I was going to title this “Skip likes it rough,” but, well, you know . . . the internet. But the fact is that Skip came to us loving to play rough and Maggie didn’t, and we’ve gone through a year of managing and conditioning and innovating and despairing and come out the other side with two dogs who absolutely adore each other, and play happily and hard every day. Whew.
Before talking about the two of them, let me preface this by saying that first, play is powerful stuff. As Karen London and I say in Play Together, Stay Together, “Play is fun, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just goofy or frivolous.” Play is important for mental health (why not dogs too?), physical fitness, and social relationships. Second, watching dogs play well together is one of my greatest joys in life. I sometimes forget how important it is to my own mental health until for some reason, usually an injury, my dogs could no longer play together. Even Skip’s two weeks off of playing with Maggie after his cryptorchid surgery got me down.
That said, all play is not equal, and play between two dogs can resemble a bad playground experience where Ronnie, in the first grade, won’t stop grabbing you and hugging you, and you get disciplined for finally fighting back . . . Oh, wait. Dogs, we’re talking about dogs.
Good play occurs when both actors are enjoying themselves, when the stronger one “self-handicaps” and avoids overpowering or frightening the other. But that’s not what happened a year ago when we got Skip.
Skip came to us loving to play, but played like a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers (you know, the team who should have won the Super Bowl because Aaron Rodgers is the bomb, not that I’m upset about it or anything). Skip would charge, a freight train of power and muscle, into Maggie, eyes shining, and quite literally run her over. He was, and is, especially fond of hip slamming, and thought it was especially amusing to slam Maggie into the fence. The bottom line is that Skip loves to play, but came with no self-handicapping skills. Here’s a not- great video taken the day after Skip came to us. It will give you some idea of how mouthy and physical Skip was, but it’s not a clear example of how hard he would hip slam Maggie, get on top of her, or simply charge into her at a gazillion miles an hour. Nor is it a good example of how Maggie increasingly became afraid of him. But still, you can see something of his physicality in it, and how Maggie cuts it off:
If you had the sound on, you’ll hear Jim and I agreeing that Maggie was “giving as much as she’s getting.” Ah, how wrong we were.
But, still things looked great those first few days. We kept the dogs separate in the house because Maggie was afraid of Skip in close quarters, but she seemed thrilled to finally have a dog to play with again after Willie died. Maggie is fast and agile, and Skip was not in good condition when we got him. As far as I know, he’d never been in snow before either, so Maggie held all the cards. You can see how much fun she is having in the video below. It made me happier than I can say…
Maggie and Skip appeared to adore each other. Maggie looked like a teenage girl blushed by her first crush on the guy in her French class, and Skip looked like the guy in the class who just discovered girls. And then, Skip got better at playing in the snow, and began slamming into Maggie as if it was the most fun he’d ever had. It possibly was, but Maggie quickly became afraid of Skip. Rather than disciplining him for being a jerk (one of our nicknames for Skip is “d—head,” with apologies to males everywhere), Maggie withdrew and tried to avoid him. I am sure, absolutely sure, that if Maggie had just once laid into him, Skip would have deferred with some sort of canine “Gosh golly gee, Ma’am . . .” and played more politely. But she didn’t.
Here’s where I insert the video showing just how rude Skip was. Oh wait, I don’t have one. I’ve searched all my videos, and I found nothing. I’m guessing that I had my hands full enough trying to monitor and manage their play. You’ll just have to believe me that Skip became ruder and ruder, and Maggie began liking him less and less.
I did all I could, or all I could think of. In the early days Skip was so new I couldn’t count on a recall to work, and any vocal correction scared sound-sensitive Maggie, while having no effect on Skip. But relatively early on I got the two of them playing with toys, and that helped tremendously.
Soon too I had a recall that I could use reliably, so I could simply call Skip off when he began his full out cavalry charge toward Maggie. Whew. Things were looking up–Maggie seemed to enjoy playing with Skip again, and I thought we were free and clear.
And then, in April Skip badly injured a back leg and was off of play for over two months. When he could finally play again, I expected Maggie to be happy to be able to play with him because things had been going so well. On the contrary, against all expectations, she played with him a few times, looking increasingly worried about it, and then refused to go up the hill with him on a walk, much less play with him. I wasn’t going to force her, so I began walking them separately while I pondered how to get them playing again. After a few days of this, Maggie refused to go up the hill at all, even with Skip still in the house, even to work sheep.
Whaaaa . . . ? I still cannot say why this occurred. I searched my brain for answers, talked to my colleagues, mulled, pondered, but never really figured it out. My only guess is that Maggie associated going up the hill with the emotional event that occurred when Skip was injured. “Emotional” it was, because when Skip walked toward me after running into a gate post with his back leg sticking straight out away from his body, I was gutted. It looked like a horrible injury. All the endless months came back, of rehabbing Maggie’s torn cruciate, Willie’s mangled shoulder, and later liver cancer surgery. I envisioned 7-8 months of rehab for a new dog I had just gotten, not long after Willie’s awful death from lung cancer. I relate this not for sympathy, but simply so you understand why my knees buckled and I sobbed into the grass for a very long time. Skip’s affectionate nick name might be d—head, but Maggie’s is “Trisha’s Mood Ring,” so perhaps that was it? And we know that the effects of trauma tend to percolate and strengthen in the brain, sort of a reverse version of wine improving over the years. Perhaps when Skip was able to go up the hill again that trauma was triggered? But what caused it mattered less than what to do about it.
