He gets so excited he starts to mouth his owners. As he gets MORE excited, the mouthing turns to biting. This excitement, if harnessed and directed, can be a lot of fun; however, if people don’t know what to do with this, you suddenly have a dog that is breaking skin and kids that are afraid of their new family member.
Playing with your dog is an intimate activity that is very important to your dog and also to your relationship with your dog. If you do it wrong, you can cause problems. And if you don’t do it all, you’re not fulfilling all of your dog’s needs.
Here are a few tips for successful play with your dog:
- Know what your dog likes – Some dogs like tug, some like fetch, some like flirt poles, and others like agility or any other number of fun games or activities. Only you know your dog, so learn what she’s into and do that.
- Learn how to communicate non-verbally – Know how to slow your dog down and speed her up by changing your tempo, your movement, and your general demeanor.
- Train while playing – Games are a great time to train your dog to perform basic behaviors. If you’re playing a game they like, then your dog usually has her motivation fired up and ready to go. Harness that. For example, in a game of tug you can have your dog sit before they “take it.” You can then slow the toy down and have them “drop it” in order to get the game going again. Any game you play you can use to train your dog in the basics to improve their vocabulary and basic skills.
- Teach limits – Any game has rules and your dog should be no different – especially if you have an intense dog and you want to play at a high intensity. If your dog loves tug, then they’re going to be so fired up that they might miss the toy and hit your hand or your arm with their teeth. This should end the game and change your demeanor to the point that your dog feels bad (just appearing upset or visibly sad usually does the trick). If the dog is unaware or doesn’t care that you are hurt, then you have missed some of the groundwork of training and you should not let your play get that intense.
- Work on bite inhibition – If your dog is not careful with their teeth, then you need to start working on bite inhibition, especially if you like to rough house or wrestle with your dog. Dogs that love to play hard need to know their mouths are dangerous. When the dog is calm feed them by hand and have their teeth touch your hands and do the classic “yelp and FREEZE” so that they are aware they have gone too hard. This is what another dog would do, so it works for you. If you do this when they are too hyper, then they will not acknowledge a yelp and freeze and you will need to have a more severe consequence.
- Don’t flail – If your dog is going too hard and is starting to push you around, then it’s important that instead of following your instincts to flail and back away, just stop your motion and hold your ground. You can practice this same action with a tug toy by getting them a little riled up and then “deadening the toy” (taking it from an entertaining, fun object to stopping it and making it more like an inanimate object). Your dog will mirror your energy and emotions. When you realize that, it becomes much easier to manipulate your dog’s behavior.
- Always start slow – Your dog will be more responsive to your verbal and non-verbal cues if she is calm. So, using the example of tug, just move the toy a little bit while you work on your ability to stop the game. Once you build up your own confidence and your dog’s understanding at a low-level of intensity, move on to a higher intensity and see if both of your skills remain intact.
- Have fun – Once you get your dog’s play skills up, feel free to play often and as hard as you want. Dog’s that are well trained have the ability to have much more fun than dog’s that are not – so as you are building your dog, build them up with the goal that you will be able to play with each other with maximum speed and maximum fun.
As always, if you are at all afraid of your dog or their level of excitement during play, it's always best to consult a professional. It's important to keep you and your family safe!