Dealing with “Rough Play” Between People and Pets

I’d like advice about how to handle a playful dog, who is very rowdy and sees the children more as his “playmates.” My husband and sons love “rough play” with our lab pup who gets very excited, but he mouths them as his very natural way to interact and roughhouse with his “littermates.”

The men and boys in the house don’t mind this, but I sure do!  It’s teaching the dog that it’s okay to nip for fun.  Then he nips my younger children when he’s excited and thinks they want to play, and he’s actually pierced skin sometimes because he obviously doesn’t know how to be more careful.  I can’t get the men in our house to stop playing with the dog this way, so how else do we teach him that nipping is not okay?

I am sure this is a common problem with the men and boys in homes.  Several acquaintances have mentioned this same problem to me.  It would be great to see more information on your site on how to handle these types of situations….overly playful dogs and teaching them the “right” ways to play with the kids. ~ Rita

Ah, Rita, I wish I had the magic answer for you. I live in a house full of males (husband and three sons), and it’s really difficult to convince them to moderate their behavior so that they don’t rile the dogs to the point of inappropriate behavior.

I haven’t given up though! I always teach people to recognize stress signals because I think it’s important to be able to recognize them. So I’ll say things like, “Ooh, ‘getting a lot of half-moon eye there. Time to bring it down a notch.” (Half-moon eye is when you see the whites of a dog’s eyes. There are some stress signals shown on my website in both video and photo form.)

I also talk about how it’s really hard for a dog to know what he can and can’t do with any given individual. If my 15-year-old riles the dog up and gets him jumping and mouthing, how is the dog supposed to know that he shouldn’t jump on and mouth the kids when I take him to preschools? It’s really unfair to blame a dog for not having sophisticated reasoning, but a lot of people think the dog should know that he can only do these activities with certain people. How is the dog supposed to figure that out other than trial and error?

Teach your husband and sons to “be a tree” when the dog starts getting too excited. (The tree pose is with feet firmly planted, hands clasped and held close to the body, and eyes looking down at toes. This gives clear guidance of what to do, rather than what not to do.) This body language is a cut-off signal for a dog, and most respond quickly to it.

Encourage everyone to play games with toys like fetch to keep the dog’s energy focused and channeled. Even tug can be a great game as long as you set some rules.

If you happen upon the brilliant solution to this age-old problem, I would love to hear it!  It’s definitely a common problem.

Good luck with your guys!

About the Author

Living with kids and dogs is a lot of work! But when things are going well, a dog can be your child's best friend. That experience is a wonderful gift for any child and well worth the effort involved. Got a question? Let's talk!

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