Pug Lying Down in Resignation on Wooden Floor with skirting board in background
Dog Behaviour

How can you help your dog during COVID19 lockdown and after?

Hi Guys so we are in the midst of the COVID 19 lockdown, I have been putting off writing anything about this subject because we was not quite sure how long it was going on but I think unfortunately lockdown will not be ending anytime soon. I have had lots of thoughts running around in my mind that you might have concerns with and what concerns I have regarding when lockdown ends for your dog. Socialisation, separation and concern about overtired/over aroused dogs are all covered below.

Firstly I have pulled out some key points from the British Veterinary Association their info graphics are below too. The current strain of Coronavirus is a result of Human-to-human transmission, there is absolutely no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Current evidence suggests Covid-19 has a wild animal source however this still remains under investigation. It is also thought it might be possible the virus could be carried on fur from humans that are infected/carrying the virus, for a short period of time in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs, this could apply to their harnesses as well. The main advice for animal owners is continue to practise good hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds with soap and water) after touching your pet and also not letting them interact with other dogs or people that do not live with you. If someone else is walking your dog for you for what ever reason, please carefully still follow social distancing rules and hygiene advice. Have a bag with all your dog equipment in, that you do not need to touch and the dog walker can take and bring back.

All veterinary practices are now required to limit face-to-face contact with clients. This means running an emergency care and emergency prescription service, some are still providing food and doing necessary vaccinations but this is branch dependent. So avoid putting your dog at unnecessary risk.

Pets and corona virus advice from royal veterinary college
RVC Someone walking your dog during COVID 19 advice


Food

If you run out of food dogs can eat human food they did evolve from our discarded food after all! However try and find alternative healthy complete dog foods, if you can rather than making your own, often getting the balance right of nutrients and what your specific dog needs is difficult. It’s always good to add fresh veg and fruit (in moderation) to your dogs dinner a minimum of 3 times a week anyway, this helps with gut health, a healthy gut helps with behaviour too! If you have to change food try and do it gradually if possible, I know this might be difficult don’t worry if it’s not feasible it just to avoid tummy upset. If your dog is on a special diet speak to your vet to see if they can suggest a good alternative. If you are struggling with costs http://www.trussellstrust.org are able to provide pet supplies for people who need it.

Difficult time for all

Lady with hands covering face depicting stress with someone else hands on sides of head

I know this is a stressful time for all of us but believe it or not it will be for our dogs too. Dogs pick up on our mood state so if the behaviour has changed it can be due to this, be mindful to try and take them out when you are feeling not so tense, as handling of the lead can then change the walk and can be unpleasant for your dog and in turn you, as they are likely to pull more or be hyper vigilant to things in the environment if the lead is tense. Some dogs will love you being home but others will be overwhelmed because everyone is there all day, they may not be getting the rest they need. There will be more people interacting with the dog, whether it’s kids constantly playing or teasing them or multiple adults managing unwanted behaviour, if this is not managed right you can have a stressed dog on your hands. Overtired, overexcited or frustrated dogs can lead to bites, statistic are usually higher during school holiday periods so this isolation period will be no different.

Routine

Dogs do appear to have an inbuilt time clock seeming to recognise the difference between week days and weekends (our actions and body language is more likely what influences this the most) however if we treat everyday as a weekend when lockdown is over some dogs are going to struggle. Each dog is different when it comes to routine sometimes a strict adherence to routine creates anxiety issues when all of a sudden they have a day where the routine gets thrown out the window, dogs which suffer from separation anxiety or isolation distress, are extremely aware of routine events that predict your leaving, which triggers their anxiety. What I am mainly suggesting is stick to a version of your normal routine for your working week, feeding your dog when you normally would and walking them. Obviously this will be different if you have a dog sitter but you can do activities in the same way without the socialisation aspect. Don’t walk your dogs more than you usually walk them unless you can sustain this after lock down otherwise when it’s over they will find it difficult when you go back to work, this is unfair and definitely do not make them walk more if they are refusing. Change for the future is inevitable things will not be exactly the same when restrictions are lifted, dogs do adapt but their are somethings to consider for getting through this period with ease for both parties.

