Guide to Social Play in Dogs

Published on 7 October 2023 at 07:55

It's fascinating to observe dogs engage in social play, isn't it? Understanding the dynamics of dog play is not only enjoyable but also essential for ensuring the well-being of our furry friends.

Social play serves various functions for dogs, especially during their cognitive and social development. It provides exercise, helps reduce stress in some individuals, and contributes to their overall happiness. Dogs have their own set of body language signals that indicate whether they're enjoying the play or finding it stressful.

When assessing if social dog play is okay, it's best to let the dogs themselves guide us through their actions and body language. They communicate through body positions, movement patterns, vocalizations, and facial expressions. Ideal play involves fairness and reciprocity, where each dog takes turns "winning" and "losing" in the game, maintaining a sense of fairness.

To ensure appropriate social play, dogs should:

  1. Facilitate reciprocal play by taking turns.
  2. Self-handicap, adjusting their play intensity for smaller, weaker, or younger dogs.
  3. Communicate their intentions through body postures like the play bow.
  4. Maintain low arousal levels, avoiding overexcitement.
  5. Take breaks and pauses between actions.
  6. Read and respond to their play partner's body language, adjusting or stopping play when necessary.

Identifying these signals can be complex for humans, but observing your own dog's body language and that of their play partners is crucial. Signs of relaxed, comfortable play include loose muscles, exaggerated movements, voluntary vulnerability, brief contact, invitational postures, and vocalizations like growling with an open mouth.

On the other hand, signs of inappropriate play or discomfort include tense muscles, sustained contact, avoidance, displacement behaviors, closed mouth, and vocalizations like growling with a closed mouth or high-pitched barks.

Understanding these cues can help ensure that your dog's playtime is safe, appropriate, and enjoyable for all parties involved. It's all about fostering a positive and healthy social play environment for our furry companions. 

Interrupting social play between dogs is an important skill for any dog owner or handler, and it's essential to do so in a safe and non-threatening manner. Your goal is to ensure that the interruption doesn't create stress or negative associations for the dogs involved. Here are some safe ways to interrupt social play:

  1. Recall Command: Call your dog's name and ask them to come to you using a recall command they are familiar with. Always reinforce their obedience with praise or treats when they come to you. While they approach, you can attach a lead to their collar, which can help redirect their focus away from the other dog.

  2. Lure Your Dog Away: If your dog is engrossed in play and not responding to their name, you can lure them away with treats. Make calm clicking or kissing sounds and offer a handful of treats in front of their nose. This will help distract them and lead them away from the other dog. Simultaneously, ask the other dog's owner to do the same to ensure both dogs are distracted by separate handfuls of treats.

  3. Body Block: If the above methods don't work, and you need to physically separate the dogs, you can use your body as a visual block. Move between the two dogs to create a temporary barrier, which can disrupt their focus on each other. This should provide an opportunity to lure your dog away using treats. Only use this method if it's safe to do so and consider asking the other dog's owner to block their dog as well.

  4. Redirect and Calm Down: Once you have separated your dog from the play, walk them a short distance away while keeping their focus on you, possibly using treats. You can also ask for basic obedience commands like sit, down, stand, or shake to help them calm down and refocus on you. If your dog remains calm and relaxed, you can consider allowing them to return to play. However, if they remain highly stressed or over-aroused, it might be best to end the play session.

As for the question of why you shouldn't just let dogs sort things out themselves, it's essential to understand that while dogs do have their own social language, they are not infallible in their interactions. Even well-socialized dogs can misinterpret signals, leading to potential conflicts. Additionally, dogs today often encounter unfamiliar dogs while on leashes or in controlled environments like dog parks, which can limit their natural behaviors and choices.

Human management of play interactions is necessary to prevent negative experiences, misunderstandings, or potential harm. It ensures a safe and positive environment for all dogs involved and helps reinforce appropriate social behavior. Ultimately, responsible supervision and intervention can lead to happier and healthier play sessions for our furry friends.

If you have any specific questions about dog wellness and training or any other topics, feel free to ask.

Add comment


There are no comments yet.