Out of control to controlled play - How can I do this?
I frequently get calls about dogs that start out playing nicely then suddenly erupt into growling and biting. Many people think their dogs are being aggressive or that they are schizophrenic. Your dog does not act this way because they “flipped a switch”; they do this because it is normal for play to get heated after a couple of minutes of rough play. We tend to teach our dogs to stop and relax after one and half to two minutes of play. We do this by having them on leash in the beginning. We start a good game of tug then at 1.5 minutes we say calmly, “enough” and stop play. We will do it sooner if they start to growl. We literally wait 30-45 seconds then start play again. This quick “cool down” mode is repeated with each play session to condition them to do so on their own. Just like anything else, you must be consistent. With enough practice, they will automatically separate from play on their own at 1.5-2 minutes. Our pack will run around chasing each other then get to nipping at each others legs, like clockwork they all break off at 2 minutes and walk away to start sniffing the ground. This is a signal to the other dogs that there is no challenge. You can teach any dog to do this, at any age.
If you watch an adult dog play with a rowdy puppy, they will stop and turn their bodies away from them or possibly walk away when the pup gets rough or vocal. They usually “avoid” the pup until the pup gets distracted and try again. This teaches the pup that playtime stops with rowdy behavior. The adult dog will repeatedly continue this process, unless the pup does not stop. If the pup does not stop, they will give a warning “chuff” or “growl” before a correction. This is where most people make mistakes.
Humans have been conditioned to correct simultaneously with a verbal correction, which is not fair to the pup, nor does it teach them anything. We have to remember that pups learn from our actions, if you correct at the same time as a verbal; you are not giving them time to make the right decision. Try to remain calm when correcting your pup and in a firm, low tone, say “uh uh”. Wait a couple of seconds then correct if the behavior is continuing. By correcting, I do not mean “roll” them on their backs! This will only make your dog anxious. If you have them on a leash, a quick down/stay is enough to stop unruly behavior. If your pup does not know down or stay, stand on the leash with them next to you and ignore them until they calm down. When they do, calmly without petting them say “ok” and start again. Why should you not pet them? This brings their excitement right back to a peak. By calmly saying “ok”, you are displaying what you want, calm behavior.
Teaching your pup calmness and proper play can be a challenge but don’t give up and don’t get frustrated. Stay calm and you will have the results you want in a matter of time!
Tara, Brandie, Amanda & “the pack”