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Positive Dog Parenting

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Appropriate Play


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Preventing Canine Aggressive Play


Aggressive play means a human and dog playing together while allowing the dog to growl, snap, and play bite during the mock battle. This type of play can be very confusing to dogs because of the mixed messages that it conveys - the owner is saying that it is okay to display aggressive behavior when they are acting out their mock battle but never at any other time. Therefore, aggressive play in dogs with aggressive tendencies tends to make the problem worse and should be discontinued. However, for dogs that do not show any aggression by nature and merely like to play by wrestling, this type of play can be participated in as long as it is played by the rules.

Aggressive play in dogs with aggressive tendencies tends to make the problem worse and should be discontinued.

Normal Canine Behavior

It is normal for puppies to tumble and roll when they play just like little boys on the grass. It is also normal for puppies to bite each other during playtime. This biting, with sharp little puppy teeth, helps the puppies learn how to inhibit their bites. It they bite too hard, the other puppy squeals and may even refuse to play for awhile. Play is one of the strongest motivators for puppies. It is a natural source of fun and fellowship as well as a way to learn social skills.

Horse Play or Foul Play?

1) The dog must not start or stop play sessions as a reminder to the dog that the human is higher in status and the rule-maker. Beginning and ending the game is also a form of control. Pushy dogs should never be allowed to think they control a human's actions.

2) The dog must "sit" to earn the play session. This "deference posture" helps to reinforce the innate social structure of the dog as subordinate. Just this simple step helps to teach the dog to look to his or her people for cues about what is acceptable behavior. 

3) At least once during the play session, the person should stop and instruct the dog to
"sit."  In other words, the person should be able to control the game at all times.

4) During the play sessions, if the dog's teeth apply any more than gentle pressure on skin or clothes, the game stops. You may decide the rule is NO canine teeth touches human skin or clothing. It is recommend to teach the dog a soft or inhibited mouthing prior to teaching the dog NEVER to mouth or touch teeth on humans without permission.

5) Families with children should not allow aggressive play under any circumstances. Play time must be supervised. Do not allow children to accidentally hurt a dog during play as this can lead to aggression.

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