More on Play Styles; Dealing with Problem Players

I’ve loved your comments about play styles after the last post. Keep them coming. One of the points that was made by many of you, that I think bears repeating, is that many dogs can adapt and learn new play styles from others. This is especially true of stable, well-adjusted dogs who aren’t overly reactive to something new or challenging.

Along with chase games and wrestling, several of you mentioned hounds (and English Shepherds!) who like to play “catch the prey” by chasing, play biting and then mock attacks at the throat. Another mentioned a play style that I’ve also seen, that I consider truly problematic. In this case, the dog chases another dog until he catches up, and then bites the chasee, often in the back leg, and brings him or her down. Eeeps. I’ve seen this quite often, and it often appears to me that the dog in question has not learned about the importance of “self-handicapping.”  Some of them even seem to have switched from playing to predation. Of course, that’s one of the tricky things about play–it’s actually hard to define because most of the actions of play are seen in the context of fighting or predation.

However, in healthy play, the participants exhibit “self handicapping” so that they don’t injure or scare their play partner. (See my post on September 10th, 2009 for a discussion and video of self-handicapping). When I see it happen I intervene without question. I’ll first try a loud, abrupt yelp, as if there had been an injury. That will often interrupt play, and I’ve seen some dogs adjust their enthusiasm as if it was their play partner who had been injured. However, I’ve also seen plenty of dogs who did not respond to a yelp. In that case I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, intervening by moving as quickly as possible between the two and body blocking the transgressor. I’ll look directly at them, use a low voice, say absurd things that the dog couldn’t possibly understand but that feel good to say (“You are one total loser dog and are going to be in big trouble in a minute…”) and back them up a good ten feet or so (depending on the dog).  That has helped with several dogs, in that I can then use a verbal warning (“AH!”) when they open their mouths to bite.

I can’t tell you exactly how many dogs that has helped, but many dogs do learn to adjust their play styles, and I’ve had good luck with it with lots of dogs. It doesn’t work on all dogs with this particular behavioral problem, but it’s worth a try.

There’s so much to say about role reversals, play styles and social status, (and yes, I do want to address the issue of ‘status’ soon), but here’s one point I’d like to bring up now: I talk more about role reversals in my Play Seminar DVD, but the research of Ward and Smuts found role reversals common in what they called “pushes, tackles, and chases.” They found almost no role reversals for “mounts, giving muzzle licks and receiving muzzle bites.”  There was (in keeping with some of your comments and with my observations over the years) no sex effect on type of play or on role reversals.  (However, female dogs did prefer to play with other females  within their own litters… interesting, hey?) They also found it common for one dog of a dyad to always be the one “on top” (in wrestling, for example), countering the hypothesis of some researchers that play always had to follow the “50/50 rule,” in which each player role reversed during each play session.

I think what’s most important is that play is a profoundly complex behavior, and that so much can be going on within it, depending on a dog’s breed predispositions, personality and experience. My favorite video of a play sequence, by the way, is from Pia Silvani, of two Terv’s meeting for the first time, and adjusting their play styles as they become more familiar. It’s truly a gorgeous example of healthy, appropriate play. It’s on the Dog Play DVD for those of you who haven’t seen it. I am ever grateful to Pia for letting me use it. (And it makes me all oxytocin-y too, it makes me want to get out some candles and a white table cloth for the 2 of them . . .)

Meanwhile, back on the farm: White white white. Snow snow snow. I’m about to take up luging. See that red sled by the barn . . . think I could make it down the hill behind the barn in record time in it?

In this next photo, Willie heard a truck on the road behind him. Interesting, I didn’t see his face as looking worried when I took the shot, but I do now. Humm, am I reading something into it?


  1. Carrie says

    My girl flattens her ears like that to express concern. On the other hand…

    Maybe it is just the angle of the picture, but is his head tilted down? Is it possible his head wasn’t tilted down in person, but the angle of the picture looks like it is? That may explain why you thought nothing at the time, but see something now.

  2. Amanda & the mutts says

    My Lilly is definitely guilty of “chase game tunnel vision”. Once she was on the chase, self handicapping went straight out the window. And, she makes lots of noise when she plays to boot… not something that wins human friends at the dog park.

    I don’t correct the noise making. Part of me feels it’s just not fair to do so. Little kids squeal when they’re excited and having fun playing, and I see no reason to “shush” them unless it’s necessary… and it’s not necessary at a park. (at least that’s my current opinion, anyway)

    I have been correcting the butt biting. At first, she did get nicked once with her e-collar to drive the point home, and my timing was positively perfect. She very clearly made the connection at that moment. After that, using the vibration mode was enough to get her to “snap out of it” and remember she’s not supposed to get too rough while converting to a vocal reminder. (I realize many people are against the use of e-collars, I use them as little as possible, and find the vibration mode on mine to be invaluable) Now, after a few months of working on it, I still remind her when I see her nearing the “tunnel vision” mode with a deep low slow “Easy”. She immediately relaxes her body in the chase and backs off a bit. (the nick with her e-collar that one time was the only time I ever needed it)

    I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to completely learn to self handicap, but as long as she continues to respond to my reminders I’m ok with it. She is also learning which dogs she can be a little more rough with. She does much better with dogs she has gotten to know than with dogs she’s never run with before.

  3. Catherine says

    Interesting final comment about the dyad play role reversal. I’ve found that, since we added a 2nd dog to our house, our boy is more likely to switch off to a more “submissive” role than before. However, he’s always been a marvelous self-inhibitor and our new dog is smaller than he is, so that may explain it.

    I do have a question regarding vocalizations in play. I have a Portuguese Water Dog and a Poodle. The PWD is a very vocal boy, emitting all sorts of yips, barks and yodels when he plays. He’s taught the poodle to make a specific type of vocalization that we call “Sharks”. However, the poodle stays mainly in one octave and the PWD ranges from coloratura sopranto to bass. There are even moments where he will have his mouth open like he is making sound and I can hear air being exhaled, but no noise comes. Or, if it does, it’s just at the edge of hearing.

    It led me to wondering whether dogs (all dogs or perhaps just certain breeds) have the ability to make noises outside the human range of hearing. If so, I wonder what impact that can have on play and communication. Or if these are just fancies of a doting owner. *GRIN*

  4. Lisa says

    Knowing the personalities of my two dogs I am now very confused about their play styles based on reading this blog. My Golden, Noraa (2 yrs), is very submissive and usually doesn’t play with other adult dogs unless she has played with them before. She does well with puppies. If there is a group of adult dogs, she avoids them and goes to lay down and chew on a bone or goes to the dog park gate and wants to leave. If adult dogs approach her, she turns her head and crouches, lets them sniff her, she may or may not sniff them back, her ears flatten and her tail tucks. The one dog she will always play with no matter where she is, is her little Bernese sister Ivy (7 months). They chase each other and wrestle taking turns with who is on top, they play tug with their toys and Noraa doesn’t usually correct unless Ivy is going for a high value toy (like a Kong with food in it). BUT, when they play at home, if Ivy tries to walk away from Noraa, Noraa will grab at her back legs. Ivy doesn’t yip and if I say anything Noraa immediately lets go. Its just strange because Noraa is very submissive whereas Ivy is a very very bold puppy. Any explainations or opinions??

