Episode #2: Healthy Dog Play with Mara Velez

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast

Join me as I interview Mara Velez of the Shelter Playgroup Alliance to discuss what healthy and safe inter-canine interactions look like. Mara shares how to facilitate safe interactions, what behaviors to be aware of, and when to intervene to keep play safe and positive. 

What does healthy play look like?

Healthy play between two dogs consists of:

  • Loose, exaggerated movements. This may include a curvature of the spine, loose muscles and body postures. 
  • Space between the dogs. They are close but not too close. If they get too close and their bodies become more rigid, this might be an indication of conflict. 
  • Taking breaks. Breaks can be very short (several seconds) and they usually happen every 30 – 45 seconds. 
  • Variety. Dogs engage in a variety of activities from chase to jaw wrestling when play remains safe and healthy.  

Check out what healthy play looks like!

Do all dogs want to play?

The short answer is no. There are many factors that contribute to a dog’s willingness to engage in play with other dogs. These factors may include:

  • Their early socialization. Were they exposed to a variety of breeds, ages and sizes in a safe, positive way when they were under 4 months old? 
  • Life experiences. What sort of experiences has the dog had with other dogs throughout his/her life? Were they positive or negative?
  • Right match. What sort of play style does your dog enjoy? Chasing or physical play? Are you facilitating the right matches for your dog’s play style?

When introducing dogs and building relationships, it’s important to go slow and make sure both dogs are consenting to the interaction. The Shelter Playgroup Alliance YouTube channel has great videos on what consent looks like. 

If your dog does not want to play, there are other ways to provide enrichment for your dog. Check them out here! 

How often should a pet parent interrupt play to prevent it from escalating? 

It’s important for pet parents to be observing their dogs play at all times as things can escalate faster than we anticipate. Usually pet parents interrupt play as a reactive response instead of a proactive response. A few signs that play is starting to escalate can include:

  • Dogs might be avoiding one another.
  • Their respiration might increase.
  • Their pupils might be dilated.
  • They are not taking frequent breaks and their bodies might become a bit more stiff.

The goal would be to interrupt play before things escalate. The best way to do this would include using a high-pitch happy voice and creating space between the two dogs. Once the dogs are away from one another, you can reinforce the facilitated break with food and then release them back to play. For more detailed information on introductions and managing safe play, please read the Shelter Playgroup Alliance guidelines

How can I get better at reading inter-canine play behavior?

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