Bourne animal behaviour expert, Karen Wild, explains how to make sure your dog is playing safely
‘He’s only playing!’ The words every dog owner dreads as their dog is bounced all over by an uninvited, off-lead visiting dog that doesn’t seem to understand the concept of subtlety, says Karen Wild, an animal behaviour expert.
The quick advice here is - don’t be the owner who allows their dog to bowl all over the park, bounding up to other dogs that are on lead. Other dogs do not appreciate the ‘Tarzans’ of the dog world, swinging in and disrupting their nice sniffy walk. How do we know this? Because if they were up for a game, their owners would have asked you first. Their dog would also be off-lead. And no, just because it’s the park doesn’t mean every dog you see is automatically there to play.
Not every dog wants to interact with other dogs, so just because yours does, it can appear rather obnoxious to others (humans and dogs alike) if you allow them to be the one that is overly sociable without consent. So again - don’t be ‘that’ owner.
What about other games you can play? Simply tossing a ball over and over until your dog falls down, exhausted, might sound like the best idea for a quiet life but can create a serious obsession for your dog. It can also create injury issues as the dog repeatedly lands on the same joints over and over in a frenzied attempt to catch.
As we know, nothing is good when it’s excessively repetitive. This can be particularly problematic with some working breeds such as Border Collies, who then constantly obsess about the game and cannot break off from it.
How about play fighting, where you encourage your dog to mouth on your hands or clothes. Even if they are gentle, you are teaching your dog that mouthing people is a great game. You might be fine with it, but it may not be the same for anyone else, especially anyone frail or small. It’s not a thing to boast about, ‘He doesn’t hurt me!’
You have taught a dog to play with people using their grabbing and mouthing behaviours, which could be easily misinterpreted as biting. Easily done and forever a problem, so the quick answer is, don’t teach it. Using their mouth on people is a habit we do not want any dog to learn.
This doesn’t mean you can’t play with your dog - far from it! Reverse the above. Ask your dog to bring things back to you, little and often. Vary the game by hiding things for them to fetch rather than asking them to run back and forth. If they need that much running exercise, teach them a send away.