When I see clients playing rough with their dogs and puppies, I ask them to stop and I explain why it is risky. I am often given responses like “It’s fun,” or “Why is it wrong?” or “What is inappropriate play?”
Sometimes common sense isn’t so common. Maybe it’s lack of foresight. Playing “rough” with your dog may be safe and fun for you and your dog, however, it may encourage totally inappropriate interactions with other people, dogs, and other species of animals.
Our dogs learn everything about the world by what we teach them. Dogs learn to live by our rules through experiences and associated rewards and consequences. The simpler we keep our rules, the easier it is for our canine companions to understand. While most dog owners embrace the responsibility of training their dogs to be good ambassadors, there are some people that just don’t get the consequences of teaching their dogs “wrong” behaviors.
“Wrong” behaviors present potentially hurtful and dangerous situations to people or other animals. In urban and suburban society, dog owners don’t live in a vacuum. House guests, outdoor outings, trips to the veterinarian, and other events all present interactions with a large variety of people and other animals. This brings us to the question, “What constitutes wrong behavior?”
I have a simple test…if the behavior is OK with a three-year-old, then the behavior is OK.
When people encourage rough or mouthy play with their dogs, the results can range from embarrassing and awkward to downright dangerous. Imagine a mom and her three-year-old girl coming up to greet you and your dog in the neighborhood. The child innocently reaches her hand to the dog’s face and your dog, not knowing any better, decides to play the mouthy game, or tackle the poor kid right there on the sidewalk. Children are vulnerable to injury because of their size. In addition to the physical danger, this scenario could be emotionally scarring for a child.
Elderly individuals are also at risk for injury from dogs that have been taught to play rough. Their skin is much more fragile and once the skin is opened, their health may not be optimal to fight an infection. In addition, elderly individuals may have balance issues that make them more likely to fall. They are also more likely to break bones from a fall.
Finally, most people do not want strange dogs playing rough with them. Most people that you meet have expectations that a dog will be reasonably well mannered if you are taking it out in public. People can unknowingly assume a stance that may trigger rough play because that was the rough play game trigger.
Do yourself and your dog a favor and teach safe play. Teach that teeth are ok on toys but not skin. Teach that jumping ends the game, but keeping four paws on the floor keeps the game going. Teach that sit and settling are good behaviors that get rewarded with play. Teach your dog that if play escalates, the game is over. Dogs are social animals. If your dog is gentle with people, your dog will have the opportunity to interact with more people. Rough play may seem like fun, but it can result in a very isolating life for both of you. That’s not fun for you or your dog.