I won’t go into all the details of how I got Maggie back up the hill, but it took six to eight weeks of conditioning Maggie to first walk toward the path up the hill by throwing pieces of chicken ahead of us, then partway up the hill, etc etc. (I didn’t write about it at the time because I needed the time and space to deal with it–more lessons learned when learning about how to deal with my own traumas.) Of course, all this was separate from Skip’s walking and exercise routine, so it kept me busy. (If you’d like more on how I did this just ask, and I’ll make it another post. I will admit to being as pleased with the result as about any training I’ve ever done, because Maggie seemed outright crazy for awhile. But it is different issue from dealing with rough play, which is complicated enough, so I’ll keep it short here.)
Want some good news? Here’s a video I shot just a few days ago of Maggie and Skip playing beautifully together, which they’ve been doing for many months now:
Skip self-handicaps more, Maggie is on offense more, and uses her agility and speed to outrun Skip in the snow while still being completely engaged with him. Skip learned that Maggie just stopped playing when he got too rough. He also learned that full charges, before he got anywhere near Maggie, got a recall from me (a happy, chirpy “Skip Skip!”), and interred with his play. I rarely need to do that now, because he no longer slams into her, and she is better at countering him.
Here’s one last video of them playing tug, which I should mention they usually do before the running play you saw above:
So, right now, paws crossed, things are great at the farm. But here’s the question for all of us: What do you do when you have two dogs who want to play, but one has a play style that doesn’t work for the other? To get our conversation started, her are some things that have worked for Maggie and Skip:
OBSERVE Maggie needed to know that Skip wasn’t going to be able to run roughshod over her without some protection from me. That meant being observant enough to see when she was getting nervous, and to be able to predict when Skip was about to charge into her. It also took knowing what is appropriate and what isn’t.
PROTECT As soon as I could, I used Skip’s fantastic recall (partly due to training, partly due to his nature) to call him back whenever he looked like he was going to overpower Maggie. We also put him on a leash and let Maggie free, focused him on toys rather than Maggie, walked them separately for a while when she was the most worried, and kept play sessions very short when they were going well.
REDIRECT We taught Skip to play with toys (including teaching “Drop It” as part of the game), and encouraged him and Maggie to play tug. Maggie is so smart and agile she found out early on that she could hold her own at this game, even though he outweighs her by 25% and is as strong as an ox. If I had to guess what was the most important thing that helped them learn to play together, I’d pick this. But I’m just speculating. (I should mention that I do have concerns about the dog’s necks when they play tug so hard two times a day. For awhile I gave just Maggie the toy because Skip thought it a fun game to herd her as if she was a sheep, but that brought out problems with his actual herding work, so it’s back to playing tug. And regular visits to the canine chiropractor just to be safe. So far, they seem to be doing well. Please cross all paws.)
TIME OUTS As mentioned, I learned to call Skip to me as soon as I thought he was about to smash into Maggie. At first I reinforced it, obviously to reinforce the recall, but as time went on I simply kept him close to me, perhaps on “Wait” or “Stand,” which allowed him to cool off a little bit and think again before letting his adrenaline take over.
RESOURCES I’m lucky in that I’ve had years of experience of watching dogs play, both appropriately and not, so the signs of problematic play were easy for me to see. Here are some resources if you haven’t had that same opportunity. I did a half-day seminar on play that is full of videos of different types of play, titled, creatively, Dog Play. (It’s a DVD but I think I can get it live streamed if there is interest.) Dr. Sophia Yin’s site has some good videos on different styles of dog play and how to tell if it’s appropriate. I have written several posts about dog play and even have an entire section in my website’s Learning Center on play.
There are lots of resources out there, please add your favorites to the conversation. But what I’ve found is lots of resources on discerning healthy play from problematic play, but little on what to do about it. You? I know this is an issue that is relevant to lots of people, we’d all love to hear about your experiences with this issue.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I promised to not neglect the cats this week, and luckily Nellie left the warm kitty safe house in the garage to hang out in the sun, despite the frigid weather. I had a heck of a time getting her far enough away from me to get a photo, but she finally accommodated me by, uh, showing off her butt?
She then took me into the garage onto their feeding station and in front of the empty bowls. Caption from you all required:
Did I mention it’s cold? It was about 8 below Farenheit when I took this next shot, which is me in the house with a snowshoe on. One doesn’t normally wear one’s snowshoes in the house, in part because the cleats on the bottom are killer on one’s flooring. But when it’s that frigid the straps are so cold that they can’t be undone until you come into the house to warm them up.
We have another week at least of this cold weather, with high in the single digits. We’re still walking the dogs but a bit briefer than usual, because their paws begin to burn and watching a dog trying to raise two paws up into the air at the same time might be amusing to some, but when your own front paws are that cold too it’s hard not to sympathize.