Sleep

Ginger and white senior collie x sleeping on bed in sunlight with door in background

I have just posted a very detailed video on YouTube on this specific subject “Is your dog getting enough sleep” but some key points are below. With everyone home everyone may be interacting with your dog more than normal but be mindful sleep is vital to mood state dogs should be sleeping through the night and having regular undisturbed good quality naps in the day. Children and adults should be leaving the dog alone when they are resting or sleeping. Puppies need around 18-20 hours sleep and adult dogs need around 12-14 hours of sleep a day. Lack of rest and sleep can effect behaviour.

Alone Time

If you do not normally work from home, some separation and being unavailable is going to be important for your dog at this time, even for the people that do, you are probably at home more than normal. Absence from your dog is important for the ones that used to it but even for the ones that are not like those of you that have new puppies or ones that have existing separation related problems the following exercises will help:

  • Provide searching and foraging activities in a different room/garden than you are in (safe activities of course) not shutting them in there unless they are comfortable with this, just aiding with a little separation from each other. There is a link further below for lots of ideas but one simple foraging activity is to put out lots of cardboard boxes in a group on the floor or a box filled with safe recycling items in and scatter their dinner or healthy treats, for them to sniff out and find (for nervous dogs make it easy with not to many boxes or items to start with) put out a snuffle mat at the same time, if you have one too and leave them to it no encouraging or cheering them on, the idea is they decide if they want to and they can choose to be away from you.
  • If you have a Kong another option is to put a rope through the small hole end of it and tie a knot. Stuff the Kong with something they have to lick, then tie the long end of the rope to a piece of secure furniture (with no risk to the dog) in a different room again where you are not, I usually suggest having something comfortable for the dog to lie on, near it. If you have a chewer or a dog that gets easily frustrated this might not be the right activity for them.

If you do not normally work from home, some separation and being unavailable is going to be important for your dog at this time, even for the people that do, you are probably at home more than normal. Absence from your dog is important for the ones that used to it but even for the ones that are not like those of you that have new puppies or ones that have existing separation related problems the following exercises will help:

  • Provide searching and foraging activities in a different room/garden than you are in (safe activities of course) not shutting them in there unless they are comfortable with this, just aiding with a little separation from each other. There is a link further below for lots of ideas but one simple foraging activity is to put out lots of cardboard boxes in a group on the floor or a box filled with safe recycling items in and scatter their dinner or healthy treats, for them to sniff out and find (for nervous dogs make it easy with not to many boxes or items to start with) put out a snuffle mat at the same time, if you have one too and leave them to it no encouraging or cheering them on, the idea is they decide if they want to and they can choose to be away from you.
  • If you have a Kong another option is to put a rope through the small hole end of it and tie a knot. Stuff the Kong with something they have to lick, then tie the long end of the rope to a piece of secure furniture (with no risk to the dog) in a different room again where you are not, I usually suggest having something comfortable for the dog to lie on, near it. If you have a chewer or a dog that gets easily frustrated this might not be the right activity for them.

Those of you that have puppies that you are concerned about or a dog that struggles to be alone and you are worried about the impact, this is actually a good time to work on separation. The first thing we as behaviourists would advise is not to leave them alone at all and build on separation within the house and them being relaxed first, working in leaving them for seconds rather than minutes.

As well as the above points other places to start would be:

  • Within the house just going to simple places like the toilet or shower and closing the door. If they struggle and get distressed about this in anyway, have a treat pot in the toilet, pick up a handful, drop treats outside toilet door and shut the door every time you need to go.
  • When you need a bath or shower have a kong/chew ready and ask them to lie down on the bed whilst you go to the shower. If you have a dog/puppy that does get distressed leave the door open building on closing it but giving them an activity to do in another room close to the shower.

The important thing with separation training is you going in casually and come out casually. This is what you eventually need to do when leaving the house, this is not about ignoring them it’s about making it no big deal, so it’s normal. You do not want to be adding to how they feel, if you come out saying “I am so sorry I left you” verbally or in your body language, showing any anxiety yourselves, your dog will get distressed because you are.

Teaching a settle on a bed or blanket is also something that is useful to work on. You build on duration first and them truly relaxing and then build in doing short activities around them cleaning or when cooking building in distractions whilst they are still relaxed there. You would then work on distance but not aiming for the front door first, aim for them being at the kitchen door whilst you are at the cooker. Distance will be first before out of sight, before starting out of sight I always suggest to get a dog monitor or application if you have a smartphone and tablet, this enables you to watch for some of the subtle signals dogs give way before they start panting, becoming hyper vigilant, tense whining, barking or howling, you want to return to them before this whilst they are still chilled and relaxed. Do not force confinement or let them cry/whine/bark until they are quiet, this is outdated information it causes anxiety and high stress levels.

