Dutch takes offense quickly when used as a bowling pin.
Do either of these dogs sound like yours?
In the last article I mentioned one way to determine suitability for group play by the use of color descriptors, Green, Yellow and Red. I started with the easy going play dogs; the ones labeled Green. Green dogs thrive in all sorts of playgroups.
Yellow Dog Play
Now let’s look at a couple of Yellow dogs to determine if and what type of playgroup might be best for them.
Kilo like to play rough, slamming his body into the other dog, shoulder pushing and sometimes jumping on top of the other dog. He is a good natured dog and means well. When paired with...
(The definition of “snark” is a quick intentional movement to warn another dog to back off. It can include a lifted lip or quick growl or bark, and sometimes a snap with teeth showing. A dog with good social skills at the receiving end of a snark will quickly stop and respect the other dog’s boundaries. A dog at the giving end has no intent to harm, just to make a point.)
However, when Kilo is paired with Dutch, the play can go either direction. Both dogs like the run and slam style of playing. Like some human siblings at serious play, this type of dog play can get too intense if one dog breaks the rules, offends or hurts the other. Hackles go up, vocalizing becomes louder, more intense and higher pitched, and body contact more focused. A fight can ensue if the owners or playgroup attendants aren’t proactive in interrupting the dogs before this point.
Behavior Is Influenced by Emotional State
It is not unusual for dogs to become fearful or angry when play becomes too rough or borders on dangerous. Play behavior depends on mutuality; each dog has to feel safe and equal in status. If play becomes too rough, a dog with good social skills will signal the other to tone it down or stop. If both dogs respect the signals, the play intensity diminishes. The dogs take a break and often resume play but at a lower level of arousal. If one or both dogs don’t give or receive the signals soon enough, frustration, fear or anger can become the emergent emotions. None of which are beneficial to good play times.
Dog brains are neurologically primed to be responsive to social cues that signal danger. Once a dog feels threatened, its brain and body will move into a fight or flight negative emotional state. In some dogs, the Green dogs, it’s a slow rise to anger or fear. In others, nervous system arousal can be quick to flare.
Set Up SafePlay Conditions
Yellow dogs, such as Kilo and Dutch, can be safe in playgroups that meet certain criteria. If started as puppies in age appropriate playgroups, with good training and common sense pairing with the right dogs, the chance of dangerous emotional overload lessens. Playgroup attendants must have enough vigilance and control to periodically interrupt playing dogs, if the dogs themselves can’t do it. The goal is to control the play activity as well as the dogs.
Next, I’ll look at some dog behaviors that might suggest other activities more suitable than playgroups.