  5. Lyssa says

    I’m curious about self-handicapping in terms of large and small dogs. Many of the large dogs I grew up with would lay on the ground or roll over to continue wrestling matches with dogs that were smaller. Most of the play modification I’ve seen on the smaller dog’s behalf has been adjusting the level of intensity so the larger dog will continue to play.

    My current dog (a rescue) is 30 lbs & very short (a cocker/basset?) and I’m thinking his “self-handicapping” of rolling over while wrestling with large dogs is not only a learned play style (from the Rot who taught him how to play), but that he’s also using it as a tool to continue the wrestling match when the larger dog starts backing off or is becoming a bit overwhelmed.

    On the rare occasions he does ask to be chased, it’s after a long wrestling match with a larger dog…probably another way to encourage continuation of the play match.

    I’m glad you mentioned the possibilty of shaping play. When my dog was first learning to play with other dogs, he would reach a point of overstimulation(dialated pupils & a frenzied edge to the wrestling). Escalation usually resulted in a skirmish with the dog he was just playing with. Interrupting the play match with a reward and a time-out (disguised as a few obedience games) before he showed signs of overstimulation, gave him time to calm down and helped reinforce good play boundaries until he learned to regulate the play matches on his own.

  6. JJ says

    re: dogs teaching other dogs things, including vocalizations.

    I got my dog when he was 3 years old and know nothing for sure about his past. But based on a whole host of observations, I’m pretty sure he had little experience with other dogs previously. When I first started taking Duke to the dog park, he would pick up other dog behaviors right and left.

    One day Duke was playing with a big hound dog. That dog started doing the loud, long baying noise they are famous for. Over and over. Before I knew it, my dog, who had barely uttered a peep of any kind since I had got him, STARTED BAYING too!!! Even though the dogs were having fun, I said, “Oh no way!” And took him to play on the other side of the park. I mean, gosh. One of the reasons I picked a Dane is that they are known in general to be relatively quiet.

    Luckily that was a one-time experience for Duke. He hasn’t bayed since.

  7. says

    Have you known any dogs to play differently depending on what dog they are playing with? My Border Collie, Mo, plays the “chase/race” game with her Border Collie friend, Echo. When Mo is playing with my Aussie, Kip, it’s the “wrestling” style of play, with growling, mock attacks to the throat, etc. One of my friends has a large ditch that the dogs like to run in when it’s dry. Mo and Echo are usually the initiaters of the “chase/race” game in the ditch and most of the other dogs (of many breeds) will join in (while some just watch, seemingly wondering what the point of the game was, lol). I’ve never seen her try and initiate the “chase/race” game with Kip or “wrestling” with Echo.

  8. Kat says

    My first thought when seeing Will’s picture was that he’d just heard something and wondered if it were something to be concerned about or not. Too bad it isn’t a video where you could see then next look on his face. My guess is that the photo captured the initial “what’s that?” and that you would have seen a more relaxed expression when he’d identified the sound as “truck–not close–no cause for alarm.”

    The issue of dogs biting at heels is one I saw worked out at the dog park over the course of a few weeks. A terrier mix developed a very aggressive play style which included biting at hamstrings; he wasn’t just nipping in play–it was much more predatory than that. Since he always preferred to sneak in from behind the other dogs developed a habit of keeping one eye on him and whirling and charging him whenever he got close; he’d back off and circle in from another angle only to be charged and run off again. He didn’t get the message and the dogs in the park began stopping all play when he’d get close and just turning to keep him in sight. That still didn’t teach him to play nicely. Finally one day he went after Ranger who whirled, knocked the terrier mix down and pinned him to the ground with one big paw on the rib cage. Whenever the mix tried to squirm loose Ranger would lean a little more weight on him until he stopped. What was most striking to me was how nonchalant Ranger was about the whole thing. If it hadn’t been for the paw pinning the terrier mix to the ground and the occasional applications of more weight you would have thought Ranger was just standing around watching the world go by. After the offender had lain submissively on the ground for long enough Ranger walked away without so much as a glance at him. The next time terrier mix went after a hamstring Ranger looked at him and took a step in his direction and the mix backed off. After that no other dog in the park would engage with him—think of him as being shunned–and his person stopped bringing him.

    A word about his person, an older gentleman who had never had a dog before, the other people tried to point out that his dog wasn’t behaving nicely but he kept insisting his dog was just playing, a combination of honest ignorance and willful disregard. He was also extremely protective of his dog and would get very defensive if another person, as I did on a couple of occasions, stood between the terrier mix and his chosen victim and loomed to discourage him. We never did succeed in making him recognize the difference between Ranger’s ferocious faces and play growls where the play is 90 percent posturing and the only time teeth are on the other dog it’s in non-sensitive parts and his dog’s attack on hamstrings with no self-handicapping.

  9. says

    my 10 year old Heeler does a lot of barking and posing in his play but doesn’t run a whole lot anymore. It’s fun to watch this low energy play participation

  10. Scott says

    Having all sighthounds (Greyhound, Whippet and Ibizan Hound), I’m not surprised that the type of play they enjoy most is chasing. Especially when playing with non-sighthound breeds since they know they are un-catchable. My Whippet will even allow slower breeds (like the Ibizan) to almost catch up before putting on the extra speed. He will occasionally play wrestling games with my mother’s pit bull puppy (who doesn’t know when to stop), but only when he is on a chair or the couch and the pit bull is on the floor. I assume it is his way of handicapping a puppy twice his size who would otherwise not self-handicap.

    My Greyhound, on the other hand, doesn’t like to play at all. He will go out of his way to meet every dog around him and tell them he’s the boss with posturing, neck-overs, etc., but the moment they try to initiate play, he ignores them. He will even go so far as to correct any dogs playing around him with a swift growl-bark and corrective bite. I’ve never once seen him do a play-bow; the only bowing he does is for stretching. This is part of the reason for one of his nicknames: Grumpy Old Man.

  11. Fol says

    Reminds me of a dog park story.

    Sadie and I were sitting together with several other owners and their dogs, all either resting, or in Sadie’s case, playing a reeeally sedate game of bitey-face with this older dog, Charlie. Charlie is a Lab/Rottie cross, and we call him the Whale Shark with good reason — he is humongous. He is also a total sweetie, he usually just cruises around the park, and he’s good about letting the puppies chew on his ears. Also in our little group was a fearful Lab, Dolly, if I recall correctly she was a recent rescue.

    While we were there, a Rude Dog came over (owner nowhere in sight, of course), and started trying to ‘play’ with our dogs. He was quite pushy, though, and our dogs refused to play. He then moved on to Dolly and started chasing her, but it quickly turned into Not Fun for Dolly — Rude Dog was biting at her legs and trying to jump on her to push her down and bite her back, and Dolly was clearly getting more and more afraid.