The weather makes the flowers in the house especially welcome, like this Amaryllis that makes me happy multiple times a day:
Nothing like this weather plus the pandemic to get a person cleaning stuff out. This weekend it was the dog’s toy bins. Here’s what they contained before I sorted them out:
Does Skip actually look a bit overwhelmed? I’ve thrown away a bunch and have a huge bag to donate to the local humane society and the dogs, believe me, are none the worse for wear.
Skip and Maggie would like you to know that they are just fine, thank you, playing outside. Skip is, as usual, using his massive bear paw to get the toy away from Maggie, who will, yet again, foil him by leaping out of the way. Brains over brawn, go you girl!
I hope you are safe and warm somewhere, and look forward to hearing about your experience with dogs whose play deserves the nickname that we have given Mr. Skip. (See above)
Thanks for this. I too have a new, younger, larger Australian Shepherd that doesn’t know how to handicap herself. She will wrestle too aggressively with my mini Aussie. And while he will speak up for himself, and doesn’t seem to fear her, I want her to be gentler. But she doesn’t really take a hint yet.
She’s especially been taking to pinning him, which he seems to offer to her, but she holds it too long. I’m working on teaching them that when I say “break it up” they pause the play. I’ve been redirecting them to a game of tug as well, but with her strength over him it usually just turns into a game of keep away.
Laura Glaser Harrington says
So many puppies this past year, but less opportunities for them to play, with classes suspended or going virtual, social distancing etc. My clients have a hard time distinguishing between good play and when is it no longer fun for all. I’d love to have videos/resources that show appropriate play and when to step in (slow motion and football game type commentary with arrows and circles a bonus!).
We added a male cattle dog pup to our pack of LGDs two years ago. He’s been brought up by the best but has figured out some unique play methods to give him the upper hand with dogs twice his size. My Skip’s current technique is to run full speed into the back legs of the big dogs, quite effectively bowling them over while I am screaming internally, envisioning more torn CCLs or worse. He’s like a canon ball and the speed he gets is unreal. He’s the worst with my elderly GP Lily who just won’t retaliate the way the Kangals will to teach him what play styles are forbidden. So, we’re currently working on greater draining of the boundless energy he has and he’s only allowed to play with Lily when I am present and can call him off as he goes barrelling towards her. Thank God he has a pretty solid recall. When I run them by golf cart every morning, I have a whistle I will give that means we’re going to turn off in another direction. Discovered this whistle works better than calling his name as he instantly swerves and looks at me to see where we are going. Nice to find a tool you didn’t know you had in these hair-raising moments!
What a wonderful post. I think dog owners sometimes are under the impression that you get a puppy, train the puppy and you’re done. You have helped us with all your training books, but this blog really shows us what it means to give your animals a great life. Training and conditioning is life long. I have three Australian Shepherds. One learned play from my son’s dog who is a 60lbs female that plays with a 150 Boerboel. They play very rough. I have learned to let my small female play with the smaller male and they have a grand time. I use an interrupt to when the three get too crazy, but it is a work in progress. Would love to hear about how you got Maggie to go back up the hill.
Pam Evans says
Enjoyed this – I too have a mismatched pair of PWDs. In one of your final videos, Skip does a spin move, doing a 360 before engaging again. My boy Dylan does this – usually when trying to engage Dory in the house. I’ve never seen it before – he can turn in what seems like a single leap. It is comical to watch as he does it repeatedly.
When he was younger, he played too rough – but Dory was able to find a way to compensate. She uses those water dog jaws, and will go after his hind feet or ankles. That generally forces him to sit and tuck his feet in. Then the games resume. There are times though, that she is the one who has to be called off him – she won’t let him up. Or she will decide to not let him onto the deck, or into the house, using the same tactics. I’ve often wondered the origins of the term bitch for a female dog. Dylan isn’t the only jerk in the house!
Lee Anne says
My golden loves to run and have dogs chase her but my younger, larger lab chases, grabs her scruff, throws her to the ground and the mouth sparring starts and gets too intense. The golden will still engage but you can tell it’s too rough for her. I can redirect each to doing their own thing but I haven’t been successful with them playing better with each other outside. They play calmly inside the house. Good article.
Jeff Dentler says
I’m sure it’s just a typo or maybe an auto correct, but it’s Dr. Sophia Yin, not Sylvia.
I have two husky boys who are still learning how to play well together. My 8 year old has been in my house for about 5 years and my 2 year old for about a year and a half. Initially the younger (and smaller) one was really mean to my sweet older guy. Older guy did not stand up for himself at all. Younger boy has worn a muzzle outside every time, to prevent him making older guy bleed. He has actually learned how to play more gently with all my corrections. I took the two of them to the dog park with my nephew, his fiancé and their dog. I muzzled younger boy. To my surprise, older dog has now developed a new, mean style of play. He chased and rolled every other dog there! I ended up leashing him for the last 15 minutes of our time there. Sigh.
When I saw the first video you posted, my immediate reaction was that Maggie was trying soooo hard to diffuse the situation. She was giving all kinds of calming signals. Skip was just not “listening” to what she was clearly saying. I’m glad they learned how to play well together!
