Updated: Sep 1
Are you concerned about the way your dog is reacting to other dogs or worried that your dog hasn't been socialised correctly?
Most pups and street dogs arrive in their new home perfectly well socialised with other dogs. They learn their first social skills from their siblings. From 3 - 4 weeks their developing eyesight will begin to recognise the body language of social invitation and their bodies will feel social intervention. At this age the undeveloped body language can lead to misinterpretation which results in bickering. This is a necessary stage for social development within the litter. Removing pups from the litter too early or being born a single pup can harm the growth of social skills.
When two pups play they are developing social rules and may happily 'play fight' together, neither being too rough. Add in another pup who does not play by their rules and they try to move away as soon as possible. If creating more space does not have the desired result then the pups are forced to aggress.
If the option to create more space is unavailable because the puppy pen is too small, then the pup the others are trying to get away from has no option but to respond aggressively as well. From experience, pups who have been bred in puppy farm or small kennels can become adults who remain extremely sensitive to being touched, other dogs being in their space and appropriate threats such as growling. It is possible that the lack of space leads to feelings of greater vulnerability, of being inferior to the other pups and that aggressive behaviours produce the reward of more space or an opportunity to keep possessions.
When pups have large play areas in which to choose their own space, the choice to interact or stay on their own, they develop excellent social skills.
Social invitation and response will happen in less than a second. Some dogs are excellent at giving and receiving social information and some are not. A shy or inexperienced dog is not likely to invite social interaction, they need a skilled dog to draw them out. Some dogs are highly skilled at inviting other dogs to play and drawing inexperienced dogs into the game and keeping them there. These skilled dogs know not to run too fast, when to stop and when to back off. Dogs always need the option to withdraw, and the skilled player will build in regular stops to check the other dog is still keen to interact.
If two dogs are likely to be compatible play mates, they will quickly respond to each other's invitations with mirroring postures. This is a good indication that they are reading each other's body language.
Most social blunders are accidentally created by us. Narrow pavements and walkways mean that social interaction is forced upon two dogs without the natural build up that a spacious off lead situation provides. Too many dogs in a day care facility, a dog walking group or a training class give a dog no choice but to aggress. Leads can remove the dog's choice to move away from each other, forcing the dogs to overreact.
Different Dogs, Different Play
How dogs play often has a genetic element. When working with a crossbreed I’ll often ask, ‘how do they play?’ as the answer to this can tell me a lot about the heritage.
Gundogs are often called ‘retrievers’ but their greatest pleasure often comes from carrying a toy rather than bringing it back and dropping it at your feet. These dogs are often gentler on toys than other breeds and enjoy the opportunity to carry a large soft toy around.
My collies enjoy, controlling movement and share this trait with other herding breeds. These dogs can often become obsessed with the movement of a toy, especially one that flies quickly, such as a tennis ball or frisbee. It is important to restrict this type of play before the dog experiences mental or physical over-stimulation.
Bull breed dogs have a large, strong, square jaw, perfect for tugging but they need to be taught how to let go.
Terrier types were bred to control rodents, canine pest control, and their play reflects this. Terriers enjoy chasing, shaking, and tearing up their toys. Many squeaky toys are abandoned once the squeaker has been successfully removed. Toys with long handles or attached to a Whippit can replicate this type of play with you.
The Dog That Doesn’t Play
This usually reflects your dog early upbringing. If a puppy has not been introduced to dog toys at an early stage, then they may not know what to do when offered one later on.
Street dogs may know how to play with other dogs that look like them but not have the genetics to know the value of playing with people or other breeds of dog.
Dogs born in poor conditions may have learned to play with the little that is around them, newspapers, straw or poop.
What Play Can Teach
How to build social relationships with other dogs.
How to modify their own behaviour, speed and strength, to keep another dog engaged in play.
How to assess the status of another dog and adjust their behaviour appropriately.
How to avoid conflict by modifying their bite or moving away to create more space.
How to protect and share resources.
How to work together co-operatively
Are walks with your dog no longer enjoyable? Are you struggling with a reactive dog?
Many people to bring their dogs to see me because walks have become stressful. There is no quick fix but by following the Walking Together programme you will learn a set of skills that allow you to assess how your dog is feeling and how you should respond. Online and in person lessons available, contact me to discuss what is best for your dog.