    Before the Dolly’s dad could get over to her and Rude Dog to intervene, Charlie had disengaged play with Sadie, flashed over to the dogs faster than I’d ever seen him move, and pinned Rude Dog down with his mighty whale hoof. Dolly came back to her dad and the rest of our little group, and Charlie let Rude Dog up and came back as well. Rude Dog continued to try and illicit a reaction from the other dogs, but from then on whenever he came close, Charlie would block him and make him move away from our circle.

    I ended up having to grab Rude Dog and take him to find his owner (who ended up being on the other side of the park, smoking in the woods >| ), and letting another dog’s dad (who is much more intimidating than little me) have Words with him.

  12. Jane says

    I currently have a 12 year old collie/shepherd mix whose play is limited due to his age. This blog and the reader comments are fascinating and are giving me so much more insight into dog behavior. Thanks to all of you. I’ve actually read a lot over the years, but via the web have discovered how much more there is to know about dogs. This discussion on shaping and learning play behavior is terrific. I’m recalling Indy and his best buddy Boomer and how they took turns chasing and boxing.

    I also appreciate the comments on how you deal with others at parks, etc. It’s given me new approaches for the human/dog interactions.

  13. says

    I took a video of my BC Fenway playing with an older bitch Cana, who has always been dominant and has known Fen since he was 8 weeks. Fen is now 2.5 years old.

    In this video you’ll see how they “trade places” and Fen even leads Cana to chase and explore the deep snow (I call it “snow swimming”). Cana wasn’t doing this until Fen showed her how much fun it was.

    Cana won’t play with other dogs and for a long time wouldn’t play with Fen (he seemed to annoy the heck out of her while he was growing up). She adores him now and it seems Fen has learned “how she likes to play”.

    Also, do you see anything negative or over-the-line in the play style?

  14. Catherine says

    Fascinating discussion… the topic of how to shape play has been on my mind for a few weeks. Our redbone coonhound mix, whom we adopted last spring at the age of about 3, has a variety of play styles depending on the situation or partner. Overall, he’s an energetic, friendly dog who still has “puppy” bounce and loves meeting other dogs and people. In the dog park, he loves to initiate chase – he enjoys being chased, and can outrun nearly all of the dogs there. With some bouncy, adolescent dogs, he will engage in play wrestling or front-paws-up-on-the-shoulders play – typically with lots of role reversal, a relaxed quality, and wagging tails. With a friend’s ridgeback/boxer mix, there was that type of wrestling, a game of tug, and lots of playful bitey-mouth. And spending a couple weeks in a house with a black-and-tan coonhound mix rescue, the two enjoyed lots of roughhousing. However, in a few park play sessions recently, he has engaged in the sort of hound/herding behavior described above – chasing another dog and nipping at its heels or neck. I believe it escalates from a more relaxed game of chase, but I’m not sure I’m reading it right – maybe the chemistry was off from the start? Anyway, the issue is that my dog doesn’t seem to recognize when it stops being a game and the other dog is not having fun. It seems to have happened with the same couple of dogs, both of which are long-haired herding-dog types.
    I’ve taken to going to the dog park only at times when there are very few dogs there, just to keep things calmer. I’m thinking that the two best ways for him to learn “boundaries” are to have me end the fun and leave the park with him (and I have done this, but catching him mid-chase is no easy feat, so the consequence is not always instant) and to have other dogs reprimand him (probably more effective since they speak his language, but not without risk, plus I have to intervene anyway because there’s another dog who’s not having fun). I don’t want to stop going to the park altogether because he needs the socialization with other dogs. Any suggestions from other readers?

  15. says

    Hi Catherine…
    I’ve been told by a few trainers and others with more experience that these “fresh boys” need a good strong bitch to teach them their place and their boundaries.

    Does anyone have opinions on this?

  16. says

    Great discussion. Since most of The Herd are rescues, not all of them were properly socialized and play is a great way for them to learn. The lack of self-handicapping is very evident in Qannik, a Siberian Husky that came to me around a year old. Based on scarring on his paws, we are guessing he lived his first year or so in a suspended wire cage (puppy mill?? or just bad owner??? Odd for a puppy mill male to be available so young). Regardless, he is a confident guy most of the time today. And in play with our own Herd, he self-handicaps because the other dogs police the rules. If he gets overaggressive, he gets corrected. That simple.

    But with other dogs, that inhibition is lost. We work with him all of the time on it, but he will always have to be watched in play with “strange” dogs.

  17. Barb says

    My PWDs are both vocal and body slammers. And my almost 9 year old 60 pound boy always handicaps himself for my almost 3 year old 40 pound girl. Rudy, the boy, will make sounds all over the scale, with one play whine that is so high in pitch that the first time he made the sound, I did not know what it was! Trio, the girl, will be more barky, sometimes sounding so ferocious that I stop the play, only to have them both look at me like, “What do you want?” They also switch from body slamming to chase to mouth fighting and back again. Interesting to watch.

    I’m encouraged by Pam’s video, and will try to teach myself to make a video of their daily “happy hour” festivities and put it on youtube. I’ll let you know when it’s done!

  18. Sue says

    My dog is a chaser. He is not into wrestling or body contact with another dog. He lives to chase. I’ve noticed he is always the chaser-never the one being chased. His dog friends are either much larger and heavier than he is, or they are much faster than he is. When they stop running or get too far ahead of him, he re-groups and looks around for another game of chase with someone. He’s not pushy, is well mannered, and not had problems with his play style of not wanting to be the one chased. Since this is not a 50-50 situation, I wonder if there is significance to his wanting to only be the chaser??

  19. says

    What a great topic! I have a 4 y/o spayed American Pit Bull Terrier. She was separated from mom too early so she has no dog/dog manners whatsoever.

    She plays like an overgrown puppy, throwing herself full force at dogs and then if they snark at her, she throws herself onto her back (often sliding underneath them in her zealousness!) and does lots of puppy licks to the other dog’s mouth, then jumps right back up and starts the process over.

    She only has a couple “friends,” both pit bulls, and with them she alternates full-speed chasing (she could compete in greyhound races!) and wrestling. And with her “boyfriend,” she can spend hours, literally, humping him and then letting him hump her. If other dogs try to hump her she spins away and offers her butt again, like “try again, sucka!” like she enjoys the attempt. But with Connor she lets him wrap his paws around her and just hump away, then they switch and she humps him. It’s actually quite pervy.

    I just found it interesting that Ward and Smuts found that role reversal is not common in mounting. My little girl is just special. 😉

  20. says

    Thank you for posting this. I have a problem player, but her behavior exhibits only at the dog park (and I’m not sure if she would exhibit it at other parks).

    She’s a husky mix, so she “talks” during play, but the problem behavior involved grabbing the other dogs neck, leg, or ears and actually pulling the dog. Once or twice she’s also shaken as if the other dog was a toy.

