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Hello All,

I have to Husky/GS mixes, King and Reyna. King is 3 and Reyna is 2. Same parents, just different litter. King and Reyna are friendly dogs, love people, love attention, and love each other.

King and Reyna play very rough together. Lots of "talking/growling", grabbing at each others legs, neck, face, and whatever else they can get their mouth on. Neither of them seem to mind it but its definitely different from what I am used to seeing dogs do.

When we take them to the dog park King tends to ignore other dogs besides the usual introductory smelling. Reyna tends to play with a few dogs that she finds interesting and have fun with her play style. Never had any problems there.

The problem comes in two forms:

1) Pack Mentality (?): if King or Reyna notices the other one playing they will tend to butt in and stop the outside dog from playing with my other dog. Sometimes this turns in to a 2 on 1 situation with my dogs beating up the other one which is not good. Because of this I started taking my dogs individually to the dog park.

2) Aggressive Chasing: The local dog park is a large 200m x 200m square. A lot of dogs get their energy out by running around. If either of my dogs see that, they will take off chasing the dog. If (when) they catch the dog they usually nip at it the scruff while running. Bigger dogs don't mind, smaller dogs do. My dogs do it to each other when they are off leash out in the forest and don't mind it. However last time I went to the dog park Reyna crossed the line and the dog she was chasing yelped when she caught him. I apologized to the owner, put Reyna on the leash, took her aside and gave her 5 minutes to calm down. As soon as I let her of the leash she did the same thing. I promptly put her on the leash and have not been back to the dog park since.

Other things to note:

If the dog they are chasing just stops running my dogs stop also and they all just stand around looking at each other panting. The problem is if my dog catches while they are still chasing each other.

I have noticed this behavior is normally happens in dogs smaller than King and Reyna. They will chase larger dogs that are running but they never have crossed the line with them.

They have no problem playing with dogs in enclosed areas. They go to doggie day camp with dogs of all sizes (obviously they are separate from the tiny dogs) and have had no issues at all. My neighbor brings over his dog to our back yard and they have no issues chasing each other and playing.

I do not want to keep my dogs from socializing with other dogs but I also do not want them to be aggressive with other dogs enjoying their time at the park also.

Do you all have any suggestions on Training/Behavioral Modification techniques that I can work with my dogs to help them respect other dogs boundaries when playing?

Thanks!
 

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It sounds like there's 2 things at work here.

One, you have two very rough players. Given their mix, that is not surprising.

Two, it sounds like there's an aspect of predatory behavior at work in the chasing game, which again is not surprising given the mix. There is also the possibility that this stems from herding behavior, but given the mix and the scruff grabbing I'm more inclined to guess predatory than herding. The motivations are very similar in a lot of ways, with the exception that the predatory dog is, IME, no longer really processing the other dog as a dog, but as something between play object and prey.

Not all dogs are well suited to dog parks. In order for a dog to be well suited to a dog park, they have to be safe playing off leash with other dogs, meaning that their play style is not overly rough and that they are not predatory players. From what you're describing, your dogs are not playing safely with other dogs. Other people will have their own opinions, but I am personally made very uncomfortable by predatory chasing or scruff grabbing, especially between unknown dogs. I actually was just talking with another trainer about a GSD mix who did this that escalated to putting punctures in other dogs. Eventually, I would expect your dogs to hurt another dog doing this, or to do it to the wrong dog and get into a fight.

In terms of what you can do now, my answer would be is there's not a while lot to be done other than close supervision and management. While I do think it is possible to change play behavior, I don't believe it is safe to try to modify play behavior in a dog park. There are just too many factors at work. I would also not consider this style of play safe at a dog park with unknown dogs, or with unknown dogs in general. It is hard to change inappropriate play behavior because there is so often an aspect of over arousal to inappropriate play behavior. When dogs are playing with each other, they are extremely excited. In a high arousal situation like this, they aren't really in a learning state of mind. My personal feeling is that if play behavior is not taught properly as puppies, then changing it as an adult is difficult, but possible in some situations. It is not something that can be coached through over the internet, though. What you can do is manage the behavior. I would suggest interruption and redirection before they become so overaroused that they start being too rough.

