Managing Your Puppy’s Play with Other Puppies

We have had our very first puppy for about a month now and I am starting to let him play with neighbor puppies and other dogs.  Sometimes it looks like they are really trying to hurt each other.  How do I know they are just playing or if something bad is happening?

Socialization is a very important part of your puppy’s life experience.  Your puppy’s play with other dogs and puppies allows him to reinforce and establish his communication skills, canine interaction, and physical well being. 

The one thing that you have to understand is that your puppy lives in a “canine world” of absolutes and clear social roles.  There is the leader and there are the followers.  There are things you can do and things you can’t do.  Everything is absolute and unambiguous.  These are the types of games that puppies play in order to build experience and understand their social experience.

Puppies play games such as:
  •  “Follow the Leader” where the leader is chased by the rest of the puppies (the pack).  Eventually the leader stops and a new leader takes over.  That puppy now takes off with a flash while the rest of the group chases him. 
  • Many times two puppies will play “Tag, You’re It!” where one chases the other until the follower jumps on the leader and sometimes gives a little nip.  The act of “tagging” exchanges roles where the leader becomes the follower and the follower becomes the leader.
  • “King of the Hill” is another game that puppies play where one puppy gets to the top of something (like a chair) and defends it by posturing, nipping, and barking.  The other puppies might challenge by getting close, but they will always back off.  Eventually the puppy on top will jump off and a new puppy will become the leader or “king”.

Even though these are all activities that demonstrate dominance or submission, they are still only games.  Just like we used to play games like Cowboys and Indians, we understood that they were just games.  Our puppies also understand that these are just games.  After about thirty or forty minutes, they will all be drinking out of the same water bowl and then fall asleep, exhausted, by each other.   

So we should encourage and let our puppies play these games.  With this said, there are a few precautions that we should take to make sure that everything stays safe:
  • Have puppies of the same size play with each other.  When a big puppy rushes up to a small puppy, it might scare and intimidate the smaller.  This could create a fearful little dog that might later become dog aggressive.
  • We suggest playing outside in an enclosed, grassy area.  This allows them the most freedom to run and not “get into trouble”.
  • If one puppy is becoming fearful (tail between legs), remove him from the main play area.  Let him watch from a safe distance and allow him to decide if and when he might want to join the group.
  • Watch the puppies very closely.  If any puppy is constantly jumping on another and the other is whining, growling, or nipping with no release, the play has escalated too far.  It is now time to separate the two for five minutes.  If they are calm after that, resume play.
  • Always have water available.  This allows for proper hydration and provides for a “quick break” in the games.

We all want to be good “doggie parents” and to allow our puppies to become well socialized.  Allowing our puppies to play together is a large part of the equation.  Unfortunately the line between exuberant, healthy play and aggressive bullying is quite fine.  If you are ever unsure about a situation, remove your puppy and let things start again.  If you have any questions, please contact us at The Best Dog Trainers in South Florida.


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