    The interesting part, for me, is that she does not exhibit this at daycare, nor with dogs that I foster in my home. This behavior is purely isolated to the dog park; unfortunately, it has meant we simply no longer go there, which is a shame as we both enjoy it. She also exhibits this only around other very submissive dogs (usually labs) no matter their size; the more submissive they are, the more into it she gets. Yelps do not help, nor does whimpering.

    I know where she learned it (it started with another dog de-collaring her) and I wish I had stepped in there.

    She’s also a chaser, though she takes turn chasing and does self-handicap in the chase. She definitely does not self-handicap, at the dog park, during rough play with scared or submissive dogs. She does play well with other confident dogs of any size.

    She was a stray, and I rescued her at 4 months but I do not know what socialization she received in that 16 week critical period. She’s always played rough but this “escalation” of play into what I think is prey-driven behavior, has only been recent in the last few months (she’s a bit over 2 years old).

    So thank you, again, for posting this. I’m not sure I have the courage to try the dog park again, and I don’t feel that it’s fair to those dogs, but if I do see this behavior with my fosters (hasn’t happened yet) I’ll know some approaches to stop it.

  21. Natalie says

    Our shepherd likes to do the chase-and-takedown of our sheltie/BC mix. He is always the chaser as they run around the yard, I never see a role reversal there. It irritates me that he’s always bodyslamming her into the ground and pinning her down, but for the most part she seems fine with it, which I don’t particularly understand. I will give a shout if he crosses the line and upsets her (she’ll start snapping at him), and that’s usually enough to break it up (but not always). I just wish he’d cut down on the body slams mainly so that he can do more running to get energy out, and so that she wouldn’t get so dirty! But she really seems to enjoy the chase, as she’ll run up and paw him in the face or just zip around him a few times to encourage him to chase her. Even though she knows how it will end. Of course, that’s only if he catches her…

  22. Jennifer Hamilton says

    One of the biggest unsolves problems I have as a doggie daycamp operator is when a group of dogs has a grand old time romping, chasing, being chased, etc….and after everybody stops to take a break, drink some water and lay in the shade, we’ll sometimes find one of the dogs has a superficial skin tear…often times needing a couple staples. No fights, no yelps, no dogs loooking overwhelmed, but somebody getting hurt. My staff all go through an extensive training program on appropriate and inappropriate dog play, including videos and tests they must pass before watching a group. They all know how to recognize escalating arousal and how to slow down or stop play…but it still doesn’t change the fact that we have about 4 of these each year. Although I have no proof, I would put money on the culprits being the young herding breeds, and particularly the Australian shepherds and cattle dogs who were bred to be a bit more nippy given the livestock they’re bred to work. The skin tears are usually on the side of the body or rear outer leg. Anytime we have that type of injury, there’s always one of those two breeds in the group. The German shepherds are next on my list of culprits.

    While the dogs, including the injured one, could care less and want to continue play, calling the owner is the worst part. Trying to explain that their dog needs stitches, even though there was no fight and we have no idea which dog did it…really leaves the owners thinking we are totally incompetent. Eventually they get over and bring there dog back for daycamp…mainly bacause they need a break from their dog too and a few stitches ends up being a small price to pay for a little peace and quiet at home.

    Wish I could figure out who the nippers are…unfortunately there’s often multiple aussie’s in the group along with several other herding breeds. And with it only happening once every 3-4 months and the dogs changing all the time, I just can’t seem to figure out a solution that’s implementable and economical…other than stop letting the dogs play together…which of course is the whole purpose.

    I guess with any sport, there are inherent risks…which is what We explain to the owners before we accept their pet. I love the t-shirt out now that says: “It’s all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone”…alongside a picture of a dog in an e-collar. Always makes me laugh!

  23. Pam Wolf says

    Hi, long time since we talked, just got here.

    One of the most beautiful sights I witnessed was my old female, Lea (Border Collie) teaching her 4 month old daughter,Dair, how to play with her one night. Lea would bow, spin/sit, and got increasingly more gentle until Dair joined her in play.

    Today I witnessed a new one. At the vet with my 41/2 month old pup, Bliss ( Border Collie), I saw a 10 week old Great Dane pup. As both were just in for routine stuff I decided to help the Dane socialize with Bliss about the same size. Seems the Dane had not been around dogs for some time! He didn’t know how to respond. He lives with cats and was very tentative about Bliss’s calm nose sniffing. Finally after she yawned, lip licked, spun/sat and scratched, he attempted some barking and then play slapped like a cat would do! Much of his play was more cat like than most Danes I’ve ever seen.

    I just love watching dogs play!

  24. Melanie says

    Yes Scott, I’ve seen that footage too. Such a wonderful example of how the mutual desire to play has disarmed potential enemies. How interesting that the dog owner says it’s only mature males who come to play with the dogs and that somehow these bears recognise that area as a safe haven.

    The dogs are limited by their chains so essentially chase games are ought of the question, and perhaps this is a good thing – I wonder if the dogs were free to run whether or not a chase-the-prey instinct would be triggered in the bears or whether it would just expand the play arena. It’s wonderful watching some of the bears self handicap by lying down on their backs or fronts. At 1:30 ’til the end it’s really interesting to see the bear holding/hugging the dog and the dog’s obvious discomfort with that (I know you posted on hugging earlier this month Trish). And really interesting too that the other polar bear in frame is not interfering with the interaction but is obviously keen for his turn with the dog.

    Would love to see more than just the two minutes or so of that footage! So fascinating.

  25. Judi says

    Hi Sue, to me it sounds like your dog is self-handicapping by only being the chaser! You said he’s lighter than the wrestlers, so he may not want to end up on the bottom. He’s slower than some of the other chasers, so they’d catch up with him and possibly turn the game into wrestling. Maybe he’s figured out a way to play and feel safe in group situations. Group dynamics are different than one-on-one play, IME. Do you see the same things when your dog plays with only one other dog?

    When she was young, my now-senior aussie was rolled and trampled a few times when being the chased at the dog park. She ended up quitting that role entirely and only being a chaser. I used to have a Belgian shepherd who was much more toy-driven than the aussie. The aussie would get to a thrown toy sooner and learned to “count coup” by running over and past the toy after being t-boned (requiring chiropractic to put her ribs back in place) a few times by the Belgian when the aussie had picked up the toy.

  26. Alissa says

    Play is such an interesting topic! I have two rescued adult hounds– a black and tan coonhound mix and a beagle/bluetick mix. The black and tan seemed to attract the non self-handicapping dogs at the dog park when we used to visit there. He interacts well with other dogs;play bows and then usually entertains himself by running in circles until he engages another dog to run with him. However, in one instance, his goofy running mode got the attention of the “bullies” at the dog park that made my dog’s game not so fun anymore. My B&T ended up being chased, nipped, and rolled around on the ground by 6 other dogs. At that point I was less experienced in dog behavior and training and didn’t realize what was happening until I had to get my poor B&T out of the dog pile, snarling, growling, and frantic from being ganged-up on. Since that incident, it seems as though a switch was flipped in his head…He has more resource guarding issues and he doesn’t tolerate playing with more than a few well-mannered doggie friends. Needless to say, we don’t go to the dog park anymore because.