Great post! I especially liked the videos as well. My 8 month old lab wants to constantly play while the 6 year old would rather rest or focus on what is happening in the kitchen. We’ve been calling him out of play when he doesn’t want to stop. I like your tips and encouragement! It’s in the single digits here in Michigan as well, so our walks have been a bit shorter.
Charlotte Kasner says
Caption for Nellie (apologies for the anthropomorphism):
“I’ll have the fish followed by the chicken, please”.
Very useful info re play too, thank you.
Paula Ehlers says
First I have to start off by saying, as someone who lives in Green Bay, I totally agree with your comments Aaron Rogers and the Packers! But on to the topic at hand. We have 2 terriers – 3 year old Westie, 2 year old Cairn – who play as hard, and as LOUD, as I’ve ever seen. I worry sometimes the play is too ruff, and bordering on “not-play”; I have nothing to share with how I handle this, because I really don’t know how (or even how to know if its just normal play or not). The Westie seems to be the bigger bully of the two, and is faster in the straight-away. And with the frigid temps, we’ve had to forego our 5 mile walks…cabin fever is starting to set in. Love your posts – stay warm!
Paula Sunday says
Thanks so much for explaining how you puzzled and worked through the relationship with Skip and Maggie! Many of us have either tried to help clients or had dogs ourselves that didn’t play well together! Your step by step work with them both was interesting and helpful. Especially the work with Maggie and the hill. Many owners would have just assumed she was stubborn or “bad”. Understanding your dog is so important. I really enjoy your posts. Here in Iowa we are enduring the same ridiculous stretch of subzero weather. I had to laugh about the frozen snowshoes! Maybe velcro would actually be better in that situation.
Thank you for your post, Trisha! With the cold keeping me inside with two giant dogs (I have a 9yo lab-rott mix–we think–and a 7yo boxer-pit mix), this has been on my mind a lot lately too, especially since my lab (Jacob) does not enjoy playing with my boxer (Jude). When Jake gets excited, Jude gets excited, and unfortunately Jude’s excitement makes him bitey, jumpy and handsy. I’m not really sure how to help, to be honest. Jake loves playing tugs, but then Jude gets excited and smacks him in the face and then starts biting his ankles. I play with them both with a laser light and again, they have fun until Jude starts attacking Jake instead of chasing the light. Pretty much the only activity I’ve found to play with them together is using puzzle boxes, and that’s because they each have their own. Jude won’t play with humans and just wants to play with Jake, whereas Jake loves playing with us and understandably doesn’t want to play with Jude.
Thank you for the resources! I am going to do more research now. 🙂 Stay warm out there!
“Are you going to make me purr for my dinner again?” or “If I had a few metal bars, I could din din dinner.”
Play between Olive and Phoebe was a fraught affair. The weight difference at first gave Phoebe the edge but then as Olive got more confident, her terrier tendencies arose, and floppy toys became a serious guarding issue. Phoebe was a total peacenik, thank goodness, but I think that just emboldened Olive. Then when Olive was in rehab for almost a year with her knee, play halted altogether between the two dogs. I also think Phoebe was too worried to play and in some pain. Their relationship was not as solid without the playing. And, I was too nervous about injuries — physically for Olive and physically and mentally for Phoebe. I did not trust myself to manage it without risking trauma. It was a loss.
Our last brace of dogs, Ester and Grace, played together beautifully. Each taking turns self-handicapping and pausing and inventing new games. Ester was 90 pounds, and Grace was agile and quicker than quick, so they each played to their own strengths. It was a thing of beauty. The sounds were hysterical. Grace had a martial arts pitched noise and Ester had a low, throaty gurgling.
Oh lordy, Jeff, thank you so much. That is not a mistake I want to make, I think so much of her work.
Also recommend Jean Donaldson’s book, Fight, which has a chapter on play style and play skills along with training protocols to modify rough play or play skill deficits.
Timely post–I’m just trying to figure out what to do with our two goofballs’ play. Kaja and Potter are 5 year old staghound littermates. Their first 3 years were spent with a coyote hunter, living in outdoor kennels next to each other. We got Kaja first and then, 5 months later, Potter (she was too sound-sensitive to live with her first adoptive family). I had a whole post typed out about Potter being the “fun police” and trying to shut Kaja down with air snaps and hip checks when Kaja plays with a toy or another dog…but as I thought about it, I realized that those same air snaps and hip checks are what Potter does when she gets excited and wants to get Kaja to play. Unfortunately, Kaja, who does like to play with other dogs at the dog park, sees the behavior as intimidating rather than as an invitation. Maybe, instead of being “Bitch Dog Fun Police,” as we’ve been assuming, Potter is just an excitable dog who doesn’t know how to play (her personality is very anxious and insecure, not bossy and dominant). While this epiphany will help me view Potter’s behavior differently, it doesn’t help me know how to deal with it! And it doesn’t help Kaja to interpret the behavior as an invitation to play rather than as a “stop doing what you’re doing” command. I would love to figure out a way to get these two to play together!
