Rough Play or Aggression?

sweebySeptember 21, 2005

We recently brought a 4 month old male Australian Shepherd pup (Tucker) into our home, where we already had a large, dog- and people-friendly Black Lab. Our lab (Gus) is almost 2, and seemed to really enjoy the new pup for the first few days and there was lots of active, happy-looking play -- jumping and darting around and snatching a horse hoof back and forth. He even shares his food and water bowls without complaint. (Though Tucker has his own.)

But I'm concerned the play may be getting more 'bossy', less friendly and perhaps a bit too rough. Gus puts his jaws around Tucker's neck, slaps him with his front paws, and climbs on top of him. Recently, Gus has started 'going for' Tuckers privates and belly. Tucker doesn't seem terribly frightened -- so part of me says it's probably OK, but it would be very easy for Gus to do some pretty serious damage -- at this point, Gus out-weighs Tucker by 50 pounds.

I know they're new together and so I never leave them unsupervised. What do you experts think? Do I have trouble brewing? Or is this the type of initial 'pecking order' behavior that's perfectly appropriate.

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It's probably just Gus getting more comfortable with Tucker and starting to take more liberties in play. Aussie pups tend to be pretty fearless and rough and tumble, so I expect Tucker will be fine, but do keep an eye on Gus and tell him to settle if his play seems to be crossing the line to aggression. Mounting is dominance behavior, so Gus is starting to establish social hierarchy with Tucker, as well.

Get Tucker neutered as soon as your vet will do it so Gus isn't responding to an adolescent hormone surge on Tucker's part. Once that testosterone starts flowing, you could have serious problems if Tucker turns out to be an alpha personality. I'm assuming Gus is already neutered, but if he's not, you should get that taken care of, too.

Have fun with your boys. It won't be long before Tucker is running circles around poor Gus and wearing him to a frazzle. Aussies are unstoppable. They make most labs look like doorstops.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2005 at 8:40PM
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Tucker will let you know if it gets to be too much. I was a bit shocked myself when our docile, adult greyhound began playing with the eight week old puppy we brought home over a year ago. She was gentle, but the play seemed so savage to me. She seemed intent on getting the pup on her back and mouthing her jugular vein! I protectively butted in one night, and my grey mouthed me for the first time ever! She "flea-bit" up and down my arm as if to say "Settle down, Ma! I'm being gentle!" I backed off after that, trusting her discretion, and was grateful for her help in teaching bite inhibition in my now-67 lb puppy.

We did have a little trouble the night we had the pup spayed (at 4.5 mos.) and the grey immediately flipped her on her back and stomped on and re-opened her incision! We had to rush her to the vet and have her re-superglued shut.

Even now, their nightly wrestling consists of the (spayed) grey humping the crap out of the now-larger-than-she puppy. It's a dominance thang... and the puppy craves the attention and usually instigates it by mashing toys and blankets into the neck of the older dog.

The puppy also instigates very noisy and aggressive-sounding play with the Border Collies next door on a more than daily basis. The neighbor dogs signal their exit from the house by barking at my back door, and my pup insists on joining them in the yard for a savage-looking romp. My neighbor lady and I spend all sorts of time shaking our heads at the savage sounding and looking games our dogs enjoy so much. and when they finish, they lick one another's muzzles in a pecking-order-appropriate fashion and calmly curl up together at our feet.

Neutering your boys is the single most important thing you can do to ensure the play remains harmless. Not only is a neutered male better able to think "rationally" in behavior terms, he is less likely to inspire truly hostile behavior from other males.

My point in all this is: Watch your pup. Does he seek out this rough play? Does he seem to thrive on it? If so, don't worry about it. My puppy lets me know if a dog is too much for her at the dog park by standing between my legs. Every time she does so, I remove her from the intimidating situation. Puppies are pretty good at letting us know when they're scared. If yours doesn't indicate fear, and the play doesn't result in physical harm, then it is probably educational.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2005 at 11:00PM
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I feel so much better now, thanks! They're both neutered already, Tucker only a week ago. And the play looks exactly like what JazmynsMom is describing. We do 'settle' Gus when it gets too rough looking, and to his credit, he stops imediately. Then of course, Tucker goes right in for more. ;-) But the 'mouth on the jugular' thing was a bit disturbing.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2005 at 10:00AM
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My male Aussie, Pippin, plays like that with both my female Aussie mix, Tasha, and my male Lhasa Apso mix puppy, Wookie. Pip is constantly rolling Wookie over and grabbing his jugular or putting his mouth around Wookie's entire stomach. Doesn't bother Wookie a bit unless Pip bites down too hard. If Pip does accidentally bite too hard, though, Wookie will typically scream, and Pip will immediately back off.