    Our beagle/bluetick, gets along with the B&T quite well and they love playing. They take turns chasing, tackling, neck biting, and initiating play, but they seem to know each other’s limits…There is definitely self-handicapping going on in our house! And when they play with their friends from our obedience classes– with observant, proactive owners present, they enjoy play with other dogs.

    Great topic, thanks for your words of wisdom!

  27. Alexandra says

    I own a two-year-old neutered male beagle mix named Romeo who is a big wrestler and boxer. He’s very sociable, so he goes to the dog park several times a week with me, and I love to watch him play. While he’s interested in other dogs’ chase games, he tends to lack the speed of the run-and-chasers – he’ll never be as quick as a Border Collie or an Aussie.

    Most of the dogs Romeo plays with are larger than him, by several inches to a foot at the withers and often by as much as fifty pounds. Almost all of these dogs self-handicap to some extent. One of his favorite play partners is a six-month-old female Golden Retriever named Widget, who loves, loves, loves to wrestle on her belly. She grabs onto his ear, he chews on some of her fur, and the two of them roll in the mud until you can’t tell she’s a blonde and he’s a redhead: they’re just brown!

    Romeo has told off dogs for playing rough twice: one was a hundred-pound adult Bernese Mountain Dog mix with absolutely no manners which was continually mounting him, and one was a large, full-sized lab puppy (eight months or so?) which kept bowling him over – wouldn’t let him up, stood over him, essentially used him as a chew toy. Both times I intervened because both times the two dogs wouldn’t leave Romeo alone after chewing on him.

    Romeo loves to wrestle, but he is not a status-seeking dog, at all: his typical greeting is a low, swift-wagging tail, ears back, occasionally tongue-flicking, followed by a play bow, short dash, and leaping up to initiate boxing. He’s on his back probably more than he’s on top just because he’s littler (except with his girlfriend Widget). He’s mounted dogs only twice – once an eight-month-old unspayed female spaniel mix in her first heat, and once a male Basenji for reasons I couldn’t discern (he was cute, though). If he’s with another dog which is quite submissive, he has no problem being bossy, but he’s also got no problem deferring to a big, status-seeking or dominant dog. He does prefer to play with girls, though, and I think he prefers puppies too (insert joke about Jailbait here).

    One thing I’ve noticed. Romeo is an only dog (at least for now) and his manners have improved dramatically since he’s begun getting regular dog socializing. He no longer tries to play with my mother and I as if we were dogs – the nipping and leaping up has much diminished. We play a lot more fetch-and-tug games, and with me he’ll play chase games, either with me running away or him. I love that he’s learned the difference between “doggy play” and “people play.”

  28. Melanie says

    I’ve just spent a couple of hours at a dog beach 40 mins from my home. It’s a beach on the east coast of Australia, in the Wollongong area south of Sydney. The beach is called Little Austinmer beach and the whole beach is a leash free area – so wonderful!

    I’ll just relate one dog’s influence on the outing. Her name is Kitty and she’s a 2yo English Bull Terrier. My friend and I (who have three dogs between us) met Kitty and her person as we wandered the beach. Kitty was hard to miss ’cause she had part of her muzzle smeared with fluorescent green zinc cream to protect her pink skin from the sun.

    After having offered to play pushing, running, barging games with the four dogs at hand, none of whom were overly keen on participating, a confident Lab bitch joined the fray with controlled enthusiasm. She and Kitty played for a couple of minutes until Kitty, who was losing her grip on her self-control, got a grip instead on the skin on the underside of the Lab’s neck/chest area and, true to type, wouldn’t let go. The Lab, despite this encumbrence, continued to run until Kitty brought her not inconsiderable weight into play by slowing down and creating too much drag for the Lab to continue. By this stage there were a few people trying to intervene and Kitty’s owner, a lovely woman, came as quickly as she could and put Kitty back on leash. The Lab was both unhurt and unfazed by it all fortunately although she had a number of fluorescent green smears along her from where Kitty’s muzzle had pushed into her. And, when we looked around, almost all the dogs had been ‘tagged’ by Kitty in this way.

    My friend and I continued up the beach and eventually came across another woman with her black Spaniel/Beagle cross. She commented on the green markings on my dog and said she’d seen a number of other dogs with green on them too and had wondered if there was a freshly painted green bench somewhere in the area. We laughingly told her that the green smears actually meant “Kitty was here”. It was a really interesting to me that the lingering green marks on the dogs were a really clear indication of Kitty’s play style – lots of body contact and ‘shunting’ with her muzzle.

  29. Alexandra says

    I loved hearing about Brer-cat. Both my dogs often try to invite our cat to play with them in various ways, but she just looks supremely annoyed by them. Very occasionally, the cat will engage in a mutual chase game with my older dog. Kitty won’t play chase with the younger dog, though, because he gets too intense and forgets to self handicap for his speed and weight and the game quickly ends with my intervention before Kitty has to resort to her claws.

  30. Alexandra says

    @ jimany – I just watched your video and that is the most awesome and hilarious thing I have seen all week! Thanks for sharing!

  31. Pike says

    I can’t resist. Here is a play video of Ronja and some of her little friends.

    The Min Pin is usually not this bossy/hysterical. His owner traveled a lot during the last few weeks and he is a bit off kilter. Now she is back and he will quickly remember his calmer side.

  32. Liz F. says

    Match made in heaven play occurrence: One day at the dog park my mixed breed girl ran right up to a purebred BC who was trying to ‘herd’ other dogs. Mine and the BC exchanged smells and a glance, and then instantly teamed up together to herd all that they could muster. The BC owner and I were shocked, and watched as hers went around the outside of a large group while mine cut through the center of a bunch of people to cut the group off at the pass. This happened over and over, until no other dog in the ‘arena’ could really do anything. As owners we decided that it probably was not appreciated since the other dogs were there to run and exercise, not to be corralled, and called our dogs in. I was very grateful to learn recently that herding dogs do occasionally work together, and I can stop worrying about the Nala/Finn plot for dog park domination. That being said, Finn’s owner and I keep our dogs separate if we cross paths. We have tried to let them play on their own but they always manage to find someone to herd. Interesting that they don’t want to chase each other, they only want to chase other dogs together. Huh, is that a match made in heaven after all?

  33. Debby says

    Pertaining to playstyles and status, has anybody noticed a difference with the sexes?