Periods of unavailability are important to, think about an activity you usually do and when you do it you dog often goes and rests away from you. Common times this happens (depending on the dog) are when you are on the phone, computer or reading a good book, you are usually completely unavailable and your dog often knows this because your body language indicates it. No eye contact, often looking away doing something else, so they often settle and rest, some almost relieved. It’s important to do activities where you are unavailable you cannot however fake this, you need to just go and do something else in the house. If you think about puppies we are on their case all the time watching them incase they wee or chew something and because of this some find it very difficult to settle in our company and this happens to adult dogs too, being unavailable sometimes is good to give your dog permission to just chill out.

If your dog is used to you going out if you can go out without them, I know there are limits around this but some alone time is important.

Play

To start with there is such a thing as too much play, contrary to popular belief play often does the opposite to tiring a puppy/dog out, it usually makes the dog or puppy over aroused, some frustrated because of how we play and we often play for far too long particularly with puppies, which can make them over tired, nippy and restless or worse. This lockdown is leaving some people bored, be careful not to over do it with your dog, there needs to be a balance between play, eating, sleeping, resting, mental and environmental stimulation and training. Some of the signs of play has gone on to long or the dog is over aroused are as detailed in the below images from the vet behaviour team, you want to end the game way before these occur:

Obviously yes it is important to make time to play with your dogs for short periods but not at times where you need to work or do stuff or you will have a dog that pesters you all the time. Do not leave kids playing unattended watch how the children are playing with the dog. It’s important if the dog is sitting just chewing on the toy or moving away with it that no one tries to grab the toy off them

Rather than constantly playing ball which can be over arousing, be careful of football too, play other games that provide them outlets for natural behaviours such as:

  • Searching for the ball; if your dog knows a stay ask them stay, throw the ball into long grass, count to 5 then release them to find it. Leave patches of grass to grow long for this game in your garden as well.
  • Hide a toy in the house or garden and then let your dog in/out to find it. For newbies make easy.
  • Tug ensure they win, ensure they are bringing it to you, when you are trying to instigate a game remember to use the toy as if it is prey, don’t waggle it in their face prey doesn’t do that, run it along the floor in zig zag movements keeping it low. Be careful not to make the game frustrating and ensure they are bringing it back to you, don’t grab it off them if they just try to take it away its not an invitation to take it.

Like us, dogs don’t enjoy being teased, nor do they understand the difference between our toys and theirs, so it’s best to keep any toys they shouldn’t play with safely out of their reach.

Outlets for natural behaviours

Dogs need outlets for their natural behaviours and what each dog likes is different. Digging, searching, hunting, foraging, sniffing, chewing, water play are all examples of what dogs need and there are lots of ways this can be done during this period. Searching for treats or scattering their dinner is just one way to tire them out as sniffing is stimulating to some dogs and often very tiring. Enrichment done right is actually what tires dogs out, this also will help prevent your puppy/dog becoming bored, restless and getting up to mischief. Here is a great blog for 100 days of enrichment whatever you choose it should be stimulating and not frustrating, each dog is different always start with easy stuff first particularly for dogs that’s are fearful or lacking confidence.

Walks

Each person in the household can go out with the dog once a day but this should only be for the dogs who are used to it or you can continue this in the future. If there are not multiple people in the house make the walk longer and focus on really good quality sniffing and what they enjoy, this is the tiring bit. Dogs that are used to being off lead, avoid situations where they interact with other dog or people as it could mean you break the social distancing rules because you have to go and get them. Instead keep them on lead but clip them on a different point on their lead or change to a slightly longer lead to imitate being off and work on just letting your dog take the lead, as if they are off lead let them take you on an adventure. If you control the snifari walk then you may start to build in frustration and could trigger behaviour problems in the future.

Socialisation

A lot of people are worrying about the lack of socialisation for their dog or puppy at this time but I myself am really not. I think for most dogs this is actually a blessing. Firstly if you have a dog that is anxious or stressed out normally on walks, do not start taking them out more than usual particularly as people are looking different at the moment this will add to their anxiety unless your road is much quieter now. Those of you with puppies social distancing is good and I recommend this in generally anyway for all puppies, for the unsure puppies distance is important to make them feel more confident this allows them to observe at a distance without being overwhelmed and choose whether to investigate, it also allows the over friendly puppies to read people and other dogs body language from a distance when they are saying I am not interested. Puppies that are not used people you can do exercises at home where you dress up getting them used to different out fits, hats, high visibility wear, glasses, fancy dress and of course masks most dogs may find these a little odd. Do take your puppies out at different times of the day.