This last weekend, however, things got nasty when Pip bit too hard and Wookie got MAD! Wookie jumped up and ripped into Pip, and Pip retaliated. I was right there to break it up, and it was the first and only time there has been a nasty exchange between them. They forgot about it quickly and went back to their rough play with no problems.

Pippin doesn't have the best play manners, and it sometimes gets him into a little trouble. Dogs really shouldn't bite each other behind the shoulders in play. Biting the sides, belly, and rear end are considered bad manners, and Pip does it all the time. Fortunately, my dogs are used to his methods of play, so we rarely have a problem. Every now and then, though, Tasha and now Wookie will object to his rowdy misbehavior.

Tasha has an entirely different method of play. She looks and sounds like some sort of hell-beast, but she actually makes minimal contact with her teeth. If I were to tape record her, you'd swear she was tearing someone to shreds. To watch her, you'd think the same. She snarls and snaps and makes the most horrific noise, giving every impression of being rabidly possessed, but if you observe carefully, you'll find that she almost never actually lays her teeth on Wookie. Pip is not so immune to Tasha's teeth. All bets are off with him.

I had a man out here working on my tractor last summer when I was out in the yard with the Bossy Aussies. I was speaking with the man with Tasha standing nearby. As we talked, Pippin walked up to Tasha and nonchalantly put his mouth around her entire face. The man (who was also a farrier and well used to working with animals) looked at me with a somewhat shocked expression. I just laughed and assured him that sort of thing goes on all the time around here.

Keep an eye on your boys as Tucker matures. It can develop into a problem if both boys want the alpha position. Usually, though, they get the hierarchy settled without significant conflict. That's what all this rough play is about.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2005 at 10:59AM
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I was nodding reading your post, Sweeby. We have a very large, neutered dog who pulls that sort of stuff on every dog he's allowed "to meet". He's a "jerk"... the whole dominance routine, every single time. (maybe we should get another dog?). Never, ever nasty or mean. Just boisterous and ready to roughhouse... but it's scary to a lot of people and I understand that.

Leave them alone. They're fluent in their common language, and they'll work out a routine/relationship that works for them.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2005 at 5:11PM
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A quick update -- they're getting along great now! First thing every morning, Gus comes to Tucker's crate to greet him as we let him out. Then after a bit of greeting, the two run outside side by side to take care of their business and play together for a few minutes before breakfast. Then there's joint training sessions -- new stuff for Tucker, refresher for Gus. Tucker's catching on very quickly, but it's Gus who is not always complying! He knows better, but I guess we got complacent with him...

    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 4:18PM
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I am a "cat person". But we've always had dogs in our home. I've learned because I've HAD to! watch a dog carefully and you can get a vague clue as to how they operate.

Dogs LIKE to be bossed! they expect it, LOOK for it and take full advantage when you're too wimpy to assume leadership. So, step up to the plate and and BE BOSS!

Dogs are a--holes when they're not required to conform to "bootcamp". "Bootcamp" is all about basic commands (sit, down, "come!"). Drill those babies into their heads and you're 75% of the way to a well trained dog. If you reinforce "bootcamp" with copious amounts of love, praise, affection your dog will do ANYTHING for you.

Teach your dog that doing what you ask (on the FIRST command) will ALWAYS get praise, treats, a serious "love fest" and they'll do everything in their power to please you.

Love, praise, affection.

You have the power... use it wisely, every day.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 4:56PM
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I have a very simular situation that I need some additional advice on. I have a 1 yr old basenji female and we recently got a 6 month old male dachshund. From day one she has been constantly biting the back of his neck while he walks, sits or lays. He just ignores her but she is relentless. He recently started biting her neck and face when she does this and it just seems to make it worse. Other than a yelp here and there, there hasn't been any harm done. They're always supervised but how long do I let this go on? Do I stop it when there's a yelp? When she does this she seems to be in prey drive and nothing seems to distract her which is the other problem. It doesn't matter what you do or say she just goes right back at it.