    As I am thinking back about all the playgroups we had at the shelter I volunteer at, I am starting to think that SOME of the female dogs that played rough, bodyslamming, muzzle grabs, mounting, verticle play, boxing, ect where possibly status seeking. Initially I had commented that the wrestlers where not, but the majority of them where male. Actually at any given point 3/4 of the dogs at the shelter are males, mostly adolescence goofs that need socialized and to learn manners, so my initial conclusion was geared toward that type of dog. Again dogs that seemed status seeking would not be our first choice for playgroup canditates, especially if we were not familar with their limits. So I can now recall several wrestling females that were possibly status seeking, however their play style was not problamatic due to our caution pairing them up. At any given point we have a number of adolescence males that usually compliment them. So I wonder if anybody has noticed a differrence with the sexes, playstyles, and status?
    I can also recall a particular truly status seeking male boxer/mastiff mix (in my opion, I could be wrong but doubt it) who was very confident, dominanted other males only when he felt he needed to, would never be dominated by a male, but would allow a little female pit mix totally dominate him, she would push him around, playfully muzzle bite him, bodyslam him, and best of all, drag him around by his leash we left on him in the yard (he had serious control issues with people as well, so for everyone safety he always had a dragline) I can’t be sure of his playstyle, he did not play with many other dogs, and only one other male ever.
    As a funny sidenote, I will share a memorable experience with him. A possible adopter came to look at him and was in the yard with myself and his trainer, when the dog started to get a little pushy, before we could intervine, the man grabbed him by the back of the neck and pinned him, stating he was showing him who was boss. We were shocked and cought off guard, while the trainer explained that that was a terrible idea in so many words, the dog got up and calmly walked over to the man’s wife and mounted her with a hard stare. He was removed without futhur incident, ( love the dragline) but I will never forget the look on his face, any doubt I had about alpha rolls not working left me forever.
    Again, please talk more about status seeking and the D word. Back to the dog I was refering to previously, I don’t know if he was “status seeking”, I think he reached his goal status! And this is one of the only dogs in 5 years of volunteer work at a high volume shelter I have seen that I would say this about, so I don’t say it lightly.
    And yes the guy did a “SHHI” with the roll. It was obvoius he does not watch the british trainer show.

  34. Debby says

    To be clear, the trainer was shelter staff, not the possible adopter’s personal trainer. It was protocol for a trainer to be present with this particular dog.

  35. says

    I just went back to look at the 9/09 self handicaping video. Since my ‘buffer’ is in sad shape, it stops to reload and reload it did, seconds before the ‘we are done playing’ signal. What I saw was a very clear ‘look’. AND that look clearly told me, something was going to happen in the next seconds. Now wasn’t that so nice of my buffer to reload at that impressive moment.
    Carol Stewart, CPDT

  36. Starling says

    I adopted a pit bull mix at 4 months old, and he’s a doll, good with other dogs, but his wrestling-all-the-time play style annoyed a lot of the dogs at the park. He’d back off and try with someone else, but it was clear that his energy level required a lot more wrestling than the dog park could provide. So I found another dog of about the same size and weight (65 lbs) who was described on PetFinder as “energetic.” I contacted the people fostering him and discovered that he, too, wrestled too much for the taste of a lot of other dogs. They’re a wonderful match, and they play beautifully together.

    Unfortunately, Dog 2, who looks like a super-lightweight Rhodesian Ridgeback, had mange from 8 to 16 weeks, so badly that he had to be isolated and couldn’t be petted or kept with other dogs. It has left him bad at dog-dog communication–he doesn’t play-bow, and he tries to initiate play by growling and smacking the other dog with his front paw. At the first meeting. This usually goes over very badly, the other dog usually responds to what looks like pure aggression, and Dog 2’s brother, the pit mix, then jumps in to protect Dog 2. Naturally, this is a dog-fight waiting to happen. The solution is to keep both on leash and let Dog 1 (the pit mix) get to know the strange dog before introducing Dog 2 (also on leash.) And, of course, I lead Dog 2 around the strange dog, have him sit, distract him, and generally give the other dog a chance for a good sniff before letting Dog 2 try to communicate.

    Honestly, it’s like a guy at a bar whose only pickup line is, “Hey, hot stuff, wanna go back to my place?” Just . . . not so effective. Anyone have any ideas for teaching him a better initial interaction method? Watching Dog 1’s good greeting skills hasn’t had any effect.

  37. says

    Thanks, Keli. I’ve had some different experiences with 2 bitches, but they were extraordinary. One was my dog’s mother. They re-met when he was an obnoxious 10 month old. She was fetching her ball, he got let out of the crate and immediately went after her ball and she laid him out but good. Hard, quick, fair….and it was over. They played ball fetch nicely after that but he deferred to her unless she self-handicapped and LET him get it first. Then we walked around with both dogs leashed. Both dogs paraded around with lots of decorum and no tension.

    The other bitch is the one you saw in the video. She wouldn’t let my dog come near her for 2 years although she adores me. If I were to anthropomorphize the interaction, I’d guess she didn’t find his manners “suitable”. Now they are best friends.

    But now I wonder how much dogs utilize or value human friendship when deciding which other dogs might become their friends. For example, we are very friendly with a couple on our street who own a cocker spaniel who HATES. But he likes our dog. He will go on walks with him and even let him into “his” house. The second example is a bit different: the bitch in the video adores me (I took care of her before I got my puppy). I’m wondering if our bond has anything to do with her decision to accept our dog (she also HATES other dogs). Hmmmm….maybe she deduced that if I “liked” my dog and she “likes” me then maybe my dog is “likeable”. Perhaps this is also too much anthropomorphizing, but it makes me wonder why dogs will make a decision to accept another dog as a playmate when it is totally out of character.

  38. Catherine says

    Thanks to those who responded with suggestions – thought I’d report back with some successes re. my sometimes overly exuberant 3yo coonhound mix. Recently while boarded for a day, he was playing with another dog and it escalated at some point, or perhaps he just play-bit too hard – anyway, he came home with a nick on the top and bottom of his muzzle. He’s always had good mouth control with us, but ever since then he’s had an *extremely* soft mouth – only his lips gingerly touching my fingers when I feed him kibble rewards. Just goes to show how much more efficient dog-dog communication is!
    Also, he’s had two very successful dog park visits this week – the first one with only one other dog there, and lots of relaxed short chasing, wrestling, then both lying down and playing from that position. And today, he sniffed an older, smaller female dog who was not very interested. He then crouched down in the snow to try and engage her in play. He also self-handicapped when playing chase to keep a couple of smaller dogs engaged whom he could have easily outrun. At one point when he was starting to herd more than play, I had a chance to try Trish’s suggestion and body-block him. Couldn’t exactly “back him up” as she described (those dogs can swirl around so fast!) but was able to change his direction several times and diffuse the intensity of the chasing.

  39. Janice says

    Great discussion with lots of food for thought. At my home now there is nothing but play, play, play going on because I have two 3month border collies in the home (it was supposed to be just one puppy brought home and long story about how I ended up with two litter mates–both sired by my BC Spring). I have a girl pup, Shaina and boy pup, Larkin. And two elderly dogs, Raven who is a Schipperke and is 14 and Rosie who is a rescue, possibly aussie cross who is gray muzzled and over 11 years old.

