Some pack leaders are going to take offense to this post... simply because they misread their dog and I’m about to call them out on it. How would you respond if you were speaking with a stranger about playing a tennis match together and both of your respective dogs came up and said, “Hey, hey, hey! Knock that off. Don’t do that! Come on, let’s go!” and drug you off down the street! “But we were just getting ready to play!” you plead with your dog. “I want to go back,” as you keep turning in the direction of your (now) lost playmate. How would YOU react to that?
How can you tell when your dog is having fun versus "being aggressive"? Many owners who have always owned dogs will still refer to the sounds and the behavior of their dogs as being aggressive. So what would you call football players? Aggressive or fun loving? In addition, why do we change the definition of the behavior based upon human or animal?
The answer lies in how we insert ourselves into the environment. If you like playing football, and you’re good at it, you’ll absolutely say you’re having a great time. If you aren’t good at it and everyone is running at you, you will probably see it as a violent, aggressive game. Aggression is defined as a hostile action or behavior without provocation, which is not what spirited or excited behavior is. However, when that behavior stops being mutual and is more predatory then that is when it becomes aggression and requires correction.
The problem with most humans is that they are so afraid of their dog “embarrassing” them that they try to stop them from playing. That is what you do when you jump to conclusions without any basis other than your own potential embarrassment and fear.
When your dog chases a ball, are they having fun? Or is this simply a predatory behavior – hunting, chasing, catching, killing, and retrieving the prey for the pack leader? The answer is yes for both. You are feeding the instinct of the dog by that type of play and as long as this does not become obsessive, then the dog is being fulfilled.
The other point to make about whether your dog is having fun or being the bully is that you cannot correct behavior that has not happened; like in my example above. Alternatively, you get an opportunity to set and enforce rules when the unwanted behavior occurs so that you can correct and give boundaries for wanted behaviors, similar to raising a child. “Don’t touch the stove; it’s hot,” you tell them. When do they learn? When they touch the stove, of course!
If you expect to have a misbehaving dog, the dog will fulfill your every wish and desire. The opposite is true, also. Treat your dog – and the people in your life – as though they have no limitations on what they do and how well they can perform, and I think you’ll be amazed at the results. Until next time, go have fun!