Rough Housing with our dogs: Innocent Fun or Slippery Slope?
This is a video of a human wrestling with his dog and there is no doubt both human and dog are having a great time. This IS absolutely 100% play. There is not any aggressive behavior demonstrated whatsoever in this video. However... anytime we do anything with our dogs... we have to weigh risks v rewards.
We often get clients that come to us and mention that their kids, adult family members or friends love to "rough house" with the dog. We simply feel "rough housing" with dogs is just not a good idea bc of the potential of the dog to learn that is OK to be rough (play bite, jump, chase, bark at, etc) with humans.
Could an owner "rough house" with his/her dog and could the dog learn appropriate rules and boundaries when rough housing and learn to discriminate with who and when rough housing is appropriate? YES. Absolutely. The problem... that is a very slippery slope.
In an activity like rough housing with a dog (one that is well balanced, friendly, good natured, etc), I don't really have any concern that the dog will become aggressive. That is not my concern. My concern is that the dog will simply learn inappropriate, obnoxious and unsafe behaviors when interacting with humans (ie: mouthiness/play biting, jumping, chasing, barking, and just being overall “rough” with humans).
Example #1: 35 sec into the video you see the dog "play bite" the human's shoulder. That absolutely was a play bite; however, do we really want to teach our dogs to be mouthy with humans??? When dogs play with each other- they absolutely play bite, but that is with each other and IMO they shouldn't be "play biting" with humans.
Example #2: 50 seconds into the video the young man starts barking at the dog and the dog starts barking back. Again.. this is 100% play vocalization. However... for me personally... other than "alert barking" (ie: someone at the front door)... barking is absolutely obnoxious and I definitely don't want my dogs to bark at humans "for fun".... or even worse... "demand barking" (ie: when the dog starts to bark at it's humans for attention). I simply don't believe in teaching dogs to bark at humans.
Example #3: The general body movements in general. This is very boisterous play and this is a BIG dog! I just don't think it is a good idea to teach dogs (especially bigger dogs... but any dogs really) to be boisterous, rambunctious and in "party mode" when interacting with humans. It can easily lead to dogs thinking that jumping on, running into, hip-checking, etc humans is perfectly OK and IMO those things are not OK for dogs to do with humans.
Again... I fully understand dogs can learn to "turn things off" and learn to discriminate when things are appropriate and with whom and certain behaviors can even be taught "on cue" and there can be boundaries and rules associated with these kinds of things... but for the average pet owner and the average family out there... rough housing with a pet dog is just a very slippery slope.
I do "play" with my personal dogs, Ralphie and Sawyer :) We play the following ways:
1. We play "tug", which is very different than actually wrestling with or "rough housing" with a dog- there is an object/toy (the tug toy) between us- they don't put their mouth on me, they do not jump on me, etc.
2. We swim in our pool and play "fetch" in the water
3. I mtn bike while the dogs trot along
4. We hike and camp
5. We play refresher obedience games with lots of treats and praise
All the above are examples of "play" and that is just what I do with my dogs. There are a plethora of other ways to "play" with dogs (agility, nose work, teaching tricks, hide-n-seek, etc).
When my dogs play with each other: they bite necks, they tackle, they jump... they roll over on each other, they chase and run... all 100% acceptable and healthy. However... that is with each other... their own species. I simply don't want them doing any of that with humans. I want it to be very clear to my dogs: you interact with humans and dogs very differently.
So it isn't that rough housing with a dog is "bad" or "unhealthy" or "inappropriate" per se but because of the potential of the dog learning unwanted behaviors and carrying those unwanted behaviors into other situations and interactions with humans I personally feel it is best for owners and families to not "rough house" with their dog(s).