    The puppies engage is a *great* deal of wrestling. It sounds amazingly ferocious with growling and teeth everywhere. But as ferocious as it sounds and looks, if you interrupt the play, the puppies easily spring apart and look up and there is no negative affect going on. In other words, what looks like a knock down drag out battle has neither puppy over the top emotionally. They’ll trot right over for petting and soon after are chewing on each other again. I started watching for “self handicapping” and have noticed that Larkin has his back to the floor more often than Shaina. However, I don’t think that I can read much into this in terms of status. One might assume that Shaina is more dominant, but as soon as they start a wrestling match, Larkin grabs Shaina and then throws himself to the ground. In a way, that seems to give him an advantage because she still has to stand on her legs while he brings all four paws into action in the ensuing wrestling match. And often they will both be lying down, one on the chest and one on the back, side by side–with furious mouth sparing.

    They seem to be completely consumed with their wrestling, but I have some clues that they are very in control. You see, Rosie always wants to lie near me and if I am in the kitchen area where the puppies are, that means that the puppies will play right next to her and occasionally bump into her. Rosie has no tolerance whatsoever for being bumped by playing puppies and will growl and bare teeth at them. If they bump her repeatedly, she will Groulf right in their faces. The puppies don’t miss a beat–they keep right on ferociously wrestling–only now they are wrestling a foot farther away from Rosie where their inadvertent play won’t bump her as easily. Yesterday, I had both old dogs lying on the floor near me–about 6 ft apart from each other. Raven has also told the puppies in no uncertain terms that he does not appreciate being run over by them. The puppies were wrestling ferociously–mouths and legs flying in all directions–growling loudly–right in the space between the old dogs and, after one growlf from Rosie, at no time did they intrude in the space of either elder. Now the pups are likely over 20 lbs each (Raven is only 15lbs), so that was a large mass of puppy to be wrestling wildly in that small space between the two older dogs. Yet, as ferocious as it looked to me, they had to be in some kind of control because they never intruded on the space of either old dog.
    The scientist in me wants to be running a video camera all the time when these puppies are interacting because I keep thinking that this would be a gold mine of data. This thought is warring against my desire to *not* document my messy house. I am sure that I could take them outside for some filming, but the play that happens literally under my feet is really fascinating.
    My puppies do engage in chase games, but right now, the furious sounding wrestling predominates. You can’t even cuddle one puppy without the other one coming up and chewing on him or her (They are placed in separate but side by side crates to sleep). I am wondering–most puppies do not still have a sibling to play with at this age, because they are usually weaned and in a new home by now. Does the wrestling diminish in puppies (and thus older dogs when they grow up) and other forms of play start to predominant because most 3 month pups don’t have an age and maturity matched buddy to play with? In other words, how much of the play styles we see are a result of the circumstances the puppies experience after weaning when they still have a strong play drive, but no one like them to play with? If there is no one to wrestle with, even if this is the normal play style for this age, then the puppy won’t learn how to utilize this style as well as a puppy who is still with a litter mate to play with and so can learn to get in these seemingly ferocious wrestling matches with little concern.

  40. Trisha says

    So many great comments and questions, I’ll try to address some of them now. Wish I could answer everyone. . .
    Great questions from Janice about developmental play stages in young dogs. Dr. Camille Ward would be a great person to ask, since she did so much research on puppy play, but in my experience it seems as though chase/race games are not as common in young dogs. They just aren’t fast and agile enough to pull them off, but as they age they engage in them more and more (if they are ever going to.). And it does indeed sound like your pups are well in control of themselves, always a good thing. I do wonder if the kind of loud wrestle play you ar seeing (which sounds absolutely normal) is a bit more common in litter mates. Will be interesting to watch as they mature. Only thing I’d monitor is whether you do get a sense that one is getting overly aroused.. seems to happen most commonly in early adolescence. Now is a good time to teach a “That’s Enough” cue in a fun, friendly way.

    I can’t answer your question about the effect of a litter mate on play styles, but it’s a good one. Experience with different types of play seems to be strongly influenced by experience (just read all the posts!) and it makes sense that growing up with a litter mate would make a difference. Lassie taught Will to play tug of war when he was very young, and it remained their primary way to play together until just a week before she died.

  41. Trisha says

    To Catherine: YEAH! Love hearing about progress, feels SO good, doesn’t it? Willie met a Bagel (Beagle/Bassett) yesterday, I just let him run out of the house and greet him without any of my usual work
    (“Where’s the Dog…?” etc) and although Will was a bit stiff when they sniffed each other, his hair was barely elevated and he called off instantly and relaxed. Not ideal, but a far cry from years ago when he would have charged at the dog, barking and snarling and attacked him.

  42. Trisha says

    To Pam: Interesting question re the effect of a dog’s relationship to his/her owner and how that might effect other dogs. I have always thought of dogs as being great ‘social facilitators’ and have used well soc’d dogs as a means to model interactions with people for shy, under socialized dogs. Has seemed to help in many cases, it makes sense that it might in other contexts as well.

    To Starling: You might want to try teaching a cue that prevents the overwhelm, something as simple as a play boy (I love putting a play bow on cue, I used it for years to help Willie relax, and now I believe he does it himself as a way of coping with nervousness–sort of like Apollo Ono yawning before a race!). I’ve also had luck teaching “Watch Me,” a cue you can use when your dog has run up to another dog and is about to be rude (love the guy in a bar analogy!). I’ve had clients first master ‘Watch Me’ then use it as their dog approached another dog, gradually letting the problem dog get closer and closer before you say ‘Watch Me’. It slows dogs down and after awhile it seems to generalize to greeting any dog. But it only works if it has been mastered, because the problem dog is highly distracted and least likely to comply unless the cue has been taught to work in any context.

    To Keli: Some ‘good strong bitches’ will indeed teach male dogs to mind their manners, but it depends on all th dogs involved. Some males will react defensively and start a fight (less likely with a female, but still possible), some females just don’t know when to stop. There’s a reason that ‘bitch’ is a dirty word.

    To Debby: Your story about the male dog mounting the woman after being ‘alpha rolled’ by the visitor made me laugh out loud. I will write sometime soon (so many topics, so little time!) about status and the “D” word, because the concept is so mis-understood and so mis-used by so many. I don’t blame people who never want to hear the word ‘dominant’ again, but I also can’t imagine understanding and talking about dog behavior without some acknowledgment of differences in social status. I realize that some people think the concept is completely irrelevant in dogs, but I’m not sure how else to explain why one dog raises his tail when he meets another, and the other dog lowers his. More to come…

  43. Trisha says

    To Pike: Loved the video of Fritz and his Play Police routine. We all have our over-controlling days (What? Dog Trainers, controlling? What?), glad he has mellowed out, but loved the video, cracked me up.

    Melanie: Loved your “Kitty was here” story, another great laugh. If I see any green spots around here I’ll know that Kitty immigrated from Australia! And Liz F: That is a great story! I think it’s the first time I’ve heard about 2 dogs who only played by herding/controlling other dogs. Fascinating. If you do get a chance (without encouraging the Dog Park Domination Plot too much), send us a video!.