Bridgette Chesne says
Timely post for our family! Baby Whippet incorporating with our yearling Chihuahua/Siberian Husky (DNA!) and 2 year-old male cat. Youth abounds! Whippet grabs fur/skin and holds/shakes while the other two are much too forgiving. Thankfully, I am experienced in this arena, and have employed many of your strategies. Happy to report that baby is learning and seemingly reinforced by the installation of the DRI, toy in mouth. We pay close attention to meal times and nap time as both of these events appear to promote learning. This week, after a month in our home, happy intervention, and other pup trusting us to step in as needed, we’re experiencing energetic play lasting up to 20 minutes at a time, without any yelps to signal that her mouth is too hard. Outside is a whole different story! Celebrating approximations as they happen and optimistic for a peaceful, safe, fun environment for all. Thank you for your post!
Thank you for this post! I foster dogs and have a golden retriever of my own. The foster dogs tend to play very similarly to Skip – SO excited, but very rough. My golden is similar to Maggie where he will just sulk and get bullied. This article will be really helpful to teach our foster dogs how to play well, keep our own dog safe, and let everyone have fun!
Thank you for this! I can use any resources to help work with our dogs, especially during the pandemic. We have two smaller dogs (20-25lbs) and one big lunk who is about 55 lbs now. He was about 40 lbs when we got him so the mismatch wasn’t so obvious yet. The two small dogs used to play together well, but the big guy is a happy brute, oblivious to signals. He body slams and play bites the back of their necks, and the small dogs try to warn him off – sometimes with hackles up, snarling, and showing all their teeth. He backs off and averts his eyes when he’s corrected, but then goes back to play bowing and running up to them without understanding they’ve had enough. We call him off when we see him getting too rough and he’s responsive when we do. The problem is he can be fine and then suddenly make an upsetting move, so it’s hard for me to predict. I know he can check his moves because they’ll play happily with him for ages when he does. Now both of our small dogs can get proactively defensive. One even corrects him sometimes when he’s walking through the room and not doing anything aggressive or playful. This has been such a challenge to understand or prevent, so examples of good and bad play may help me see what I’m missing.
soyoung kim says
this post made brought me a lot of joy. i love happy endings! :o)
We have one dog that is very enthusiastic about everything and never really grew into her feet. She has learnt to successfully dodge the larger dog and jump over the smaller ones if she mis-judges her trajectory. Spatial awareness is not her greatest strength. Occasionally she gets it wrong and is chased by our smallest dog up the garden whilst he remonstrates with her. She genuinely doesn’t realise. We have learnt to watch her and slow her down and side side nearly if needed!
Susan Hamilton says
It was seeing my fear reactive dog play — beautifully, happily, confidently — twice a day every single day with her best friend that finally made me understand that she needed a dog in her life to help her reframe the world as a less scary place. After 2 years of work with great help from vets, trainers and behaviourists, I was doing everything I knew how to do. But her pal brought out a different dog: a happy, relaxed dog who seemed better able to handle life. Sadly, I could not manage a second dog myself. Miraculously, her BFF’s family (who knew and loved her since she was a pup) decided to adopt her from me. All of which is to say: good play is a healer.
Great post, and perfect timing for me. I have a 9 month old neutered Walker hound mix who seems a little insecure at times but also plays rough and hard with some bullying tendencies. He comes on very strong. maybe it’s overcompensation? i often have to get him to take a break as he doesn’t seem to read the other dog’s signals. Could be the hunter in him, he does not seem to ever want to back down.
Recently he has been getting into what seems like reactive type fights. (so far no serious bites or broken skin) I normally take him away from the situation and he is no longer allowed to play when this happens. Anyway, I find it very stressful when this happens and I am still trying to figure out if it is something to really be concerned about, I am hoping he will grow out of it, with the help of coaching and training. He plays well with most dogs one on one. Maybe i should stick to this kind of play date and stay away form larger groups of dogs, like at the dog parks. This is where he seems to get over threshold and reactive.
Thank you for sharing the videos and photos, I would love to know what kind of boots those are. They look like the perfect boots i’ve been looking for but didn’t know existed 😀
My “crazy maniac” has a hard time making friends because he’s so rough! He’s 60 lbs, border collie/aussie and alternates between herding & hip chucking. He has a couple friends – dogs about his size who use their body language to keep their ground and are ok running with him (but also good at ignoring him for some good co-existing time), and they are a godsend. Would love to learn how to help him ease up and be a better play buddy. We’re working on a better recall for starters but everything is SO INTERESTING so that’s slow going.
I’ve been blessed with dogs that understand how to be good playmates. Sometimes it took awhile to work out how to play with a dog with a very different style but they got there in the end without me having to do anything. At the other end of our neighborhood there was a Husky living behind and invisible fence. The Husky adored Ranger and would accept the zap to come play with Ranger. Not a very good situation since going home again was not sufficiently rewarding to be worth the shock. So first Ranger learned that he should play with the Husky in the Husky’s yard. Except the Husky wanted to run and run and run so he was still taking off through the invisible fence with off-leash Ranger in pursuit and neither of them was interested in responding to a recall. However, Ranger wasn’t really interested in the endless running so they devised another game. The Husky would run in a big circle with Ranger at the center (think working a horse on a lunge line). Periodically Ranger would cut the Husky off to turn him in the other direction, then it reached the point where Ranger could bark and the Husky would turn. Over time they played this game enough that Ranger could simply eye the Husky and turn him to run in the other direction. Both dogs were getting exactly what they wanted the Husky was getting endless running and Ranger was getting to control the movement. They thought it was a great game.
