Dog’s Eye View: How do I know when?
I was having a conversation with one of my clients a while back, and this subject came up. Her two dogs were playing, and the younger one was being a bit pushy. Her older dog was being quite patient and sending signals to the young one to take it down a bit. My client wasn’t sure if she should end the play session or let them work it out. And then the fight started.
We all have this thing called “gut instinct.” It’s that feeling when you see someone in a parking lot at night, and your “gut” tells you to get in your car.
Over time we can become complacent. Our green light takes over, and we do not anticipate danger or events that could cause us harm. That’s the beauty of living in a peaceful society.
But we really shouldn’t learn to ignore that special instinct. Or feel the guilt when “we should have seen that coming.” When we are supervising dogs, it’s important to stay connected and in control.
For those of us who live with multiple dogs, we need to learn to listen to the dog play and watch for physical signs that the dogs are becoming overly aroused. The playful growls and yips begin to rise in pitch. The mouth play begins to show more teeth and become more frantic. The bodies become more ridged, and tails are held higher and wag faster.
You have two choices: Let them work it out or take control and call a time out for 20 to 30 seconds. I vote for the second choice.
Here’s the deal, if you run screaming into the middle of it matching the intensity of the dog play, guess what? You’ve just escalated the energy level. If you step up to the play and clap your hands or say a quick sharp “hey,” they will stop briefly.
Then take the time to have the dogs settle down for 20 seconds or until you hear them sigh or shake off. Now you have the choice to either let them resume the play session at a lower energy level or separate them for a while.
If you start this routine early in the canine relationship, you are helping them to learn impulse control. If the kids in the house are wresting and becoming abusive, you call a halt to it immediately. There is no reason we can’t parent our dog family in the same way.
Now you know when to trust that gut instinct.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 30 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants as well as certified nose work instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training in Northwest Colorado.
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