Need some advice. We've only had him for a week now so it may just take time but just need some reassurance that this is normal and it may get better? Hopefully.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 4:38PM
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I can't say for sure, if she seems to be in some sort of hunt mode, that might be a bad thing. My beagle yelps when she plays with the boxer, but she goes right back to him, and lays down and submits, wagging the whole time. My beagle yelps at a lot of things, for some dogs it doesn't mean much, other than they're vocal. The boxer gets down on his front legs and puts his mouth on her ears, or neck and growls and growls, and pushes her around with his nose, growling and wagging and all happy, and she'll give him the warning yelp that he's being a bit too rough, and he'll back off and she'll go back towards him, and it'll begin again. When she's had enough, she runs to us and hides behind our legs. This is when we know he pushed it a bit too far and she stopped having fun. Though, she has a new game now, where she'll hide on him when they're playing, and as soon as he goes to lay down, she'll come out and try to jump on him and be boss. Which he never allows.

Does your dachshund run away?? Is she acting agressive, or happy?? Does the puppy still wag?? If he's not feeling threatened, chances are its just play. But if he seems scared, or if she isn't wagging and she's bearing teeth or anything, it could be a bad sign.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 9:05PM
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I can't help you, spitfirekrl1, it is hard to say if she is dominating him or if it is something different.

I have to share a story about how Toby (under 40 lbs) dominates Casey (younger, but over 60 lbs). Toby stands with his feet spread wide, giving him a good solid base for leverage. He grabs Casey by the throat or ear and Casey just falls over for him. Toby then demonstrates how he can bite any part of Casey that he wants. He will take Casey's ear in his mouth and pull just a little bit, then go for the throat just to show he can. Casey will counter with a few bites of his own on Toby's legs or ears, but always from underneath. Then, just to put the frosting on the cake and make sure that Casey knows who is the boss, Toby will stand with his (castrated) genitals right over Casey's face, as if to say, "just smell my powerful hormones, dog!" Toby also will pause to smell Casey's genitals while in the process of "beating him up". I imagine a little doggy gas chromatograph in his brain analysing the pheromones to make sure they are submissive enough! They do this on the bed when I am changing my clothes after work. They "fight" in slow-motion. It is so funny, sometimes I will stop and pet them in the middle of their "fights" and sometimes I will grab an ear with my teeth and join in. When I am done changing, I step out into the hall and step clear of the door. They jump off the bed and race down the hall and out to the family room door, then go romp outside for a while. It is our "happy time" to celebrate me coming home from work.

Hey, do you think that non-pet-parents come home and get out of their good clothes immediately, too?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 9:05PM
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I have a golden, Dexter who is close to two. I recently adopted a rescue Golden. The rescue is one of the sweetest dogs I've owned. But when he plays with Dexter he's very rough. The thing that worries me the most is he pulls Dexter's legs out from under him but grabbing his thighs or pulling from behind. Dexter rolls over and is down while the rescue holds him by the throat. The rescue also pulls Dexter's skin like it was a rubber band. The rescue Always allows Dexter to mount him and never tries to mount Dexter. So I don't think this is an issue of dominance per se. Dexter always comes back for more. But I've watched dogs play before and this is extremely rough play.

I know that my rescue was on his own and found wandering the streets. I'm sure that has something to do with his play. I don't know how to teach him to be more gentle and especially not to pull on legs and thighs.

Any suggestions?
Thanks in advance

    Bookmark   September 23, 2007 at 9:27PM
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In general, dogs are going to play rougher that we think is friendly and they can be left alone to wrestle out their order in the pack.

However, the human is still the pack leader and if we see behavior that we are uncomfortable with then the dog should be corrected. You can train your dogs what is acceptable play behavior for your own comfort level.

