From time to time we ask a client to stop allowing their dogs to play with whatever dog it is that they regularly play with and to maybe have a complete break from other dogs for a while.
This suggestion is almost always greeted with abject horror……” But he LOVES playing with Pookie”/ “But it’s my sisters dog! They play together every day, they run and chase and wrestle while we have coffee”/ “But he won’t walk well on a leash so if he doesn’t run in my friends yard, he doesn’t get any exercise!”
Yup, we have heard all of the above proclamations, however, it doesn’t mean that the dog should be playing with THAT particular dog, just because he likes to, or indeed because it suits the humans needs.
Last month, a dog came to visit after an absence of three months.
When the owner came to pick him up after his last visit, I asked if this dog could have no play with other dogs at all for a minimum of six weeks, as he was playing too hard and needed to go cold turkey for a period of time. I explained that rough play can be injurious not just to himself, but to other dogs. And by injurious, I don’t just mean physically…..sometimes just the possibility of a dog bumping into him or her can send any dog into a fearful state, causing them to tense, withdraw, hunch their body, flee or snap! All of which are obviously not good either psychologically or physically. Stress is the foundation of lots of nasty issues in dogs, just as it is in humans.
The dog in question, who we shall name Fido (I really wanted to use a picture of him and black out the eyes dramatically to maintain his anonymity for a giggle but Uncle Pete said I needed to get a life…!) is a really nice dog actually. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, loves to play, run and chase and is very very loving with all humans.
However, if we have a young or very athletic dog dog here, he ups his game and wants to start wrestling…..and then escalates, and escalates.
We don’t allow wrestling between dogs…..we allow physical play of course, but we keep a watchful eye to make sure that it doesn’t descend into a full fledged wrestle, as that is very often a heart beat away from a dog feeling he needs to prove himself and taking it too far. A little like two human friends jostling each other in the shoulder for giggles and grins, but then one getting hurt and smacking the other full on with a real punch. Very often those situations become proper fist fights between humans…..and that’s how it can work with dogs too.
So, back to Fido…..I asked his Mum if she could stop letting him play with whichever dog it was that he was playing with so often as he needed to get out of some nasty habits.
I also suggested that she tell the other dogs owner to stop her dog from playing with other dogs too, so that both dogs got a six week break or more if possible from all other dogs, and instead learned to play some gentle, non physical games using toys and activities instead. And that after the break, they just have supervised walks together with no rough play so that they could both take this out of their play toolbox completely. She assured me she would do that, no problem, and so we booked him in for his next stay on that proviso.
Unfortunately, an hour after she had dropped him off for his last stay here, I could see that this had not happened…… Fido was like a bull in a china shop, going straight in to tackle Hoss to the ground the moment he saw him, and, while Hoss is a big dog who can take a lot, even he yelped out. Next, he jumped on poor old Colin’s back and tried to aggressively hump Ava. He had no sense of boundaries at all, and just saw every dog as a rag doll to play with as he saw fit.
To that end, we kept a cautionary string tied to his collar for every play session, we only put him with dogs that wouldn’t tolerate his behavior and would teach him some boundaries, and then sidelined him into a separate play area on his own when we had a large group that could all play together.
We never ever put the good of one dog against the good of many…..if a dog is a pain in the rear end, the other dogs expect us to take care of it, to take measures to ensure that they don’t have to put up with that nonsense…and rightly so.
There used to be an old poem that my mum recited all the time when we were kids, and if anyone knows the rest of it, please tell me, but the main line of it is “You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses.”
With a dog, you can very easily tell the kind of company he regularly keeps by watching his play style. A dog who plays very hard and wrestles profusely, is a dog that has practiced this regularly with another dog, perfecting the art of hard physical play with every visit. Those dogs are so caught up in physicality, they very often never ever learn to use their head in their interactions with other dogs, the physicality gets in the way. Such a shame. It’s like only teaching your child to play soldiers and never opening his world up to the beauty of the written word.
By contrast, a dog who plays occasionally with a calm, easy going dog, engaging in activities that don’t require them to be all up in each other’s business, will learn boundaries and respect for another dogs space.
Surround your dog with the kind of company you’d like him or her to emulate, and you have a far greater chance of your dog being the kind of dog you want him to be. Top of the list should be lots of interaction with respectful, calm, pleasant humans………and then respectful, calm, pleasant dogs.
Enjoy this beautiful weather folks and don’t forget to let your dog play in the leaves!