What is Your Pup’s Play Style?
Allowing your dog playtime with other dogs is a great way to let her use up her oodles of doggie energy in a productive way.
Play is important for dogs—not only does it help them use up the boundless energy many young dogs seem to have, it also stimulates their brains and teaches them proper doggie social behaviors.
You can offer your dog a chance to play by joining a doggie daycare or by setting up doggie play dates with friends who also have dogs.
Doggie daycare can be a great way to allow your dog to play while you’re at work, says Tami Land, owner of Dogtopia in North Raleigh. It allows owners to relax when they get home. When a pup comes to Dogtopic, rather than sitting in her crate all day, she’ll enjoy regular potty breaks, social time with other dogs and a chance to use her doggie energy in a productive, healthy way.
If you choose instead to plan play dates yourself, be sure to educate yourself on basic doggie body language; then, says Land, it’s essential to survive play so that you can keep playtime fun for everyone involved.
Land says at Dogtopia there are many things they consider when choosing which pups will play well together, things you should also look for when choosing a playmate for your pup. You want to find dogs either with similar play styles or with play styles that are complementary.
Here are some things Land considers when assigning dogs to play groups:
- What size dogs does your dog like to play with? Bigger dogs? Smaller dogs? Dogs her own size? One of the large dogs at Dogtopia is nervous around dogs her own size, so Land puts her in with smaller dogs where she’ll be much more comfortable.
- How “politely” does your dog greet other dogs? If your dog runs at other dogs full force, it’s important that you prevent this behavior until after you’ve allowed them to do a “polite” greeting (that is, letting each dog sniff “behind” the other).
- How long does your dog play before she’s tired? Matching dogs that play for similar periods of time, alternating with breaks, helps keep play balanced and fun.
In addition to these considerations, it’s important supervise play and watch out for good and bad play behaviors.
Good Dog Play Behaviors
Good play will include many natural breaks, including stopping to grab a drink, sniff at something, catch a breath, toss out a play bow or even just glance away from each other.
Both dogs should have nice loose bodies, with “helicopter” tails (tails that wag loosely side to side—a stiff tail wag, by contrast, may mean the dog is uncomfortable or unsure).
Your dog may like to wrestle, or she might prefer chase games—both are fine, but watch for your dog and her playmate to take turns. During wrestling, they should both take a turn at the bottom; during chase or tag, both should take turns being “it.”
Bad Dog Play Behaviors
A dog may need a break from play (or need playtime to end for the day) if they are seen “stalking” another dog, if the hair on their back is standing on end, if their body is tight and their ears are pulled back, if they snap at another dog, or if you begin to feel the energy in the room rise (such as when dogs run in circles over and over).
Many people think growling is bad, says Land, but some dogs are just more vocal players than others, which is why it’s important to know your dog and to always (always) supervise play.
Ultimately, though, if you’re ever uncomfortable with how your dog or your dog’s playmate is playing, it’s better to be safe than sorry—make them take a short break to catch their breath so they can get their brains back into the game.