Preventing Reactivity in Dogs: 3 Keys to Good Dog Play!
There is more information about socializing and raising dogs then ever before and yet there are still a lot of reactive dogs who have grown up in homes with informed people doing a really good job of giving them a good social experience. Sure there are some dog owners that didn’t know that they needed to let their dogs play with lots of other dogs and puppies during their formative months of development but many folks who have done a good job of socializing their dogs are finding they are growing up and becoming reactive as they mature into adult dogs. Most of the private training we do at Canine University is for reactive dog problems. Many of these dogs have some social experience, many are even fine off leash with other dogs but all of them have one thing in common. When they are on leash in a public place and see dogs they react. The type of socialization they received is not always the whole problem, but it plays a large factor for many.
Sometimes it’s because the social development was too limited, sometimes it was too stressful and still other times it just wasn’t varied enough. There are 3 keys to help you determine whether the type of play time you are providing your dog with is good for him or not.
The first key of good socialization is QUALITY of the experience. Keep in mind that though puppies need to meet and play with at least 100 other dogs and puppies before they are 6-8 mths old to be socially normal, what they do with those 100 dogs is important. The key is that the experience has to be a good one. It would be better to meet 25-30 dogs and have great, upbeat, fun experiences then to meet 100 while cowering under your legs.
Quality Play Check List
- Give and take should be even, the dogs take turns being on the top and bottom.
- Lots of play bowing, rear end in the air, tail wagging is good!
- Mouthing and wrestling with breaks
- Wrestling broken up with chasing and side by side interaction
- Chasing broken up with being chased
- No mouthing of collars (take them off if necessary)
- No excessive barking (give time outs and keep play short)
- No pinning or growling, interrupt and redirect
- If the play is intense it should be broken up and redirected, even if that means leashing both dogs and going for a walk to calm them down.
- Good play should have a lot of give and take by both dogs, not one dog lying on the bottom hoping the other will go away.
- If one dog is hiding, he should not be continually harassed. If this is the case the owner of the harassing dog needs to distract his dog away onto something else. If yours is the hider, pick him up and go for a walk and come back in a bit to let him know you are there to help him.
- Keep it short. Good play happens in minutes at a time not hours at a time. A play session should be 20 minutes at a time tops!
The next key is VARIETY. I know that meeting and playing with 100 other dogs and puppies seems like a lot, but keep in mind that the more varied experience your dog gets the more likely she will be to know how to handle any encounter.
Though quality is of utmost importance the diversity of the group of dogs your dog meets and the number of dogs has to be at least 25 dogs of at least 10 different breeds. We are not talking low numbers here….2 or 3 dogs that belong to relatives or friends is NOT enough no matter how great they play together.
The FREQUENCY of play with other dogs is the last key. A young puppy should meet and play with other pups and dogs at least 3-4 times a week until he is 9mths old. After that 2-3 times a week is fine. That means getting your pup out to puppy kindergarten class, going on hikes, meeting up with other dogs owners and friends, going to the beach, the lake, a play group or a well run dog daycare. The more regularly your dog can go and socialize the better prepared he will be for life.
A lot to think about if you are trying to raise a puppy with a balanced outlook on life. It can be difficult to make sure that your puppy is getting the experience he needs to grow up healthy. A well run dog daycare can help fill in that experience and cut down on the amount of juggling and traveling you need to do to give your dog this experience. Ideally the play should be in small supervised groups with a person present to redirect and manage the dogs so that everyone has a good time. At Canine University’s dog daycare we try to handpick who each dog plays with and make sure that the dogs that are playing together actually have something to offer one another. Our promise to their owners is that we will enhance their dog’s experience and give them the play skills they need to negotiate dogs in the real world. Make sure the daycare you choose can provide that insurance as well!
A last thought ….Before you allow your pup to play one on one with a friend’s dog ask yourself what that dog has to offer your puppy. If you can’t think of any good qualities in that dog’s play that you’d like to see your dog adopt, pick another playmate or keep interactions short broken up with a hike or a side by side on leash walk. The more good social interactions your puppy has in his bank account the more likely he will be to bounce back from a bad experience without it being a problem.
It’s going to be a rainy week. If you’re desperate to get a few things done around the house and are looking for a safe and happy place for your pooch to come and play… come play with us!!