D’Artagnan also seems very good about figuring out how to play with another dog. On one of our park adventures we found a new dog park and since it was empty we decided to give him some off leash exploration time. While we were there someone brought their French Bulldog and without even a second thought brought the dog in and turned him loose. Personally, I would have asked some questions before releasing my Frenchie to play with a dog many times his size. I wasn’t sure how well D’Artagnan would play with a much much smaller dog so I was right there supervising but I shouldn’t have worried. Rather than chase the Frenchie getting him to run so fast he couldn’t breathe (my big fear) D’Art invited the Frenchie to chase him meaning the Frenchie was in charge of the game they only ran as fast as the Frenchie was comfortable running and took breaks when the Frenchie needed them. I was impressed by D’Art’s choice. But after 10 minutes or so I wasn’t liking the sound of the Frenchie’s breathing and he was taking more and more breaks so I called D’Artagnan and we went on with our walk.
And finally here’s a link to one of my favorite videos. D’Artagnan is playing with his bestest pal Keeper. They’re a beautifully matched pair when it comes to play. https://youtu.be/-ewEgDgm9h0
I have all Aussies. I don’t know what it is in the breed, but they are almost all roughnecks/full contact/terrible at playing with the gentler breeds. Sprite is the oldest, and she will even sometimes play with Qwill, who is three, but mostly not. But when Sprite was a pup she was practically always a neck ornament for Ben- he’d run around the yard with her permanently attached to his neck. He didn’t seem to mind that much.
Yes, please to a post on how you managed to get Maggie to go up the hill again! My rescue boy Benjamin has been absolutely fine with walking over the pedestrian bridge over the motorway to get into the woods and did it quite regularly. Until one day he just wasn’t happy with it anymore and hasn’t gone over any bridge since – I have no idea why, can’t remember anything negative happening that last time or any particular reaction from him…
Great observation re Maggie’s signals to calm things down. Skip was oblivious, as he I suspect still is, although he self handicaps sooooo much better now.
Charlotte aka Nellie: That pretty much sums it up, although closer would be “I”ll have the chicken followed by more chicken please!”
LisaW: Sympathies about having dogs who don’t play well versus those who do. One of my criteria for the new dog was a dog that played well with Maggie. In part because it is a way of keeping them fit on a relatively small piece of land (many BC trialists have huge tracks of land, exercise their dogs from 3-wheelers. We’d get dizzy going around and around in circles in our tiny pasture that way.) When M and S made it clear they wanted to play together my heart sang. And then it started falling apart, and it felt like a tragedy. Melodramatic I know, but . . . I am so very lucky that both S and M love playing, want to play, just needed a long time and the right conditions to figure out how to do it.
Excellent recommendation for us Barb, thanks so much.
I wish I could answer everyone’s comments, but can’t manage it today in a timely fashion. But I am so grateful to everyone who has written in so far; I’m not surprised at the commonality of this issue and imagine it is helpful to read about other’s experiences. That said, I want to wave a magic wand and tell each reader how to “fix” things, and of course, can not. All I can say is that object play can help if you haven’t tried it yet (with cautions about resource guarding), time outs are fantastic tools to cool things off (M & S have a “Stand” command, which is even better than a recall because it stops them still, just like a pause between two dogs who are playing well together), and ouch, some dogs will just never play well together. Ouch again. Keep the comments coming, love the notes about things that you all have tried that have helped. Yay on that!
Started and lost a response here. Four aussies with one who is very, very pushy with the others. I was able to call her off the others but never got the idea through to her of self handicapping and calling off constantly. Liking the idea of interrupting and then lose together time. . . probably from me more important than with other dogs. Youngest is also very pushy, but a mini so really cannot stand up to the bulldozer on speed. Now showing fear around her and their small amount of play in the house has disappeared. So glad to see this discussion. Thanks.
Jenny Haskins says
My current dogs do NOT play together. Sallee and Ironbark are litter mates, and Ironbark was the big (dominant) pup who used to play dragging his brothers a sisters around by their collars. The young pups didn’t mind. But when Sal reached maturity she REALLY no longer enjoyed it at all. She tried telling IB off, but he just thought that was more play.
It usually happened when I was around an he was excited. I got to the stage where I could not take both of them into the paddock together.
We’ve got to the stage now (at 10 years old) when I can take them out together IF if let them into the paddock separately.
They simply do not play together in the house yard
Tails Around the Ranch says
Elsa is a puppy mill survivor and bullies sweet Norman who outweighs her by nearly 30 lbs. (is there something to ‘females are real bitches’ theory that is evolutionary?). He never puts her in her place and when you’ve got dogs in fury that outweigh you, probably just as well. I don’t want to get hurt any more than seeing her go after him. It’d be lovely if they could pal and chase around but she gets way too amped up and then trouble ensues. Watching her like a hawk so she doesn’t get to the redline point but really think they’re both missing out on playful chasing. On those occasions when she wants to get close to him, he withdraws from the scene and she seems confused as to why he’ll have little to do with her. Resource guarding toys adds to the complicated mix. *sigh
This! yes! besides the dog stories, yes to the laughs and the fact that it really isn’t the Superbowl unless the Packers are playing.
