Rough Dog Play

The following is about a young, large breed dog who was playing very roughly, and turning aggressive, with another dog in the household. This is how we fixed it. As an update, the two are playing great together and the larger, younger dog won’t even be outside without a toy in his mouth now. At 9 weeks old, Ricky, a Shiloh Shepherd, came to live with two older German Shepherds. The oldest being a 12 year old male, the other a 6 year old female, both altered. When Ricky arrived, Fred, the male was very clear that there would be no playing between them. However, the female, Lucy, was not so clear. She was so happy to have a puppy to play with that she let Ricky wrestle & grab her all he wanted. The owner didn’t see the wrestling as a problem and continued allowing the playing/wrestling because the breeder said that is what they do, all her dogs do it. Forward 9 months…Ricky is now larger than both of his housemates. He still shows Fred quite a bit of respect, but his relationship with Lucy has changed. curious incident play

He loves to play, and he plays rough. So rough in fact, that she is becoming afraid of him. Unfortunately, Lucy tires more quickly than does Ricky. And when she’d stop playing, his frustration would build to the point where he was attacking her. At first the client was able to break it up with a verbal correction, but he began to ignore that after a few weeks. Of course in trying to help the client and her dogs I asked that she prevent them from playing. I didn’t want him to practice the behavior, especially since he was now ignoring the owner and going after Lucy pretty hard. Lucy was becoming very nervous in the house now as well as outside where the attacks would happen. Her entire demeanor was changing. To my dismay, although the owner was very compliant in every other way, she did not make it a habit to keep them apart. Her reason being, that they really enjoyed playing together, and he only attacked Lucy about 50% of the time. The problem was, she couldn’t tell when he was going to attack her, or even when the playing was getting too rough and she should stop it before it got to “that point”.

Because Ricky would never display the behavior during our appointments I asked if she could video a play session. Not only was it useful to see with my own eyes what was going on, but by being able to pause the tape & show the client the body language the dogs were showing, the client was more able to control & stop situations before they escalated. After that, she said the tape really helped her to see what is going on, that it isn’t all one big blur any more. From the tape it was obvious that Lucy was showing stress signals at the very beginning of play. She wanted to interact with Ricky, but was apprehensive. What we needed to do was help Lucy feel that it wasn’t just her defending herself against Ricky. At the same time, Ricky needed to understand that if he picked a fight with Lucy, he was taking on a person as well. Also, we needed to give them a way to interact together that didn’t include him putting his mouth around her neck and yanking her to the ground. With this in mind, we taught Lucy the cue “close”, which means “come stand by me”. Separately we taught Ricky “go away”, which is self explanatory. We also taught him that the word “toy” means to pick up a toy.