One of the ways I play with my Lab mix Ace is to “wrestle” or “roughhouse” with him.
I get down on my hands and knees and growl at Ace, often grabbing at his legs or shoving him away. He comes charging back for more, play growling and bowing. Tail wagging.
We do this every day.
I know this is not the wisest way to interact with a dog, but I’m being honest here, and this is one of the ways I’ve always played with my dogs.
I think I learned it from my dad, although the majority of the male dog lovers I know also play fight with their dogs.
The dogs love it!
But other than myself, I don’t know any women who “wrestle” with their dogs. Do you?
And while my dog seems to think this type of play is “oh so much fun!” there are obvious risks involved, and smart trainers know to warn their clients against “roughhousing” with dogs. (2018 update: My dog Ace has passed away.)
1. Play fighting in dogs leads to high excitement levels.
2. High excitement levels in dogs can lead to fights.
Most of us have seen this occur. You’ve probably been at the dog park when two dogs start out running and chasing, maybe wrestling and barking a bit. And then all of the sudden the “play” escalates to an actual fight, and the dogs need to be separated.
These same dogs will often go back to being friends seconds later, even though they seemed to hate each other moments before.
This is why people need to be extra careful when “play fighting” with dogs. It can get out of hand easily and quickly. (And guess who’s going to get hurt?)
This is why I do not play fight with my 1-year-old weimaraner Remy. He simply gets way too excited and ends up biting too hard. (Josh still wrestles with him though … typical man?)
What about tug of war?
Even non-wresting games like tug or fetch can lead to high excitement levels in dogs.
While tug is nothing to worry about for gentle dogs like my friend Roxy (pictured), some dogs really get serious about tug of war.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my hands accidentally nipped a few times while playing tug. I’ve also seen dogs break into serious fights over rope toys, even though it all started out as play.
Playing fetch is another example, not because it leads to aggression but because it gets some dogs so hyped up that they can’t quit. Ace is very much this way, and being obsessed over a ball not a healthy state of mind.
For this reason, it’s always important to set limits no matter what type of “game” or “work” the dog is doing.
I recommend making the dog take a break from intense play every couple of minutes. Some dogs won’t settle down on their own, and that’s when problems occur. If it’s not a nip or a fight, it’s obsessive behavior or just remaining in a hyper state of mind.
If you insist on play fighting with your dog, here are my suggestions:
1. Know that play fighting is risky.
I do not recommend play fighting with your dog, but I know people will do it anyway (as I do).
For obvious reasons, you should never roughhouse with anyone else’s dog. The dog may not know you very well, and this could scare, hurt or threaten the dog.
2. Do not play fight with a dog that is overly dominant.
I know “dominant” is a naughty word in the dog world, but I don’t know what other word to use.
You know what I mean. If your dog is always seeking “status,” or trying to push his limits with you, then you’re probably better off avoiding wrestling games with your dog. Tug of war may not be a good choice either.
3. Pause the game often so excitement doesn’t escalate.
If you’re roughhousing with your dog, make sure to be aware of his arousal levels and to pause every minute or so to help him settle. This is a good time to practice and reward a sit or a down command. You want your dog to be able to calm down and obey you, even in “exciting” scenarios such as intense play.
You should also end the game by asking your dog to sit or lie down for a minute or so and then reward the calm behavior.
4. Keep intense play sessions short.
Just five minutes or so is enough for most dogs, no matter what the game is – disc dog, agility, tug, fetch, wrestling, etc.
If your dog is extra hyped up, panting heavily and starting to get a bit obsessive or wild, it’s a good time to work on a more calming exercise like “down” and then end the play session or take a break.
5. If you play tug or fetch with your dog, teach him “drop.”
All dogs should learn to obey the “drop” command, even during an intense session of tug.
Also practice saying “ouch!” if your dog’s teeth even so much as gently touch your skin. The dog should learn to drop the toy instantly when you say “ouch.” I recommend you turn around and ignore your dog for about a minute afterwards so he learns the fun ends if his teeth touch you.
OK, what are your thoughts. Do you wrestle with your dogs like I do?
Let me know your opinion on all of this! I’m curious if there are other women out there who “fight” with their dogs.
*For obvious reasons, most trainers are against roughhousing with dogs, and I think we should all consider that advice. I’m lucky to have a seriously laid-back, submissive, polite dog, so I probably take his gentleness for granted.