Constant play between dogs can be intense and annoying. Learn how to tell whether it’s really play, and how to encourage your dogs to interact in low-key ways.
This week, a listener question. Elizabeth writes that she and her family have a 1-year-old Coonhound, and her mother has a terrier mix who’s now about 10 months old. Whenever the families get together, the dogs play – constantly. It seems to Elizabeth that there’s a dominance contest going on. The humans spend a lot of time pulling the dogs apart and would like to see a quieter atmosphere prevail.
Is Constant Play a Dominance Contest?
To start with, let’s get dominance out of the way. Ethologists – scientists who study animal behavior in natural settings – use the word as a label for control over resources and other animals’ attention and movements. It’s shorthand for a complex array of interactions that can vary from situation to situation and it doesn’t tell us anything about the animals’ inner experience.
Whatever dominance is, it’s never a synonym for aggression or bullying. Bullying is inappropriate among dogs just as it is among people. Aggressive behavior is appropriate in some contexts – for instance, it’s normal for Dogalini to give Zippy a brief, hard look to warn him away from her bone – but frequent, repeated aggressive interactions between dogs reflect a problem.
Are the Dogs Really Playing?
So, more important than whether the dogs’ play has anything to do with dominance is whether it really is play.