My pup (14 months) is doing better but more often gets pinned by more massive dogs. It’s hard to know when to step in. Thank you for assuring me I’m not just a helicopter mom.
Erin Thomsen says
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! My 102# Dogo Argentino is a couch potato until it is time to play. He is a slammer just like Skip and my 15#, scared of everything Chihuahua mix is usually the target. She decently holds her own, but now I feel I have more tools to let her know I have her back when she gets tired. Love this post. And I continue to love that you, seemingly, share your whole authentic self in your posts… Everything from pet names to name calling and personal trauma. Thank you for sharing yourself and your wisdom.
It was cathartic to read this! I have a 4yo Dutch shepherd and a 5mo female shelter mutt who is often compared to a Malinois. I allowed them to play when the puppy was much younger. But it was clear that their play was unbalanced. The Dutchie is largely appropriate; he immediately redirects to a toy and teases the puppy to play tug. He self handicaps and all of that. But the puppy would act like a normal puppy – short attention span and weak grips – and go for jumping up and biting at the Dutchie’s face. I tried removing the toy, and without a redirection object the Dutchie would completely overwhelm the pup with rapid ‘bites’ to her neck and literally flip her over with his nose. She would get overwhelmed, check in with me for a treat, then immediately go back to him for more, but in an even higher arousal state. So although both dogs clearly enjoyed each other, I did not feel like it was healthy play behavior and I have not allowed them to play for the last two months or so. I do have videos of us trying a few versions of play, if you ever want to see! For many reasons, the puppy also lives in a pen in our central living space and is not loose to bother my adult dog when in the home (he does show clear signs of discomfort in those situations). They get some joint training sessions and do SO well with that. I am in no rush and will wait for her to mature a bit before allowing play again. And from a training perspective, I am glad that the puppy is learning to be more interested in me than in my other dog.
I think dogs are social animals and they usually like to play with each other very much. Play allows dogs to establish mutual relations, build trust and relieve tension in the group. Recently, I also found this: https://bit.ly/3aUYM3G I think it can help a lot of people
Jen Gibson says
Great post! Would love to know more about how you worked with Maggie.
Also I noticed that in the final video Skip does all the chasing. Is that usual? And will that always be the case? Is that an indicator of who is the stronger personality or more a comment on style of play?One likes to be chased, other the chaser?
Lots of q’s! We are north of you in the heart of the polar vortex and impatiently waiting for it to get back to the Arctic where it belongs! Stay warm.
Vivtoria Stewart-Moore says
I just got a Great Pyrenees male pup, Thor, who loves to attack/play with the 2 female Border collies by pulling their fur out in a hardy puppy grip. Jilly is above the fray and gives him a warning growl. Kandy loves to play with him and the 2 get down and tumble with Kandy on her back. At almost 6 mos., Thor is already their size. Given he will soon be much bigger than they are, I try to monitor his play, keep him on a leash and pull him away when he gets grippy and rough and at the same time giving him a strong correction. He’s learning and for a pup Pyr is quite responsive. When he’s bigger and we’re back on the farm, we’re in Hilton Head at the moment, I suspect Kandy will find ways to avoid his attention if he gets too zealous and twist and turn and keep out of his clumsy grasp .
Thank you for this article, it resonated with me. I have two rescue dogs. Jay, a staffie mix, is the freight train, and Mavie, a shepherd mix has a more gentle style of play. Their play was lovely the first few months of Mavie being introduced. But I made the mistake of leaving them to their own devices, and Jay started running into Mavie, and Mavie started avoiding him. I would call him off of his attempted charges, but one time before I could, Mavie snapped at him, and since then they’ve both been avoiding play with each other. It’s been a year, and they still play hunt together but no more wrestling and chasing. This article inspired me to brainstorm some low pressure games they could engage with together. This evening, they were playing with each other for the first time in many months, using two sticks each tied to the end of a 6 foot piece of rope. At first, each was playing tug with me, holding the rope in the middle, but once they were both well into this game, I let go, and they were playing tug with each other, a safe distance apart, both feeling they could yank and twist their sticks playfully without repercussions. It was lovely to see, and your article was the inspiration. Thank you. I have some purchase now to help them get even further along.
I’m late to the party, so you may not see this, but it might be an interesting topic to hear about other ‘superstitious’ behaviors? I wonder how many of your followers have dogs with some sort of reaction or behavior that they just can’t figure out the ‘why’ of?
I have to pop back in and share another D’Artagnan play story. We have a pair of not quite five month old kittens. D’Artagnan started out trying to invite them to play with his usual play bounce. Initially they’d freeze and he’d sniff them and that would be it. But now when he gives them his play bounce (it’s such a fast bow that down and back up is almost one motion) they run away. D’Artagnan thinks this is hilarious. He doesn’t chase after them or harass them endlessly but anytime he finds them he’ll bounce them and then laugh while they run away. When he’s stretched out napping the kittens with simply leap over him so they don’t seem to fear him. I’m highly entertained watching them figuring out their relationship.
Great topic idea Gayla, I’ve actually been planning on that for awhile, my cats are illustrating it perfectly!