For those dogs that are socialites and struggle keeping a distance this is the perfect time to really work on rewarding disengaging from dogs, don’t try and get their attention when they see them just wait until they do disengage and pay them a lot with multiple treats to their mouth and ground as you are moving away, no pulling them, even if this takes time, the trick is to stay at distances where they can disengage. Have a really good game after the walk with them, these are the dogs that may need play increased slightly.

Grooming

For those of you that have a dog that needs regular grooming, ensure you do this daily particularly if you usually rely on a groomer. It’s actually a great time to help them feel comfortable with it giving them short sessions and giving the choice to stop too. Pairing treats at every step even if it’s every brush and a tasty chew at the end, always give them other options when grooming put boxes, snuffle mats and kongs with food around during the session to allow them to have breaks. This is a great way to do regular check overs with your dogs.

My final note is like us dogs will get through this crisis, things will be different and there behaviour might change too but hopefully some of the above will help prevent this. Of cause if you are having specific behaviour problems and would like some advice I and many other trainers and behaviourist are still doing telephone, virtual-video sessions for training and behaviour and I do have a five week puppy course for those who have puppies and are concerned which I am now tailoring subjects to get puppies through this period.

Check out my website http://www.johinds.com for more details.

I am signing off now, really missing seeing and interacting with all your canine companions.

Please keep safe and take care.

Jo

Dog Behaviour

Is your dog getting enough sleep?

Transcript:

In my job I go into a number of peoples homes where dogs are not getting enough sleep or even rest, they maybe getting sleep in the night but in the day they get none or worse they are restless at night too.  Over tiredness in dogs and puppies can cause all sorts of unwanted behaviour nipping and biting in puppies, in adults; biting when disturbed from sleep, some labelled “Grumpy” around people and other dogs and more. 

Adult dogs need on average 12 -14 hours of sleep if they are in sync with your own sleep patterns say 8 hours a night, they need to get the remaining hours through the day. Older dogs generally sleep more as they tire out more easily and I believe need rest in order to function properly. Puppies, like babies, spend a lot of time expelling energy while playing and exploring their new surroundings, it can be stressful learning human rules and learning about the world, which means they might need as much as 18 to 20 hours of sleep to recover.

Just like us sleep is vital for dogs, it gives the dogs body time to heal, a dog deprived of sleep will have a weakened immune system therefore more prone to sickness and putting them at risk of serious conditions. Lack of sleep also has a huge effect on mood state. As humans suffer from fatigue and increased risk of obesity, due to lack of sleep, we would be fooled to think this is not a risk for dogs too.

Sleep is also important for learning and retaining information. A study was done by the family dog project and they found sleep did help dogs with memory consolidation. This blog gives us an insight https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/memory-wins-when-dogs-sleep/

There are many reasons why dogs are lacking sleep;

Inadequate or uncomfortable bed area

A plastic dog bed or hard floor is not comfortable for a dog and not conducive to having a good nights sleep or adequate sleep or rest in the day. In the wild dogs dig the earth to make it softer or choose the most comfortable resting spot they can find. Yes dogs do choose the floor as-well particularly if they are hot but some move around quite a bit during the night which you would notice if they were on your bed, which mean some struggle in crates for this reason too. If you have wooden, tiled or laminate flooring a moving bed is unsettling to and a nervous dogs won’t want to lay on it. Dogs are social animals and generally like to rest near us, a completely relaxed dependant dog would happily sleep away, a lot of people frequent the kitchen and tell me their dogs pester the visitors constantly, I look round the kitchen and see there is no where for the dog to just chill and calm down. I often ask people to get me a blanket or towel I lay it down near us and carry on talking to the owner leaving the dog be and the dog looks almost grateful and lies straight down.

Underfloor Heating 

This is another problem for some dogs particularly if you have this throughout the house, dog’s over heat quickly so having a place they can go where it is not heated is important. I get complaints about dogs digging up the garden, if your dog digs a hole and then lies in it, the main reason will be because either they have no comfortable place in the house or because they are digging to get to the cool earth underneath, if you don’t like it provide them an equivalent like a cool bed in the shade.

