I am preparing a seminar about dog behaviour and body language for April that I am presenting in Pretoria and one of the topics being discussed is proper introductions when dogs meet to play. To understand that you would also need a little back ground of dog behaviour but by no means is this info letter complete for more information you can contact Manuela@huskyrescue.co.za to attend the full seminar on dog behaviour.
I promised on our facebook page that I will give you all a sneak preview of it so I decided to write this news letter on how to introduce dogs to each other for a play date so this is one of my longest info letters ever. I hope that you are able to take the time to read through it.
First some general theory about dog behaviour.
Behaviour serves a purpose to a dog whether it is growling or biting which he learns serves a purpose and will repeat if it works for the dog. With each response to the dogs environment there is consequences good or bad.
Some dogs have a high bite threshold meaning it takes a lot of stressors to make them bite. Some have low thresholds which means it doesn’t take much to convince them to bite. This does not mean that the dog with the high bite threshold is the best dog for kids and that the low threshold dog is not it depends on what the stressors is as for each dog it will be different, but it is more likely that the high threshold dog would be less likely to bite in most situations. Then you also get bite inhibition which means how hard the dog bites. Some dogs are very good at controlling their bite in play and this is mostly learned as a puppy, just one of the reasons not to take a puppy from his mother before he is 8 weeks old.
There are also many other factors to observe of dog behaviour and body language from their eyes to their tails. Behaviour of dogs including their body language gives us an indication as well as the other dog what is likely to happen. For instance a dog that is usually good with other dogs will go into a play bow to initiate play or sit and give paw possibly as a sign of non-confrontation to start interactions with another dog.
Dogs often repeat the play bow along with other behaviours while at play, but some dogs have not learned to be dogs in the sense that they do not know these natural behaviours and with such dogs, dog fights during play is more likely to occur. Introductions usually is best if one of the dogs being introduced is a high thresh hold dog.
A dog that is well socialised and non threatening to other dogs will not only make use of behaviours like a play bow but will also let the other dog chase her. A good indication of play is if the dogs take turns in chasing each other. If one dog is chased and backed into a corner all the time well then it really is not healthy play. Play should be a safe way for dogs to be able to learn to problem solve without fighting. I have 5 dogs and select which dogs can play with what dogs when they come to play. Although all my dogs are well socialised some do better in some situations and with certain dogs and it is important to know with which dogs your dog will get along with. Dogs remember fights and it changes how they interact so we need to protect them by parring them up with the right dogs. Growling can be part of play too. Growls can be used to threaten or to invite play and getting excited. Growling should be watched with special attention because it can indicate aggression. A soft, low-pitched growl often indicates that the dog is inclined to bite next as his warning for that was growling; the dog may feel threatened and may be provoked to attack. This growl should not be ignored as it is a warning sign to the human or dog he is growling at. Growling should not be reprimanded but rather be redirected to a positive wanted behaviour as this is your only vocal warning sign before a dog bites. An intense growl, without showing any teeth, may often indicate a playful attitude. Always consider the context of a growl.
Things to remember when your dog is playing with other dogs...
Usually neutral ground is best especially if the dogs have never met and taking all the above mentioned into consideration. If this is not possible and you are meeting at one of the dogs homes only do this if you know the dog is not prone to Possessive Aggression
Possessive aggression occurs when a dog has a valued resource such as a bed, toy, or food, and she doesn't want to share. It is also described as resource guarding or territorial aggression.
Possessive aggression can be directed toward humans as well as other dogs.
Dogs do not defend members of their social group as many write-ups about dogs say it is something that wolfs does and dogs cannot be compared to wolves, just like humans cannot be compared to chimpanzee as some would think.
It is never fair to other dogs to try to socialise a dog that is prone to biting or lunging to bite other dogs with that specific dog. Future behaviour is predicted by past behaviour so if you have such a dog he is very likely to repeat the same behaviour to other dogs in the future unless proper training has been done which would include things like setting fixed boundaries and the dog should earn things like being let into the house and should not be able to do things like demand attention from his owners but should only receive it when he is in a relaxed state.
Puppies should always be watched just as you would not let a 10 month old baby sit and play with 7 year old kids running around and kicking the ball well it's the same way with puppies. They should be protected and should have a safe place like a crate to have down time in. Dogs can get stressed and even get diarrhea from too much play especially puppies. It is not to say if your dog gets along well with 5 other dogs that when you bring all of them home that they will still get along. Even just one dog extra could cause your dog to get into fights.
Dogs fight either to cause injury or death or to defend themselves. If a dog wants to kill another dog or seriously injure he will and trying to stop such a fight is usually very different from two dogs that just had a little misunderstanding and caused a few puncture wounds. Although these mild puncture wounds can later on turn into full-blown dog fights if not attended too by training or separating the dogs. When dogs do fight and you have managed to stop the fight safely without using your hands the dog who was triggered to start with the behaviour should be removed immediately and kept seperated for a couple of seconds from any reinforcing environment. Do not give any of the two dogs attention positive or negative if not severely injured as you can reinforce the behaviour what we would call accidental reinforcement. Only attend to them after the dog has been let out of his confined area. After wards dogs do not feel guilt but behave according to how we feel so do ot let your emotions cloud the situation.
The old saying of letting dogs sort things out for them selves is not true we need to be present and really be there while dogs play and not just for the first couple of minutes but every time the dogs meet for a play date. Dogs recodnize each other by pheromones which is excreted through urine, paws and poop.
Watch both dogs body language. If a dog looks pretty stiff and his tail, body, head and eyes are all inline leaning forward towards the other dog directly he is inclined to bite next. A scared dog is very likely to bite too if not making use of the flight response. Horses usually make use of the flight response which makes it difficult for us as we have now domesticated them and their flight behaviour is what makes us fall easier off of them. They could however go into fight instead of flight if backed into a corner.
When the two dogs meet leave both leads on the dogs. Do not let them meet on a small property or in narrow alleyways or by doors and gates. Never hold the lead as they can feel the tension in the lead, which could cause two dogs that would not normally fight - fight. The lead however gives you something to grab onto if they do get into a fight. Do not let playing between dogs escalate to far which would be that the one dog is constantly being chased and trying to hide or pushed to the ground this is not disciplining as some would think or dominance which only means survival of the fittest and has got nothing to do with dog behaviour as it is only a label used for certain behaviourbut means something different to everyone, so we would rather just say that chasing another dog like prey is an unwanted behaviour that we need to redirect to a wanted behaviour as this unwanted behaviour could easily result in injury or death. Last but not least if growling and biting seems to get to intense where the dogs bite and the other one seems distressed or the dog biting holds and does not ease up on his grip break it up and distract them by doing something else that is more calming like going for a walk.
Keep play dates at first short and end the play date while everyone is still happy and playing and not when they are already over tired.
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