The predatory behavior is more complicated than the general roughness, though. In this case, I don't think the behavior comes from over arousal. There is a good chance your dogs are having a jolly old time. But, they aren't playing with the other dogs like they're other dogs. In this kind of situation, I find the dog tends to view the other dog more as a object than another dog. Predatory play behavior is dangerous. I think it is what leads to a lot of the injuries and deaths that you hear about happening in dog parks. Dogs with a tendency for it need to be managed very carefully when playing with other (especially smaller) dogs, and that kind of management is rarely realistic in your typical dog park. Beyond that, dogs who trend towards predatory behavior in play are just downright unsuitable for the dog park atmosphere, and IMO it is unfair to subject other dogs you do not know to their tendencies. People should be able to take their smaller dogs to a dog park without fear that a big dog is going to chase them down and grab at them.

This does sound like fairly typical rough GSD/Husky style play behavior. Both breeds, IME, tend not to do well in dog parks because of the roughness of their breed-typical play behaviors and a tendency towards predatory play behaviors. I am also of the opinion that rough play is risky to allow between unknown dogs, and that is pretty much all that exists in a dog park setting.

In terms of feeling bad not letting your dogs socialize- you do have two dogs. They can socialize with each other as much as they want. My feeling is that dog-dog socialization is important, but in a multi-dog household I don't know that I feel like it is absolutely imperative that they get regular chances to interact with dogs outside the household. Yes, they should be comfortable with them, but in this situation my advice would be to let them play together (supervised and safely) and stop taking them to the dog park.
 

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Your dogs do not need to go to the dog park. Most pet owners think dogs need to socialize with other dogs and they believe that is what is meant by socialization. This is not the case.

Socialization means exposing dogs to different things such as seeing people walking in the park, walking on different surfaces and being exposed to different environments. Perhaps you know this and I apologize if you do.

German Shepherds and Huskies have quite a lot of prey drive. Your dog making another dog yelp when "caught" while playing is an example of this. Another time it could end badly for the smaller dog. You cannot "untrain" genetic prey drive and in an uncontrolled situation such as a dog park smaller dogs running can become prey to the larger dog.

The rough play you see between the two dogs is common to both breeds. Herding dogs like German Shepherds tend to have this play style. It is also genetic based (hard wired) and is not something you can untrain or train away.

I would stop going to dog parks. I would separate the two dogs for awhile each day and spend one on one time walking and training each dog away from the other in different places. This effort is far better than trying to make these dogs play with other dogs at a dog park or anywhere else.
 

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Well said. I would suggest going to basic dog training classes instead of these blasted dog parks. I go to three different training facilities more to provide controlled situations and distractions than training although we do all the exercises and requirements of the classes. We have our own training program far beyond the classes. Dogs don't need to be nose to nose or tail to nose buddies. Being around other dogs doing various things is great for them. There are people at each facility that bring pairs of dogs. Some work as a team others work separately. You can bring a crate for one dog and switch them if you want to work each separately.

I will say that only one person with multiple dogs has done a good job with them. She is a trainer so knows what she is doing and has a good selected pair. She still has difficulty working both together on some exercises. Training two dogs together is a real challenge, even with relatively calm dogs. Two excitable dogs are a big hand full for the inexperienced.

I agree with separating them and working individually with each and limiting their interaction together to controlled situations.
 

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Hi All,

Thank you very much for your well written response. I definitely agree that some dogs are not made for the dog park and that mine have shown they are not. I am happy that they have each other to socialize with and I think they miss the open space to run around more than they miss playing with other dogs. I recently extended my backyard fence to allow them more room to run around but we are definitely missing out on the ability to let them run free like they could at the park.

I appreciate the suggestion to train them separately. Both dogs have been to organized training. I continue to work with them separately and have signed them up for more classes that start this month. King is moving on to dog agility classes while Reyna is doing more obedience classes. I also play, walk, and train them at home separately while also spending time with them together. We go for runs together and I recently purchased doggie backpacks for them that I put water in when we go on hikes or runs.

I have played some mental games with them, such as "find the treat" but if you have any other suggestions to work their brain I would appreciate it.

Thanks!
 
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