Multiple options

If you are not allowing your dog on the bed or furniture (yes you can by the way, this does not make them dominant), they need multiple options, each dog is different and have different bed preferences, cave, flat, thick, bean bag, beds with lips for dogs like short nose breeds, that need to lift their head to help them breathe, and some like some dogs like being covered up. Before you say it, no they are not “just a dog” and should not “just be grateful they get anything!” Some people who don’t let their dogs on the furniture have a daily battle with their dogs getting up there,  or worse the dogs become aggressive. Think about it, we often appear or become threatening first, Dave the dog is lying there minding his own business, nice and comfortable on the sofa or bed, having a lovely rest and then we suddenly come in telling them to get off, or sadly drag them off by their collar. Over time they start to defend themselves and no they don’t know they shouldn’t be on the furniture, they can just read in your body language that you are angry and this can be as simple as a look, so they either appease you with slinky body language as they don’t want conflict or they use aggression to defend themselves. I know what I am like when I am disturbed from sleep, ask my poor husband! 

Location, Location, Location

Your dog should have at least one bed where there is no foot traffic, away from where your children play loads and the hustle and bustle of a busy household, never located near a cupboard that is frequently used etc. 

Many locations where dogs sleep, like the kitchen for example have no window blinds/curtains these days, which means dogs get disturbed by all the critters that wake up at night, that we are not even aware off. This can make them more anxious or on high alert and no blinds mean it can make them rise when the sun does. Often people tell me their dog doesn’t use the bed that they bought them at all, this is either because the bed is not the right one for the dog, they might not find it comfortable or are not used to the texture, or it is located where the dog is not comfortable, is there a draught, is it to close to the radiator, is it facing the front window where it’s bombarded with perceived threats e.g. people and/or dogs walking by that make them uncomfortable? If they are crated, again there should be a bed or at least a crate mat like the one here. There should be enough room so that your dog can stand up fully, and lie down with their legs stretched fully without touching the crate walls.

Crates ideally should not be forever. Of course some dogs love them and would choose the crate or den area over everything else, that is absolutely fine just be sure they are getting adequate sleep in there.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Never disturb your dog when resting or sleeping, yes if they are on your lap it’s fine to stroke them, although once they are a sleep try not to. If they have decided to sleep away from you on their bed or on the other end of the couch, leave them alone and ensure children do too! Don’t decide I want to play with them and wake them up. I know they look adorable, but don’t be tempted to give them a stroke, it’s annoying. We touch dogs far more than they would touch each other, if we did it to people as frequently it would be classed as inappropriate and irritating, give them a break.  Most people hate being touched in their sleep, it’s startling and unsettling, why are we shocked when a dog snaps or is grumpy when they are woken constantly, if it doesn’t happen frequently then they are less likely to react this way, but lack of sleep in general can trigger snapping and it’s quite common in fearful/anxious dogs that need help in other areas of their life.

The Bed Chewer

For a dog that chews beds, try multiple old towels or duvets, rather than spending a fortune on beds, under supervision of course, particularly if they swallow what they chew. Reintroduce the bed differently focusing on calm activities, encouraging them to lie down in a relaxed position, and giving them Kongs filled with something they have to lick, as opposed to dropping it, or chews that take them a while. Ensure to reintroduce the bed slowly, managing access to it at first. Be sure it’s not on a slippery surface because ones that move, can attract chewing particularly in puppies, as it becomes a fun toy just like puppy pads. 

Visiting other locations

When visiting restaurants, cafes, friends homes etc always take a comfortable familiar mat too, this helps dogs feel more relaxed having a recognised space to go to, this is especially important if you are going to a house where another dog resides. The floor inside and outside a cafe/restaurant, is hard and freezing on a cold day and on a hot day they must have the option to move into the shade as dogs over heat quickly. Ensure they are not trapped with no escape route in these places and ask people to not touch them, the mat should be there safe place, only letting people stroke your dog, if your dog is indicating they want the attention. As mentioned I personally really like these they are designed for dog crates however they are handy to take with you, they have an anti slip surface and double up as a snuffle mat too, win win. Others use bath mats, both can be rolled up. I have also seen some very thoughtful owners put an item of their clothing down, if they have nothing else.

