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Playgroups

How to Intervene in Play

METHODS OF INTERRUPTING DOG PLAY

The following interruption methods are listed from least to most invasive. See video for demonstrations. Use the least invasive measures early on before dogs become aggressive. Doing this may make the more invasive measures unnecessary. These methods are used for interrupting tension or potentially problematic behavior. Don’t use them to break up fights (See How to Break Up a Fight instead).

After you’ve interrupted a potentially problematic interaction, redirect the dogs to another activity or playmate using a cheerful voice and movement, or a leash if needed.  You can also give one or both dogs a break from the play yard.

POSITIVE INTERRUPTERS

Voice: Use a calm, happy tone to call the dogs away from each other, then redirect to another area of the space.

  • Pros: Often enough to diffuse low-grade tense situations. Interrupts and redirects the dogs without touching them.

  • Cons: May not be possible to call dogs away from a very tense situation.

Squeaker: Use a squeaker to distract the dogs' attention away from each other.

  • Pros: May be more effective than calling dogs, interrupts and redirects the dogs without touching them.

  • Cons: May not be enough to defuse a tense situation.

Toys & Food: Use toys and/or food to distract the dogs' attention away from each other. (see Using Toys & Food)

  • Pros: May be more effective than calling dogs, interrupts and redirects the dogs without touching them.

  • Cons: May not be enough to defuse a tense situation, could add to tension if dog is inclined to guard toys.

HANDS-OFF PHYSICAL INTERVENTIONS

Encourage a dog to follow you: This is often used in conjunction with voice.  Clap your hands, bend your knees, move away in a short, quick motion to encourage the dog to follow you.

  • Pros: May prevent a fight without touching the dogs.

  • Cons: This is most effective in close proximity to the dog. It may be less effective at a distance.

Move a visual barrier between the dogs: A light-weight plastic board can be moved between two dogs to block the line of sight.

  • Pros: May prevent a fight without touching the dogs.

  • Cons: Requires close proximity to the dog. Some dogs might find the barrier frightening. Can be too slow to implement at times to be practical.

Separate dogs using leashes:  If you have leashes dragging, step on the leash, pick it up, then move the “problem dog” away from the other dog.  This can be used together with #1 and #2 to decrease the need to pull on the leash to move the dog.

  • Pros: Allows dogs to be physically separated without touching them.

  • Cons: A tight leash might add tension to a tense situation. If another handler does not have the 2nd dog, he might follow you.

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HANDS-ON PHYSICAL INTERVENTIONS

Separate dogs using collar or harness: Dogs can be separated by holding and gently moving apart using collars or harnesses. Grabbing a harness might allow you to place your hands further away from the dog’s head. But only consider this option if the dog is not known to bite in this situation and has no known body handling issues.

  • Pros: A way to physically separate dogs.

  • Cons: Could result in a redirected bite.

Separate dogs using handstands: Quickly perform a handstand pull-apart. 

  • Pros: Fast & effective, does not require leashes on the dogs.

  • Cons: This puts your body in potential harm's way if the dog you are performing the handstand on turns to bite you, or if the other dog takes this opportunity to attack the other dog.

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