In almost every case I have ever observed, this is not true. Your puppy will play hard to win, but in his mind, it is still only a game. Follow-the-leader is even a game where the puppies decide who is the leader and followers before the game begins and then switch off as the game progresses.
So, what do you have to do to allow your puppy to appropriately play, but not hurt another dog or get hurt himself?
- Watch your puppy’s body language. If you see his tail go between his legs (up towards his stomach), the play has gone too far. Break it up.
- Size matters. Try to make sure that the puppies are roughly the same size. Even though they might not want to hurt each other, a smaller puppy could be hurt if rolled upon by a really big puppy.
- Watch out for bullying. Just like people, some puppies are bullies. If your puppy is being cornered by a group of others and not allowed to exit or if your puppy is constantly being chased by another dog without the ability to challenge and change rolls, guide your puppy to you and allow everyone to take a break.
- Watch for overheating. Your puppy can quickly overheat in our South Florida weather. Check him often and make sure that he drinks water often. Keep him off of hot surfaces such as tile, cement, and asphalt. Try to have your puppy play on grass in the shade as much as possible.
- Listen to your puppy. After body language, dogs use their voice to communicate. If your puppy is constantly yipping or whining, that indicates that he is asking for a “time out” from the other dog. If you don’t see that the other dog is giving him a break, remove your puppy and play with him by yourself for about five to ten minutes before you let him back with the others.
- Sometimes you need to make your own rules. Your puppy nipping another puppy or a puppy nipping your puppy is a natural form of communication. From a canine socialization perspective, this is completely acceptable. The problem is if your puppy gets nipped and it starts to bleed (i.e. nipped on his soft ear). This can cause a vet bill. You should probably break up any activity that is going to cause a trip to the vet.
If you allow your puppy to have fun and socialize with other dogs while trying to minimize being an “overbearing parent”, you should do just fine. Be observant of your puppy as he plays. Watching and understanding his actions will innately inform you if you need to step in or allow him to just be a puppy.
As your puppy’s human owners, you need to understand the boundaries that you should allow your puppy to explore and learn. You sometimes become too overprotective and stifle your puppy’s natural learning experience. Robin and I have worked with thousands of puppies and can help you understand your responsibilities. Please contact us by clicking on Dog Fence Training Help. Don’t forget to read the other dog training articles we have prepared at Best Out of Sight Fence Trainers Southwest Ranches South Florida. We are also professional dog trainers with over eleven years experience. You can find out more about our home dog training at Home Dog Training South Florida.