Tips for Safe Dog-Dog Interactions

Although becom­ing flu­ent in the lan­guage of dog takes years, learn­ing some basics to increase the chances of safe inter­ac­tions between dogs is sim­ple.  Here are some rules to help make off-leash encoun­ters go smoothly.

Both dogs are sim­i­larly sized.  As scary as it looks, fight­ing and preda­tory behav­ior dur­ing play is part of doggy com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  This is wise to keep in mind when pair­ing play­mates of dif­fer­ent sizes.  The risk of acci­den­tal injury or trauma to a small dog dur­ing play is much higher, as is the risk that a smaller dog’s behav­ior may trig­ger a preda­tory response.

Both dogs are hav­ing fun.  This seems obvi­ous, but is eas­ily over­looked.  For an inter­ac­tion to be con­sid­ered “play”, both dogs have to be enjoy­ing them­selves.  If one dog attempts to leave play or shows defen­sive behav­ior, it is not play and should be inter­rupted.  Click here to see a dog that begins play with­out invi­ta­tion and does not respect the oth­ers attempts to ter­mi­nate play.

Only two dogs are inter­act­ing.  Any safe dog-dog inter­ac­tion is between only two dogs.  Once another dog is involved, the chances that things will go south quickly will increase expo­nen­tially and the vic­ar­i­ous player should be redi­rected to another activ­ity.  Click here to see a video of too many dogs inter­act­ing.  Notice the Bea­gle attempts to move away from the other two dogs.

Move­ments look fluid and com­fort­able.  Dogs that look awk­ward dur­ing play or have hard, stiff, sharp, or spo­radic move­ments should be inter­rupted fre­quently.  Some­times it takes bud­dies a while to get into the groove of play but until that hap­pens, play is risky and should be fre­quently inter­rupted.  Click here to see awk­ward play.

Chas­ing play is lim­ited or fre­quently inter­rupted.  Chas­ing play, par­tic­u­larly when it involves more than two dogs, is the riski­est form of play.  It is very easy for chas­ing “play” to turn into more intense predatory-driven chas­ing and things can turn sour very quickly.  Young dogs still pol­ish­ing up their social skills love to run but chas­ing should be inter­rupted fre­quently.  Also, group chas­ing and larger dogs chas­ing smaller dogs should always be inter­rupted in every sit­u­a­tion.  Click here to see polite chase play.  Notice how both dogs are the same size and respect each oth­ers space well.

Nei­ther dog’s behav­ior could be described as “relent­less”.  Play is a ran­dom jum­ble of dif­fer­ent doggy behav­iors and one of the only things that keeps it from being mis­in­ter­preted is fre­quent brief pauses in play for goofy look­ing exag­ger­ated or slowed behav­iors.  Dogs con­stantly remind their buddy that they mean no harm and are just hav­ing fun.  When these behav­iors stop and play becomes “relent­less” it needs to be inter­rupted.  Click here to see a dog relent­lessly try to engage another.

Play comes in many shapes and sizes.  If you are unsure about what you are see­ing, there is no such thing as too much inter­rup­tion, so go ahead and inter­vene.  A good test of the dog’s feel­ings toward one another is to sep­a­rate, then give the choice to reen­gage.  Two dogs that will con­tin­u­ally reen­gage in play are prob­a­bly enjoy­ing them­selves.  If your dog is get­ting into scuf­fles or you are unsure how to inter­pret what you are see­ing, con­tact a pro­fes­sional dog trainer expe­ri­enced in man­ag­ing playgroups.

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