Roughhousing is part of the fun of being a dog. Playing is a way for dogs to explore their world and to socialize with other animals and people. It is completely normal, safe, and healthy in most cases, but it can become dangerous if it goes too far. Dogs may play-bite, lunge, swipe, and even bark at you or other dogs during play, but it will normally be done in a gentle, friendly manner. However, playful activities can take a turn for the worse if the dog begins to bite or play in a way that harms people or other animals. Here are some tips about how to prevent rough play.
Discourage rough behavior
Sometimes people can influence dogs to behave in a rough manner, especially if they themselves are using their hands, arms, or legs while playing with the dog. It is recommended that you behave in a gentle manner with your dog and use toys to play with them instead of your body. Some of this behavior is learned from other dogs that play roughly in general or from dogs that are larger than your dog. If you notice that this behavior may be influenced by another person or dog, then cease the activity between the two parties.
To prevent a puppy from growing up to be a rough-playing or aggressive dog, you should never play “tug-of-war” or other dominance type games with them — unless you are prepared to win every time. Also, always make it clear that you own all of the toys, and you decide when and which ones your puppy can play with, only keeping one or two toys out at a time. If a dog has too many toys, it may begin to hoard them in a safe place in order to feel more powerful.
Let the dog cool off
Playing can often make dogs feel slightly stressed, especially after a rough encounter. One of the best things to do is let the dog cool off with a brief time out of at least five to ten minutes. A firm command to sit or lie down in their bed will cause them to relieve some of the tension and regroup.
Spay or neuter your dog
For dogs, playing is primarily about exerting dominance over another dog, toy, or person. Spaying or neutering your dog can help reduce some of these impulses, make them more docile, and easier to manage. This may be something to consider if your dog has a history of showing a lot of aggression toward people or animals.
Stop incidents before they start
It can be difficult at times to distinguish play from a violent encounter, but one of the best ways to stop it is break them up before they start. Dogs will usually seem to be a in a jovial mood during play and they may lean forward, growl, or even a bark a little bit. Know your own dog’s body language so you can spot signs of aggression before it escalates. The situation can spiral out of control if the dogs start to expose their teeth, use a low pitched growl, or yelp when they are bitten. Pay close attention if a small and a large dog are playing together because the smaller dog could potentially get hurt even if they are playing.
Playing is a healthy part of socialization for dogs and it is definitely something to be encouraged. On the other hand, rough play can be dangerous for you and your dog because it can lead to bites or other injuries to yourself or another pet. If the situation is getting too intense, then it is best to remove the dog for a time-out session. Please consult with your veterinarian if there seems to be a more serious behavioral problem, or if your dog’s behavior changes abruptly.