Collars

A final point to consider is how comfortable is your dog’s collar. If you can, pop it round your neck, arm or leg and lie down on it, is it comfortable does it dig in. Take collars off at night to give them a break, popping it back on in the morning before breakfast, it’s always advisable to take collars off when puppies are in crates anyway, incase they get their tag trapped which can cause choking and particularly when two dogs are left alone together as there has been many cases, where the dog has caught its jaw in the other dog’s collar, there are always risks they can get hung on things.

As you can see there are many things as behaviourists, we have to consider when looking at a dogs behaviour. It’s important to be mindful and try and think from your dog’s point of view.

Who knew that sleeping can be so complicated hey!

Bye for now. 

Dog Behaviour

Is there such a thing as oversocialisation?

As a dog trainer and behaviour advisor that works on a one to one basis with my clients, I spend a lot of time in areas where people regularly socialise their dogs, whether that’s is a local park that consists of a rectangular patch of grass with a park in like Warrender, the woods, busy places like Ruislip Lido or Rickmansworth Aquadrome, country parks like Black Park, Langley Park, Denham Country Park, Large green spaces like Horsenden Hill or just a local walk round the block. One thing that is for sure is there is a huge dog owning community. As a behaviour advisor I know you have to look at every dog as an individual, every dog I come across or work with have completely different back grounds and upbringings which can also vary between dog to dog within the same household. One type of dog that has inspired me to write this blog is the number of Street Dogs I am now seeing as clients, most of the ones I have seen so far have lived on the streets so it’s vital that they can communicate effectively with other dogs, they mostly avoid conflict as much as possible as they need to stay uninjured and healthy to survive. These dogs come over here I find often have excellent body language but do find our dogs difficult to interact with initially, which can make the Street dog appear unsociable.

Dogs socialisation varies hugely, you can take 5 dogs that have all been to the same socialisation classes but all 5 could have a had a different experience; depending on their own emotional state generally and during the class, how the other dogs were, how their guardians handled them in the class, the guardians emotional state at the time, if anything spooked them in the class, stress that they had been through a few days before the class and so much more.

One piece of bad advice that goes around is, that you should let dogs get on with it “they will sort it out themselves”. This is a massive mistake and hugely unfair especially on puppies that are just finding out about the world of dogs and the different kinds of dog breeds there are, if they go down the park and get in trouble by every dog, do you think that they will continue to want to socialise with dogs. Using an older dog as a stooge dog, putting them in a position which makes them have to tell other dogs to back off is unfair too. Older dogs are sometimes in pain, do not have as much energy to play or interact anymore, which means they are far less tolerant understandably and what about the dog that has been attacked previously should they just be left get on with it with a dog that is intimidating them or over aroused and won’t take no for an answer. I am finding there are lots of dogs out there that play inappropriately and some owners, dog walkers and dog sitters do not recognise what is appropriate and what is not.

Now I can hear some people say they are dogs they will work it out, they will soon learn when another dog has had enough and this may have worked for your one particular dog. Unfortunately this is not always the case, I deal with many dogs thats companions have taken exactly that approach, with regards to their interaction with other dogs. You have the ones in the park that are allowed to run up (or can’t be stopped) to any dog whether the dog is on or off lead, these dogs are usually over aroused and often do not read other dogs body language well or are not sure how to interact so end up over the top. Now firstly if this dog has run up to an owner that has a dog that is not comfortable with other dogs not necessarily one that may fight (which generally stems from fear) but I mean the ones that throw them selves on their back and if that fails tries to get away as quickly as possible. This can be pretty traumatic for both dog and owner, leaving them in a state of stress for a few days or more. The dogs that bark and try to instigate play with every dog not leaving them alone, these dogs usually have played like this or have been allowed to play inappropriately with other dogs that play in the same way, allowing them to practice and be proficient in play that is not suitable with most dogs. On top of this we have breeds that are bred that can be over social, crosses that have low frustration tolerance and more.
What’s not fair is these dogs often can be turned on regularly by other dogs and eventually can understandably get very offended when another dog growls, barks or bite to indicate they don’t want to play. I am then often called in to see the inappropriate player type dogs, as they have now started to understandably react back over time; as they are frustrated that the other dog didn’t play, appearing confused why they keep getting into trouble, they can often appear unpredictable and end up fighting during play due to high stress levels.

