Achieving Balance and Harmony

DOG TRAINING

Good and Bad Play Behavior

I am a Cesar fan and have a question regarding dogs at “play”. My first obvious thought is that, if your dogs have energy to play, they’ve not had enough exercise…right?  In any event, what types of play do you allow in your pack?

I have a very playful two-year-old, high-energy Doberman named Klohee.  She gets along well with other dogs: play bows, lays down to bait them to play, etc., but is quite obnoxious at times about playing, i.e. does not know when to stop.  Even after her exercise, she always has enough energy to play with other dogs.  Listed below are some of my observations of her play.  Can you tell me which behaviors should be allowed and to what extent I should “break it up” as her pack leader?  How can I tell if the play is reciprocal or if she’s just being pushy?

    Observations:

  • Play bows
  • Lays down to reassure that she means no harm
  • She loves to run and play chase with other dogs (Her favorite thing)
  • Occasionally barks if they don’t bite the bait to play (Is she demanding?)
  • Bites on the back of neck (Intensity varies on other dog)
  • Nips at legs
  • Plays the bite-each-other’s mouth game?
  • Licks other dogs face
  • She gives the other dogs her toys/chewies sometimes (A bribe perhaps?)

Thanks in advance!  I could really use your advice on this one.  I know the basics on dog body language but am not sure about the whole play thing.  It looks like they both enjoy it, but, to the human eye, they play kind of rough!

Bryan Bone


Dear Bryan,

The following are my reactions to your observations of Klohee, who sounds like a very playful Doberman indeed!

  • Play bows. That's great!
  • Lies down to reassure she means no harm. - Perfect!
  • Run, chase, play with other dogs. That’s what dogs do!
  • Barks if they don’t take the bait to play. - There’s nothing wrong with that.
  • Bites back of the neck. - If they’re part of her pack, it’s fine, but I would discourage this behavior if they’re not dogs she recognizes as regular friends and family.  
  • Nips at legs. - This is more irritating to a dog than a bite to the neck. Dogs do this when the other dog is not paying attention.  If the dog she is nipping is not a dog you trust, do not allow the nipping on the leg.  This could lead to a conflict or fight.
  • Plays the “bite-each-other's mouth” game.- This is normal play behavior.
  • Licks other dogs’ faces. - This is an acceptable play activity with other pack members - unless it becomes obsessive. There are three levels of intensity: mild, medium and high.  I do not allow activities to reach a high intensity unless I create the game. For example, if I’m playing ball with them, I let them go to the highest level of energy. However, if they do it among themselves, I only allow them to reach a mild or medium intensity.  The same behavior at a different level of energy can create a fight, simply because it was a high level energy moment.
  • Gives other dogs her toys/chewies. - This indicates that,in a pack of dogs, she would be in the middle.  She’d be the one who would keep the dogs in back and the dogs in front as a unit.

You mentioned that your dog has enough energy to play after she does exercise or goes for a walk. Absolutely! Utilizing extra energy in play is a great way for dogs to celebrate the day. All the dogs at the Dog Psychology Center play after exercise. They just don’t play for a long period of time. After feeding times and when the temperature cools at around 5 pm, everybody here is frisky and playful, but playtime only lasts about fifteen minutes. After that, they are tired!

Based on the information you have shared, Klohee is a high-energy, submissive dog.  The goal is to make her calm-submissive.  You’ve got one half of the battle accomplished already!  Walking her with a backpack is a great way to drain energy and move toward accomplishing that second half!

Stay calm and assertive,

Cesar Millan


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