Saturday, March 26, 2016

"He Just Wants to Play!"

"He just wants to play!" This was the lament of a pensive dog mom, watching her rambunctious and, frankly rude, pup being introduced to a playgroup at daycare. We watched as he charged up to dog after dog, meeting teeth and growls every time. "All these dogs are aggressive!"
dog fetching Chuckit bumper
Photo by Erin Koski

Though that particular dog owner may never come to grips with it, the reality is that her dog was the one causing the problem. I adore playground kid analogies for dog social behavior, so here's one. The owner saw her dog bound onto the playground, shouting "Hello friends!" He frolicked around inviting the other kids to play, but they punched him and threw rocks at him instead.

What I saw was a kid sprinting around the playground, zooming up to people and slapping them on the back while shouting "Tag! You're it!" He wasn't just doing it to other playing children either, he did it to everyone. Kids that were playing hand clapping games with each other, kids that were reading quietly on a bench, even someone's grandma got thumped as he zoomed by. The kids reacted in predictable fashion, shouting 'stop it!' or 'go away!' or trying to slap him back.

Despite his rudeness, a couple of kids did attempt to engage with the rowdy one and join his game of tag, but he didn't seem to notice and just zoomed onto the next person. When one tagged him back quite forcefully, he turned on them, fists flailing, shouting "DON'T HIT ME!" He was completely incapable of engaging with anyone on the playground, and just whirled in circles tagging anyone in reach while shouting "Tag! You're it!" until physically removed from the playground to calm down.

Break It Down

The rowdy kid/dog seems like he "just wants to play" because he races around play-bowing, licking other dogs in the face, and zooming in circles. The thing is, without any sort of mutual agreement to play together, charging up to a total stranger and enthusiastically "tagging them" is rude. Most of the time, play begins with something like "Hi, wanna play tag?" "Ok!" If you skip this step, you're just running up to people and abruptly hitting them for no reason. Those that respond negatively, shouting or taking a swing, aren't being aggressive. They're just communicating that they don't want to play, and find the behavior quite rude.

If the rowdy one had genuinely wanted to play when he raced into the yard, he would have engaged with one of the dogs that tried to play back when he rushed up to them. Instead, he ignored them when they politely tried to play, and got mad when they matched his own level of enthusiasm. Instead, he was so overly excited he wasn't capable of playing with anyone.

It's Not Them, It's You

If your dog manages to piss off most of the dog he meets when he "just wants to play", he's probably going about it all wrong. If every dog at daycare or the dog park is mean to your poor baby, he almost certainly has terrible manners. Teaching him impulse control and helping him stay calm enough to play works a lot better than blaming the other dogs for not being more accepting of his specialness. They are dogs, after all.


  1. Amen! I see this a lot at my doggy daycare I work at and its difficult to explain to their owners that they aren't appropriate.

    1. I wish there was a more effective way of explaining the issue, the experience seems to be pretty universal.