My dogs know that they can play rougher, run faster and wrestle harder when they are outdoors than when they are indoors. They have a correction, "take it outside" and they know what that means.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2007 at 9:38AM
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Agreed on most of the postings, play is a form of sortng out who is boss, and your dog is testing to see how far he can go, Aussies are very hardy dogs and love the attention, until you here a yipe, some growliing or lots of serious barking (which is what most dog fights are anyway) let them figure things out. Congrats on your new pup

    Bookmark   September 24, 2007 at 1:13PM
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i have 2 black labs one 1 1/2 female (minnie) and one 6 months male (louis) they get on great they re the best of friends, loius does chews on minnie ears bites her neck sometime he will have his whole mouth over her face his favorite is chewing her legs minnie doesnt bother but if it gets too much for her she will give him a warning! i only interfere if i want them to settle down or i think he is annoying her too much i used to tell him no and put him out the room now i just have to say no or thats enough and he stops

    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 5:34AM
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I think you're all right about showing my rescue who's boss. I know Dexter isn't saying "boo" and actually seems to enjoy being dragged by his loose skin. BUT I noticed today that he has a bunch of new sores.

The problem I have is this: when I correct both of them , they stop playing. The rescue,especially, can't sort out what he's doing wrong. So he just stops. Is there anything I can do to help correct the specific things that are rough? Or should I just stop the play? The rough play starts almost as soon as they start playing.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2007 at 11:53PM
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Possibly. But it might be simmilar to teaching a baby they can throw one toy, but not another. Painstakingly slow. And very confusing for the dogs.

Do they ever get overly rough with you, or a little too hyper? And do you have a command for that?? When either of our dogs have gotten a little over zealous in play with us, we've taught "Be nice" and stopped the playing, and resumed again, stopping and repeating 'be nice' again when if it got rough again.

It works with their playing, too. If either one gets what we deem too rough, or just out of hand and not good inside play we say their name and "Be nice" and they'll usually both back off, settle down and go back to playing nicely.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 1:33PM
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I have a 7yr old female shepherd/lab. When we brought home our 4 month old male Boxer/Lab, we started seeing this play immediately. It scared the youknowwhat out of me because my older dog would flip the pup over and put her mouth on his throat. She's usually the most docile, gentle creature on earth, but she'd bare her teeth and knock him around like he was a rag doll. I'd break it up but the pup would go right back for more.

Now the pup is a year old and bigger than her older sister. But sister still whoops him every time. I finally realized it was all in fun, just like kids wrestling around in the yard.

Every now and then I'll hear a distinct change in their growl/bark....that's when I know one of them has gone too far and p*zzed the other one off, but they always make up on their own.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 10:38AM
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I have the same situation going on. I have a 10 month old female APBT and I have brought home a 11 week old male puppy APBT. I'm a little shocked by how rough they both play. The older is gentle with the puppy with her teeth, lightly mouthing and tugging on ears only, BUT she gets so intense and excited during the play that she tends to step on him and scratch him lightly, plus she bulldozes him around with her weight. However, when I seperate them one or the other always goes right back into the scuffle. What concerns me is that the older one is constantly pestering the puppy to play, never leaving him alone. I should mention they share food and toys without any sort of growling or biting. Should I be concerned? How can I get the older dog to stop pestering the younger, or should I?

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 11:03PM
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I don't own dogs, but I have several strays and dogs from several neighbors on my yard. Frequent visitors are a 7 months old big Husky/Shepherd girl, and a pit/shar pei/lab boy of about the same age. The girl usually dominates, she's just now realizing her size, but the boy isn't backing down. They play a bit rough, but they won't hurt each other, although, I break them up if one of them yelps (usually the boy). One day, I see the boy limping and I check his paw, it was bloody and cut a little on the underside. The big girl was real tender with him, licking his nose and sniffed/licked his injured foot. From that day on, I left them alone playing and establishing their position on the alpha ladder.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 10:18AM
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I have a 2-year-old neutered male Boxer who I am a little concerned about because his play is too rough for some dogs (or should I say, their owners?) at the dog park. He is rougher with very submissive dogs and submissive puppies though is great with small dogs and dogs who don't immediately roll on their backs when they meet him. He loves to chase and be chased, loves to run and grab other dogs by the shoulders and hind legs though doesn't always get when another dog doesn't like what he is doing and I have to call him off.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 11:50PM
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