Keeping your dog safe during off-leash play
healthier, better socialized, and better mannered dogs. Off-leash dog play
is becoming a more popular way for owners to exercise their pets. However,
for some dogs, off-leash play is not all fun and games.
titled Off-Leash Dog Play - A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun.
Here are some of their tips for owners who want to make sure their dogs
don¹t get hurt, seriously injured, or even killed in poorly run playgroups:
good romp with a group of other dogs is 6 months to 3 years of age. Puppies
from 3-6 months can definitely benefit, but they can also be more easily
traumatized if not put in the right group. If your dog chooses to avoid
other dogs, then an off-leash play setting may not be the best outlet for
your dog. Dogs that enjoy off-leash dog play usually actively seek out the
attention of other dogs. Remember, it¹s not about the dog, it¹s about the
environment. If your dog doesn¹t enjoy off-leash dog play, that doesn¹t
make him a bad dog. It merely means he¹s a dog that would rather participate
in some other activity.
sessions so they can socialize their dog. This is a great idea, but
remember that socialization is not just about exposure to any and all things
in the world. Socialization means positive interactions are created to help
a dog grow, play, and learn. It should not be a random encounter with just
any dog or person available. A bad experience, especially for a puppy under
5 months of age, can have lifelong implications.
Dogs do best if they have been taught some basic skills. You should be able
to get your dog¹s attention and call him to you even if he¹s off leash
playing with another dog. This will give you a good measure of control when
he begins to get too rowdy.
Some dogs play well, but only with certain playmates. Just as with children,
you must choose your dog¹s playmates wisely. Educate yourself to learn the
difference between play styles and make the best match for you dog.
Remember to separate dogs by size and by play style. Small dogs should
never be placed with very large dogs‹even if they play well together. Small
deadly very quickly.
5. Play styles vary. Some dogs love to chase one another; others love to
wrestle and play bite; others like to play gently using their paws like
kittens; still others like to body-slam one another. Put your dog with dogs
that have similar play styles. If your dog is gentle, she will not enjoy
playing with a dog who body-slams her. Both play styles are appropriate,
they just aren¹t appropriate together.
6. Too much arousal can lead to aggression. Dogs need rest periods and
breaks even when they are playing. Teach your dog to come to you
periodically and don¹t allow the dogs to become overly rowdy in their play.
It looks like fun, but can seep into aggression very quickly. If the dogs
don¹t slow themselves down occasionally during play, you need to do it for
them by calling them to you and giving them a short 30-second break. Don¹t
allow play to go uninterrupted for more than 2-3 minutes at a time.
7. Introducing dogs to each other. Always introduce your dog one on one
and go at the dog¹s pace. Allow the sniffing to occur since it is a
necessarily part of the greeting ritual. Don¹t force a dog to greet another
dog if either dog is showing avoidance. When you show up at a playgroup,
have the other dogs move away from the gate before you enter. If owners
aren¹t there to move their dogs away, just wait until the dogs get bored and
go away on their own. Then bring your dog in when things are more settled.
Watch for any signs of stiffness or nervousness.
8. Supervision is the key, but you have to know what you are looking for.
Happy dogs have loose, curved bodies. They play with exaggerated,
repetitive, lateral movements. Their bodies remain fluid and loose during
play. They play taking turns (one dog pins another, then they switch
roles). They also take periodic breaks. Nervous or tense dogs are still and
rigid. They play with precise movements that are quick and tight. They
don¹t take turns (one dog always seems to pin the other and keep him pinned
too long). Look for common signs of stress to see if any dog is becoming
9. Recognizing stress signals. Here are some common stress signals in
dogs. If you dog starts to show combinations of these at one time, he¹s
probably becoming overwhelmed. Lip licking is an easy-to-recognize signal
that occurs when a dog flicks his tongue in and out of his mouth. Yawning
is not usually a sign of contentment as much as it is a sign of nervousness.
Half-moon eye is when you see the whites of the dog¹s eye around the outer
edge of the eye. If your dog is repeatedly clawing and/or jumping on you in
a panic-stricken sort of way, he¹s asking for help. Don¹t make him ³just
deal with things.² You need to assess the environment to see why the dog isso frightened.
10. Be your dog¹s advocate. Don¹t be afraid to remove your dog from a
group if the play seems inappropriate. Ask questions and ensure those
supervising the dogs have experience. Not all play is good for all dogs and
it¹s up to you to make sure your dog is having a good time and learning good