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The Many Faces of Dog Play

People love to see dog play, and like for their dogs to have “friends”, which is fine. I think a good dog relationship offers something people just can’t – certainly not a substitute for human interaction, training, and care but something valuable nonetheless. However, integrating a second or third dog into the household is a lot more difficult than people anticipate – mostly because dogs have personalities just like we do, and often people aren’t taking that into consideration when they bring in a new dog to the household.

Personally, I feel people have a moral obligation to their first dog not to force them to live with another dog they despise, mostly because people aren’t willing (and shouldn’t have to) go through the months of grueling, careful, exacting introduction required to integrate two dogs that aren’t quite compatible. I know this because I’m in the process of doing it myself (Dax would really rather not live with Kai, but he’s going to get over it because Kai is my next demo dog. I knew what I was getting into and I knew it might be a pain in the butt. It is a giant pain in the butt.)

So there’s my first supposition, is that if your new dog isn’t getting along with your old dog especially right off the bat, then everybody’s going to be happier without the new dog in the mix.

I took a little series of videos showing different play styles, and what I look for when I’m looking to advise people on if a new dog is going to work in the household.

Obviously, if they try to kill each other right off, that’s a big no-no.



Please seek out the help of a professional when you’re trying to integrate new dogs in your house. Don’t take this blog post as a guide or an instruction manual. This stuff is a wee bit more complicated than what I can get into right here even, so don’t take this as the final authority. Even I am relatively new at playgroup composition and I play it very, very conservatively. Don’t take risks and put your dog in the hospital, because they are capable of it.

Interaction Type 1 – cautious respect or “Whatever”.

Yeah, I know I already posted this, but it’s such a nice example of a young dog not being an idiot with an older dog. This kind of relationship will probably work out because they’ve already got pretty clear boundaries, and so long as the young dog isn’t stupid, harmony will prevail. If the young dog is being a bully, or the old dog overreacts to correct the young dog, you might have issues. This interaction, however, is lovely.

Interaction Type 2 – Houston We Have A Problem

So, in this the girls are indeed playing, but you see how stiff, hackled both of them are? Bailey darts in and out and Mika is giving her the stink eye pretty hardcore. This kind of relationship often can be resolved if the dogs are both generally friendly and normal. In this case, Bailey doesn’t live with me, so I don’t push it and these two girls just don’t hang out.

Why is this interaction so different? Both dogs are bitches, both are mature, Mika is the older, pushier dog and she takes exception to Bailey not showing much deference. Just like in the human world, when you get dogs of similar social status, gender, etc you get conflict. It’s the same concept that drives physical conflict in ungulate mating – bucks of similar size and build will lock horns, whereas if there is enough of a difference in perceived power the conflict is avoided.

But it doesn’t seem that bad! you might say. Well, a few seconds later, we get this, which is still not bad because I know what to look for, but many dog owners would miss the signals. That’s a “Nope!” Bailey went inside after this. What likely would’ve happened was just a snark from Mika, but again I’m pretty darned cautious, and Bailey can be a bit stiff and hackley too.

Interaction Type 3 – Frathouse Party

Sometimes this type of interaction can go downhill, but usually those have elements of the previous videos’ body language – stiffness, hard stares, etc. Poor Kai is sometimes getting his butt kicked (as he deserves) but you see Mika magnanimously rolling over for him too. This is called reciprocal play, and though it’s loud, growly, with lots of teeth and wrasslin’, I’m not worried about these two getting in a fight anytime soon. Also, this is a mixed-gender playgroup, with Mika clearly being the more dominant dog. Most dog owners worry more about this kind of play than the one that actually signals real trouble, just because this type is louder.

Interaction Type 4 – Beautiful Harmony

This is the type of interaction that makes me think these two dogs would really love each other and do well together – and it was definitely love at first sight. Bailey thinks Patton is handsome, sweet, fun, and can do no wrong. You can hear them laughing “Hahhahahahahaha”! They literally play this way, at this nice, measured level, for two hours at a time. This is the nicest type of dog play.

Interaction Type 5 – Why Do I Do This To Myself

Oh Dax.

In this video, we see Dax literally restraining himself from physical violence. Some days are better, when we’re out on the trail they’re actually buddies. If you see this kind of body language be ready to jump in. And don’t do what I’m doing, it’s not any fun.

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