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Diamonds in the Ruff

Why We Don't Have Play Time

Should your puppy have dog friends?  Of course!

Yes, it is important for your puppy to learn to "speak dog" and have dog friends.  It's as much fun to watch your puppy romp and chase with his own kind as it is for him.  BUT ... your puppy also needs to learn to be calm and polite.

We don't have "free play" in classes, but they do have the opportunity to meet other puppies politely and learn the hardest thing, to be able to work and learn in a group of new dogs and their families.  We encourage you to make friends with


What we all want for our dogs is to remain calm and not lose their minds and jump all over dogs or humans.  To be able to go on vacation and pass others politely on the sidewalk or walk through a farmer's market with a calm dog.


We live in a day and age of dog parks and day cares.  People misunderstand the term "socialization."  They go out in the world looking for every dog and person as a potential social event for their dog.  Puppies grow into adolescents with high excitability and little impulse control.  At the park, you hear them calling "it's okay, he's friendly!" as their dog barrels toward you.  Their dogs do not come when called, they don't follow normal canine social etiquette.  Their owners are not good neighbors.  Dog fights and injuries result.  Even if no one is hurt physically, trust is shattered, and dogs become fearful and reactive toward other dogs as a result.


We need to talk about the fall-out of too much of a good thing.  We are seeing a greater problem in recent years of over-stimulated dogs who lose their minds at the sight of another dog. These dogs become frustrated, they bark, they lunge, and far too many have no use for their owners if another dog is on the horizon.

Your dog is attending classes to learn to mind his manners.

Dragging against a tight leash toward a playmate, getting all worked up before they even get there, and then engaging in high arousal play until you get the leash on and drag them home again is a recipe for disaster.  You are teaching your dog to pull on leash, to have no impulse control, to value getting AWAY from you.  You are making all the things you complain about worse.  He won't come, you can't catch him, he is looking for fun that isn't you.  He can't wait to escape you to get to them.  Is that the relationship you want?

We encourage our students to make friends and get together to go on walks, train together, and have play dates where their puppies spend as much time just hanging out, sniffing and napping, as they do playing chase and wrestle games. To avoid high arousal frustration that can turn into rudeness or even aggression.

We teach owners to NOT allow their dog to meet everyone and everything ... saying hello is the exception, not the rule.   And always, release to go play is granted in return for calm, mannerly behavior.  We talk about how dogs can get hyper-focused on people or dogs and this ends up not working out well for anyone. We practice attention and basic skills in class. 

We also teach our owners how to say NO to strangers, which is the hardest part. We encourage them to practice with us pretending to be obnoxious dog lovers so that they get the muscle memory to do it in real time. Holding the hand up in a stop gesture can be quite effective, and strangers will often understand if you tell them you are working on ignoring distractions. Owners need the words because they can get tongue-tied.

There is something about the social contract that makes it hard for some owners to put the needs of the dog over the needs of the stranger. We try to help them get past that.

Students practice calling their dogs away from interaction to take breaks to calm down.  Then give them permission to choose to go back ... or not.  If either puppy says “no thanks, I’m done” ... humans must honor that choice.

And we stress that the pup chooses to go greet the stranger ... the stranger can’t walk right up to the dog (so we know that the pup actually wants to greet).

We do treat for sits and other appropriate behavior during greetings, especially when they call away from the interaction successfully.

We also teach them to just go out and watch the world with their pup, no interactions expected (except fun with the owner).

“If everything else is more exciting than you, how much fun is that?” seems to hit home with many.

Dogs who have been attacked rightfully prepare for the worst.  If you were mugged in an elevator, you'd probably get off on the wrong floor if someone who even slightly resembles the mugger's type got on with you, especially if it were a similar time of day or situation.  Your heart rate would go up and you would be thinking of ways to escape or protect yourself.  And that's not dominance.  That's anxiety and fear. Always encourage him to leave if he needs to. He doesn't want to attack them, he wants them to go away.


I would avoid unknown dogs while out on walks.  You don't know if they are safe.  A lot of people who have dogs with issues set out to meet every dog they can, thinking playing with lots of dogs will help them. Your answer is "no, thank you."  Even if the owner says, "It's okay, he's friendly!" there's a very high likelihood that they may not be.  Or they may be "too friendly" and rude.  Nice dogs with poor social skills can be worse than anti-social dogs.  You can't afford another bad experience - even a minor one.  And you can't afford to have him learn that acting out makes scary things go away, or it will become his "go to" choice whenever he feels stuck.  You can't un-ring that bell.  Err on the side of caution.  If he isn't comfortable or responds to another dog's communication as potentially dangerous, I'd trust his opinion.  He speaks dog better than we do.  


Here's a good article: Over-stimulated, Overly-Friendly Dogs (  The dogs that this article is written about are probably the type of dog that make him the most uncomfortable.  And here's another thing to consider.  He may not be anti-social, he may just be growing up: All played out: social maturity in dogs. (

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