Good luck Lisa!
Kristin G. says
Your story really resonated with me…it reminded me so much of my dog Kimi and her best buddy Levi. My Kimi is a little border collie mix, 45 lbs and very agile. Her bud Levi is a powerfully built Aussie, half again her size. They met when Kimi was 5 years old and Levi 8 months, and immediately played well together, whether tug, chase or tussle. They enjoyed each other so much that I started taking Levi along with us on trips each weekend to the local off-leash beach, where they would chase each other madly around boulders and through the surf. But as Levi grew older, stronger and more confident, I noticed his play style changed. He would charge at Kimi from 50 yards away, building up speed and then barreling into her sideways, hip slamming her and sending her flying. She would correct him a little, but mostly seemed to become fearful of him: walking close to me and with her ears pinned back and no longer playing with him. After a couple trips like this I began to contemplate no longer taking him with us, as she didn’t seem comfortable. It made me incredibly sad. But just in time, Levi developed a new strategy. He came running at her again but turned sideways at the last second, barely brushing against her and then prancing away. If I could put words to this, it would have been: “Ha! Coulda creamed ya!” It reminded me of “counting coup” or exchanging tackle football for flag! It worked too: Kimi immediately took off after him and they were back to chasing each other and wrestling. He never hip slammed her again. To this day I wonder exactly how he worked it out. I think he just realized that she no longer seemed to want his company, and he was smart enough to work backwards and piece together why.
I have also observed that a good game of tug can keep play from getting too rough. It always seems a little ironic to me: Kimi and Levi’s tug games can sound absolutely ferocious, with lots of intense growling. But it seems to dissipate a lot of energy, and afterwards they will tussle or engage in “mouth wars” in a pretty relaxed fashion.
I want to add a heartfelt thank you to Trisha, because it is due to your writing that I have Kimi. She is my first dog; I grew up with cats but had very little experience with dogs. Reading “The Other End of the Leash” and “For the Love of a Dog” made me want the close communication and connection with another species you described, and reading your books on training gave me the confidence to bring home my little border collie mix from an adoption event 8 years ago. She has made my life better in so many ways! So many thanks for helping me set off on this wonderful journey.
Jeannine L Mallard says
I look forward to reading your articles and appreciate you so much for sharing your experiences and your strategies. We’ve been having similar struggles at our home.
Ollie, our 2 year old male Mini Labradoodle is shy and gentle. His play with other dogs consists of chasing or being chased… with very little contact. Our new boy, Duncan, is a Medium Labradoodle. He joined our family at 16 weeks. He is 13 months younger than Ollie but twice his size and the life of the party. He is a big, goofy, funny boy. His idea of play is slamming, grabbing and dragging.
I train them separately and together inside, but playtime outside is separate, or Duncan is on a long lead.
I’m excited and hopeful to implement your training ideas.
Thank you so much.
Kathryn Butterfield says
Perfect! I needed this. I have a very “soft” 5 year old Golden Retriever (who is a fabulous therapy dog… gentle to the core… ) smart , obedient … great when visiting at the hospital( if that ever starts up again)… Enter new kitten… Lionel “Rocketman” Hardcastle. Alpha cat.. Siberian… now 6 months old and loves to play… jumps out at her snd on her and she hates that. Ha! She will snuggle with him if he doesn’t mess with her feet..if she “moans” at him …(she’s not a barker) he will back off but mostly she waits for me to escort her from point a to point b in the house so he can’t pop out from a hallway and surprise her… I am teaching them how to play together …. I have treats in my pocket for her anytime he’s near..so your story and suggestions are perfect. They are both good animals and beloved pets. Just polar play opposites and this article was so encouraging! Super cold here in S.D. as well! Stay warm!
I would absolutely love to be able to watch your DVD about dog play but I don’t own a DVD player anymore. I’d gladly pay to stream it! I have a pair of dogs who I think play appropriately but I’d like to learn more about what signs to watch for. One is much older than the other, and I want to make sure that she doesn’t even start to dislike playing if the younger one is too rough. Thanks for this wonderful post.
Melanie C says
This was helpful. Thank you! We have three dogs–a 7 year old male (Gouda Boy), and two year-and-change-old girls. We’ve had the girls for four months (Zuka) and three weeks (Tatiana). Zuka and Tati speak each other’s love language: “jump on my head, slam me to the ground, and tell me that you love me.” We keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t escalate and are able to call them off of play to calm things down.
Gouda and Zuka also play well together, though Zuka can be a bit much–same call off to calm down. And she takes appropriate correction from Gouda with no problem.
But. Gouda and Tatiana are not clicking. Tatiana lunges and wants to jump on Gouda. Gouda snarls to say “hell no kid” and Tatiana gets reactive to the correction (she has a history of being beat up by other dogs, probably for her bad manners). They do fine on walks, on opposite sides of a gate, chilling out in the living room with Tati in a crate. They have been under control when reactive (on leash), so there haven’t been any free-for-alls. We are trying to take it really really slow and get Tatiana adjusted to the household, calmer in general, and learning self-control. Thank you for the resources and story! It helps. And I’ll be spending a lot of time in the other play resources.
Louise Wholey says
Yes to streaming Dog Play DVD