Monitor your dogs' rough play so it won't escalate into a fight


POSTED: Thursday, March 19, 2009

Question: My dogs are best friends but sometimes play turns rough. Is there a safe way to intervene when they're going at each other?

Answer: The good news is that having each other to play with helps burn off extra energy. But even the best dog buddies' gentle play can escalate to a fight, especially in multidog families where it's natural for canines to vie for dominance.

The temptation is to immediately intervene with your body, as if your dog's innate fight response will never turn on you. In the heat of a fight, dogs may only see you as an aggressor, especially if you act aggressively by grabbing their collars or shouting. Always maintain a calm and assertive demeanor and seek help if you think you need it. Separate the dogs with a broom, a large piece of cardboard or some other device that breaks their focus on each other.

Spray the aggressor with a water hose or, if necessary, a fire extinguisher. Aim water at their faces. You can also try a noise-making device such as an air horn to drive them apart.

Q: Is there anything that can be done to prevent them from rough-housing in the first place?

A: First, ensure that both are sterilized so that going into heat is never part of the equation.

Second, teach your dogs what level of arousal is acceptable during play by ending the fun before it escalates. By observing your dogs at play, you can learn the sounds and actions they make when the situation starts getting to the point of no return.

Last and most importantly, tired dogs are the least likely to fight. Your dogs probably need more exercise than they're getting. Long runs on the beach, trips to the dog park, ocean play, jogs in the neighborhood, long hikes or a roller-skating dog walker would all be helpful.