I received a phone call from a home dog training client in Alpharetta that we had trained a month or so ago.  We had helped him with potty training and basic obedience for his new Cockapoo puppy, Lalah.  Things were going great and Lalah was completely potty trained.  She called because they were starting to let their Cockapoo puppy play with the neighborhood dogs.  She told me that sometimes it looks like they are really trying to hurt each other.  She wondered what could they do or observe to make sure that it is just playing and not hurting or scaring…

I reminded our client that proper socialization is a critical part of the client’s puppy’s life experience.  Their puppy’s play with other dogs and puppies allows their puppy to reinforce and establish his communication skills, canine interaction, and physical well being.

The one thing that Robin and I often need to explain to our clients is that their puppy lives in a “canine world” of absolutes and clear social roles.  Their world has “The Leader” and the rest are “The Followers”. There are things the puppy can do and things the puppy can’t do.  Their world needs to be absolute and unambiguous.  Puppies learn these absolutes through role playing in their puppy games.

Our client’s puppy naturally plays the following games:

  • The puppy plays “Follow the Leader” where the leader is chased after by the rest of the puppies.  After a while, the puppy playing the leader will stop and a new leader takes over.  That puppy now takes off with a flash while the rest of the group chases him.
  • Puppies will often play “Tag, You’re It!”.  This is where one puppy chases the other puppy until the follower jumps on the leader and sometimes gives a little nip.  The act of “tagging” changes the roles in the game where the puppy being the follower becomes the leader and the puppy being the leader becomes the follower.
  • Puppies love to play “King of the Hill”. One puppy takes the role of the leader and gets on top of something.  To dogs, height is dominance and leadership. The other puppies who are the followers try to knock him off to become the leader.

Although these are activities enforcing and challenging social leadership, they are still only games.  Just like we used to play games like Cowboys and Indians, we understood that they were just games.  The puppies also understand that their games are make-believe.  When the games are over, they are all just sleepy, happy puppies.

Robin and I tell our clients that they need to encourage and let their puppies play these instinctual  games.  To be sure, we offer a few precautions that our clients need to take to assure that everything stays safe:

  • Try to have puppies play together that are of the same size.  When a big puppy rushes up to a small puppy, it might scare and intimidate the little puppy.  This fear might slowly mitigate to dog aggression later in life.
  • Have the puppies play in a safe area outside.  This allows them the most freedom to run and not “get into trouble”.
  • If our client observes a puppy becoming scared (tail between legs), take him out of the main play area.  It is best if he watches from a safe distance for a while.  He will join the rest of the group when he figures that all is OK.
  • Closely observe all the puppies.  If any one puppy is always jumping on another and the other is whining, growling, or nipping with no release, the play has gotten out of hand.  A small “time out” is not called for.  After about five minutes and they are calm, they can continue to play.
  • Make sure there is plenty of water.  This allows for proper hydration and provides for a “quick break” in the games.

We all want to be good parents for our puppies and to allow them to become properly socialized.  Letting our puppies to play together is a large part of the answer.  Unfortunately the line between healthy play and aggressive bullying is quite fine.  If you are ever unsure of your puppy’s safety, remove him from the play group for a while.

Please contact us at (770) 718-7704 if you are in need of any dog training assistance.  We have a lot of good dog training suggestions at Best Dog Trainers Alpharetta Georgia.  Find all our phone numbers, text addresses and email contacts at Dog Training Help Center Alpharetta Georgia.