Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
Dog Gone Problems,
We just adopted a new puppy recently (who is between 18-months and 2-years-old). We have two small dogs at home and our new dog is playing too rough with them. She sees them bouncing at each other playing and is bouncing back at them in a playful manner but is just so much bigger than they are and she scares them.
The puppy we just adopted is a 60-pound lab mix, and our smaller dogs and both weigh less than 12 pounds. Is there any hope to get them to play nicely together? Help! I don’t want any of them getting hurt.
Well, I think of dogs as puppies up to around 2 years old, so your new dog is really just young and not really a puppy any longer.
If you want to have a mix of big and small dogs, it's ideal to have the larger breed dog come in as a puppy so they grow up around the other dogs. This helps them feel more comfortable and gives the puppy a chance to develop sensitivity to their size as she ages.
But since your new dog is full grown already, you are going to need to help teach her how to play with little dogs. Here are a few tips:
1. Do not play overly rough with your big dog. This is a common mistake people make. How you interact with your dog is how she thinks she should interact with everyone. As soon as your big dog starts playing too rough with you, stop. The timing of this needs to be precise. Stop the instant the dog’s energy gets too high.
2. Increase the exercise your big dog gets. A hearty game (or games) of fetch or a nice long walk are great ways to burn off excess energy. This will help your big dog — as it won't have to play with such force to burn off excess energy.
3. Supervise play between big and little dogs. Avoid letting them play together alone. You want to be able to intercede right away and can only do that if you monitor their play.
4. Interrupt play time when the big dog gets too excited. When this happens, call her over or put her on the leash and bring her away from the small dogs for a brief time out. Once she settles down, let her go back to play with them.
5. It's best to arrange the additional exercise with the big dog before the times the dogs like to play. I know this can be challenging, but if you identify times of the day they are apt to play and add in exercise beforehand, you can help this situation quite a bit.
6. Be sure to allow the small dogs some time to play with themselves at times. While we’d like to teach the big dog to play with them gently and nicely, it’s important the little ones have time they can play unencumbered.
7. Teach your dog a redirect command. This way you can call your big dog away or get her attention if play stats to get too rough. Click here to watch a video of the "focus exercise" I often teach my clients for this purpose.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.