Now this is no fault of the dog guardians out there, it is likely that no one has told you what is appropriate or inappropriate, our gut instincts usually do but we often ignore this because of pressure other dog guardians put on us, they might say they are ok leave them be etc.. especially if you are a new owner as you will feel other dog owners know more than you. I will let you into a secret shh “just because someone has had dogs for thirty years, does not mean they have been getting it right or that they are an expert in dog body language” the average dog owners do not know the subtle signals dogs give way before they growl bark and bite.

Let’s have a look at Play and what to look out for:

Questionable Play
Best to call your dog to you positively before things go too far. If you are not careful this could lead to fall out.

  •  If one dog is always being picked on and there is more than one other dog involved, this should be stopped.
  • Tugging and dragging the other by the collar, harness or body parts
  • If the chasing is mis-matched and one dog is trying to hide or get away, this type of play needs to be interrupted, always interrupt positively.

Inappropriate Play
Interrupt positively and move away

  •  Biting of the neck or other parts of the body.
  • Barking at the other dog, especially in their faces.
  • Bullying the other dog to play
    Humping, this is done by both sexes, it does not mean sex, it is often a sign of anxiety
  • Air snaps. This is I don’t want to continue
    Standing with his head over the other dogs shoulders.
  • Stalking
  • Body slamming. NO WAY. Not appropriate.
  • Pinning or mouth round neck
  • Dogs forming a gang
  • Unsupervised play

Sometimes it’s difficult to interrupt as both dogs will be concentrating on where the play may lead so try and wait for natural breaks in the play. The moment you get their attention call them over and then move on with your walk.

If another dog has run over to yours and yours clearly does not want to play i.e. looking away, turning away, walking away sniffing as if they are doing something else try and increase the distance between you and the other dogs owner, by moving in the direction you want to go this will help the dog (and the other owner) get a clear message both you and your dog do not want to engage and don’t be afraid to say “please can you get your dog”.

Play bows are also not always a sign to indicate they want to continue playing, sometimes it seems to be used to defuse a situation that might appear to be getting out of hand.

Appropriate Play
This is reciprocated and there is a give and take aspect. The dogs are having fun. Dogs have relaxed body language and may appear a bit “goofy”. Playing chase is a sharing opportunity, where they may take it in turns. Do a consent test if you are not sure: hold the chaser and see if the other dog still wants to engage in play.

We often leave our dogs far to long playing, which means they become hyper aroused and find it difficult to calm down, if anyone knows what an overtired toddler is like it’s exactly the same. Some dogs even though you can see they are exhausted will not let up. These are usually the hyperaroused dogs or the ones with addictive personalities!

The problem is society put high unrealistic expectations on dogs, that they should get on with every dog they meet. This means we put a lot of pressure on dogs to socialise without really understanding what is appropriate and what is not. We don’t get on with everyone, there are people that can frustrate us or anger us and this is what happens with dogs. The first thing everyone does is tries to expose their puppy as much as possible to as many dogs as possible including going to puppy parties, having friends over with dogs, meet ups, dog walkers and more often this is too much. Some dogs just are not interested in playing with other dogs especially strangers, we don’t chat or play with all the strangers we meet, don’t force dogs to be social if they are not interested if however they are showing that they are uncomfortable by growling, barking or biting seek professional help. All interactions should be about choice and going at your puppies or dogs pace without pressurising them.

What I aim for and I explain to the clients I work with are the nice “hi” sniff butts “bye” interactions where the dogs have a short relaxed interaction like we do, when we politely say “hello” to our neighbours when we pass them by or where we exchange small pleasantries and move on. Standing in the middle of park chatting to other owners, or dog walkers that stand stationary whilst the dogs rough house for long time, is what I avoid, this often causes over arousal if you stand back and look at the group of dogs at least one of them often actually want to move on with their walk not stand stationary, after all there is so much more to explore. Standing in a group is unfair on the dogs that don’t want to be played with or have had enough. This kind of stress can send the dogs back home in a adrenaline filled hyper-aroused state, which means they sometimes find it difficult to relax. Sniffing and interacting with the environment is far more important for dogs for their emotional well being and tires them.

The owners that are naturals have it right you know the ones they just walk their dogs without thinking about it, they will say a brief “Hi” whilst continuing to walk their dog, their dogs often have great body language and interact with other dogs briefly but politely and may have a short brief play, which is much more like the interaction of how dogs are that live on the street and why there often is not as much conflict.

Let’s all aim for short polite relaxed interactions!