Volatility is a measure of how quickly a dog might become excited and to what level. As any parent of young children knows, play can easily escalate into a fight. In some adults (witness soccer matches), children and animals, play easily turns to aggression by tapping into worry or fear of losing control, an incompatible partner relationship, or through displacement. An example of displacement aggression is
Some dogs can endlessly play showing good self regulating and appeasement skills They read and respond well to intent communicated. Watch these dogs take frequent breaks, perhaps to lie down or sniff the ground, and easily switch roles of chaser and chasee. Unfortunately others will play but quickly stop being in the Green behavior zone and slide to Yellow or Red when the play becomes too rough.
In dog play groups we need to be observant that this excitement doesn’t turn to conflict and aggression. Note who has good skills and pair with suitable partners to keep dogs in Green and Yellow zones. Be aware of vocal tones and role playing. Slowing down play with physical obstacles or frequent breaks might help, as will human intervention when needed. Discourage rough housing, or constantly picking on one dog to chase. Dogs quick to arouse like Ashley need to be paired with a more compatible dog, perhaps a super stable older male, or not allowed in group play at all.
Fearful dogs, like Princess, are also challenges for group play. Princess’s fear morphed to aggression instead of retreat so we had a harder time finding compatible playmates. In fact we never did. However, she was able to hang out with a group of bigger, very respectful older dogs, who kept their distance. No one played but they spent compatible social time together.
No dog should be forced to be in a group where they feel unsafe. Behavior such as hiding, running away, constant submissive peeing or rolling over, snapping, growling and yelping might be interpreted as marginal Yellow Behavior if it lasts a few minutes until the group stabilizes, but it should not continue. Red Behavior zone can be fear based as well, pushing the dog into a stress state.
Back to Haven and Zulu. Can they play together? Yes and no. Zulu has no interest in playing. She is the queen bee and as long as others respect her space she is totally safe around dogs. Like Haven they have to learn not to bumble into her space to be allowed into her group. I consider her behavior in the Yellow zone with possibility of being in Red if not managed well. The dogs and puppies have to be big enough or old enough and have shown me that they have some social skills before I let them around her. If Haven had continued to harass her, Haven would have been removed from the group. Bullying another dog is either Yellow or Red behavior depending on the intensity and willingness to eventually defer. Haven was a quick learner.
On the other hand Haven showed me elsewhere occasional glimpses of easy volatility in play to the point of becoming aggressive. It only happened momentarily when she was first introduced to her first group and stopped when I intervened, but I am now careful when putting her in situations where I think this could morph into aggressive Red behavior.
Now that we’ve looked at the happy Green, cautionary Yellow and no-go Red behavior zones, we’ll figure out in the next column how to introduce dogs to maximize the probability of staying Green.