  44. Trisha says

    To Jimany: Thanks for sending the sheep/LED light video. I’ve seen it I don’t know how many times and every time it makes me laugh. What a species we are! All that time and effort just to amuse ourselves. I suspect the sheep did not have as good a time as the people and dogs, but I doubt it was more that but a brief period of stress (the moving ‘dot’s in the beginning had to been sheep tethered to the ground, that would have been the hardest part of it all for the sheep).

    And I love Alexandra’s point about Romeo (who sounds SO delightful!) learning the difference between doggy play and people play. Such an important distinction, and one I don’t think all dogs learn and that some people don’t get either. I’ve seen so many serious problems begin with owners trying to play like dogs with their own dogs, and ending up getting bitten or hurt (or angry, at the least).

    Want to answer more comments, but will have to wait til tomorrow. Feeling a tad under the weather, and have to work on the exam for my University course. It’s a lot less stressful to write an exam that to take one, but oh lordy it takes a long time to write a good exam! The UW students left not long ago after doing ultrasounds on my sheep. Was great fun. They were able to look at the lambs, watch their hearts beat, etc etc. I love having them out, hope they learned a lot.

  45. Nan says

    I’ve been away and am playing catchup but can’t resist sharing this story with you. My rescue lab came to me hard wired to play tug with anything she could grap–leash, sleeves, whatever. She was also a very powerful dog and was able to pull me over. As a result for some time tug was not something she and I did. However I have always encouraged that between my dogs. The dog I had when she came had been chained out much of his life and had worn his teeth down to the gum chewing on rocks. She tried to teach him tug by dangling things against his cheeks and he finally took them but he couldn’t really grip. Bit by bit she got him to try and she moderated her own pull so that he sometimes won and never got overwhelmed. Later I watched as she played the same game with a friends larger male lab. For the first few games she had a great time exerting every ounce of power (and applying some fairly creative strategies to brace with furniture). After 4 or 5 sessions in which he never let her win she stopped and turned her back on him. She still plays tug with almost any dog she can but that lab to this day can only get one game at most out of her.

  46. Sonja says

    I always wonder how much breed/type heritage plays into the likelihood that two dogs will be great friends. I grew up with two seemingly unrelated mixed breeds. C.D. was a free to good home puppy. We were told his mom was Labrador Retriever/Cocker Spaniel. His dad, my mom was told, was a Basset Hound mix, C.D. was Lab-sized and very Labbish in appearance. His legs were a touch short for his body, his nose a bit long, and his markings were “tuxedo” with white socks. Love was a shelter mutt, about 22 lbs and super-fluffy. She looked very corgiesque (with a touch of Pom?) and not even remotely like a hound, lab, or cocker spaniel. They were great friends and the reasons why I prefer living with multiple dogs to living with only one.

    A couple of years ago, I adopted my first dog as a grownup. Zoe’s a 35 lb mixed breed of what appears to be Australian Cattle Dog descent. :) When we lived in Madison, WI, she was a regular at the dog parks and her favorite game was “CHASE ME!” Hands down. No contest.

    Zoe and I moved to rural Indiana (I miss you Madison!) over the summer, and I immediately started volunteering at the local shelter. All along, I was secretly interviewing the residents. I ended up taking home a one-year-old Beagle. I didn’t find her the cutest or sweetest (how could I rank them?!) or anything like that. She seemed like she’d be a great pay match for Zoe! :)

    At first, she was. They played and wrestled endlessly, and I was SO pleased that Zoe could continue the exercise regime she had once enjoyed at Madison dog parks. Lately, though, I’ve questioned my choice of playmate. Annie the Beagle is here to stay. I love her lots, and she’s my girl. :) However, Zoe never gets to play chase with Annie. Annie just will not chase. Zoe says, “HEY! I HAVE THIS TOY! DO YOU WANT IT?! CHASE ME!” and Annie replies, “Whatever. I’ll get my own toy.” Annie is a wrestler. More often than not, they’ll end up playing Annie’s game. They get along and have fun. I’m sure they enjoy one another’s company, but I have to admit I’m a little sad that Zoe never gets chased by dogs anymore.

  47. Ann says

    Our Boxer, at 7 months, was not able to socialize with others at a dog park because a 2-year old female pit mix kept downing him, and chewing the heck out of his face and neck. No blood drawn, but she was relentless. He was not neutered then, and I think she was putting on a show for the other females, I guess to gain status. None of the males bothered to get into the mix.

    Interesting about humping. My vet had a gentle, older Boxer who’d usually hump him at some point during the exam if he was down on his level. He was over 80 lbs, so this got to be somewhat of a problem. It didn’t seem to be a dominance issue at all.

  48. Lorrie Villarreal says

    I am very glad to have found this post. I have recently taken in another Boxer, an almost 2-year-old male and already had an 8 year old female (an odd pairing but it works for reasons I won’t go into here). The issue I am having is that Duke, the 2 year old, is a bit rough in his play with dogs at the dog park. He does not do it with all dogs but does do it with some. He does other kinds of playing as well, the more healthy kind where they wrestle and he is even ok with being on the bottom and letting the other dog chew on him a bit. But, it is the chase and bite that concerns me. I try to correct as soon as I see it but generally they are far enough away from me that I can’t get close to him to divert his attention immediately. Any suggestions for this particular situation? He is very easy with correction – he very much wants to please and receive approval.

    Thanks for any advice regarding this.


  49. trisha says

    Lorrie: Best would be to find a great trainer or behaviorist to work with you in person, but quickly, I can say that this kind of behavioral problem can be pretty tricky to turn around. You could try yelping AWRP!!! (as if you yourself were injured) at the top of your lungs just before he is about to nip at the other dog; that works with some dogs but not all by any means. Management might be another option: don’t take him to the park until he will stop immediately when you ask (I say WHOA as if to a horse), or you could teach what I call a Flying Lie Down. It is possible, deep breath here, that he is just not a good candidate for a dog park. I don’t take my own dog there, for a variety of reasons, but he likes to herd other dogs and isn’t always polite about it. It’s nothing to feel badly about, just an acceptance that all dogs aren’t dog park dogs. There are lots of other ways to get a dog exercised . . .

  50. Thea Anderson says

    I know this is an old topic, but I want to add a play style that is one of my dog’s favorites: Pack Hunt for Tennis Balls. A bunch of dogs will race after a tennis ball together and then they all bite it. My dog is a toy Manchester terrier, and her ancestors were carried in little pouches by fox-hunters on horseback, who would release the dogs to chase the fox through dense brush or down holes. I think it’s amazing how her pack-hunting instinct (for lack of a better term) has its appropriate outlet at the dog park. She likes to shadow the retrievers and bite their tennis balls before they are about to pick them up, which once caused a scuffle with a Chesapeake, but most of the retrievers don’t seem to mind.

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