Canine Status Signaling During Play


In young puppies we can observe developing instinctive behaviors. One is ritualized greeting which involves displaying status (ranking) signals. The dominant dog will exhibit one or more common routines; here he places his chin over the top of the other dog's neck, towers over the other dog and finally mounts. Mounting is virtually always a status signal to the other dog, which can easily be determined in observing dogs mount other dogs of the same gender. This is natural dog behavior. When dogs acknowledge and accept each other's signals they can be friends, or at least coexist. 

With children it's important to be aware that dogs largely make and receive status signals from other dogs over the top of their necks and shoulders. Unaware, children (especially young kids and toddlers) like to greet dogs with a pet to the top of a dog's head. Allowing this is a huge mistake and is a very large reason why young kids get bitten. It's one thing for a dog to accept a "higher status" signal from an obviously dominant dog vs. from a child whom the dog doesn't view as having higher status. When that happens expect an untrained dog to react the way it would in nature when a lower-status animal tries making such a signal.  

Most dogs will not automatically recognize higher status in pre-adolescent human children, and even after that a child might need to demonstrate it to convince the dog (that adult owners need to teach their dogs to respect the higher status of all humans is it's own separate topic). To be safe always have children pet a dog first on the side or shoulder when greeting, making sure they don't tower over the dog reaching down in a way the dog might misinterpret as a status signal. If you are having trouble with this issue give me a call, I can help!           


The upper left video is from the net; the one directly above is from one of my training classes. It's exceedingly important that young puppies under 6 months of age be exposed to free play during which they learn social manners, including inhibited bite pressure, though the jawing and mouthing that occurs during the play. it doesn't have to be done in a classroom but it should be closely supervised by someone who knows what they are doing and how to read canine signals (hint, hint!)


When dogs are playing nicely they will trade off submissive signals (most commonly the familiar "play bow") that serves to tell the other dog that "It's ok, I'm going to lunge at you but it's not for real" (if it were a "for real" fight neither dog would bow, make themselves vulnerable and place themselves at risk). The dominant dog will submissively signal less but it will still be easily observable. If one playing dog wants a break, stops trading submissive signals and the other dog doesn't acknowledge but escalates to rougher play it's time to redirect them. It's essential that owners know how to manage their dogs at play both at home and outdoors!      

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*All dogs shown in the photos that appear (with one exception, a video clip about puppy status signaling during play which is duly noted- and also excepting the Gazette (blog) subpage) on this website are actual dogs that I've had the pleasure to know and to work with. This is only a small sampling of the over 2,300 dogs I've trained since opening for business in 2004! I'd love for you to join the "family!"      

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