By: Robin Foster, PhD, CAAB
Lip raised and teeth bared, the Rottweiler refused to give up even though she was helplessly pinned on her back, held down by the Boxerâ€™s strong body and jaws at her throat. The Rottie thrashed and pushed with her hind legs, struggling to break free. Just then a familiar voice chimed, â€śLena, letâ€™s go!â€ť Both dogs popped up wiggly and wagging, and the Rottie bounded off to greet her owner.
Wrestling and running are great ways for dogs to burn off extra energy, but sometimes itâ€™s hard to tell if dogs are being friendly or fierce because chasing, growling, tackling, bite-holds and mounting are part of both play and conflict. Here are some tips for recognizing acceptable and risky play.
Look for playful body language. Playful dogs have a loose curvy body posture and they give signals that are incongruent, like growling and play bowing at the same time. In contrast, dogs with aggressive intentions have a rigid, upright posture, and their body language signals are congruent, like growling quietly with a direct stare and tail held up stiffly.
Find a compatible playmate. Each dog has a preferred play style. Some go for extreme contact like wrestling, boxing, pinning, and body-slamming, others favor no-contact chase and tag games, and a few â€śspectatorâ€ť dogs seem content to watch. Your dog will have a better park experience if he plays with dogs that have a matching style. Your dog might take offense if he invites another dog to play chase but gets body-slammed instead! Having a playmate matched in body size and strength is also important. Small dogs are particularly vulnerable if the play turns rough orâ€”worse yetâ€”into a hunt.
Know when to stop. Squabbles can suddenly erupt when dogs are tired, overly excited, or accidentally hurt during rough play. If you notice excessive barking, bullying, failing to take turns, prolonged pinning and rolling, or ganging up, these are signs that your dog needs a break or that itâ€™s time leave the park.
Leash free parks are a sanctuary for dogs to socialize through play. Following these simple tips will help keep our park safe and create a more positive experience for everyone.