Imagine a 50 kg Great Dane playing with a 2 kg Chihuahua. This dog game looks funny at first glance. Nevertheless, special care should be taken here. Both sides should always feel comfortable when they are playing a dog game.
The partner for the dog game
There are often videos circulating on the internet in which amuse people about how delightfully a very large dog plays with a much smaller dog and overlook how uncomfortable the small dog feels in this presumed “dog games”. Unfortunately there is also no knowledge and understanding of some people here, when it comes to their own dog, which supposedly plays so wonderfully here.
But this is the most important point for owners of dogs of smaller breeds. It is not always easy to find a play partner for your dog who is either adequate in size and therefore not dangerous for the smaller dog or has a good social behaviour and communication repertoire. For the small dog it is however of great importance to feel well in the dog game and not to have to fear.
Solution strategy: Barking
If you have a big dog, make sure you call him to you and don’t rush at little ones. Learn how to approach dogs gently and call him back as soon as you notice that your playmate is not feeling well. This is valid for every dog owner, even if the own dog means it dearly, respect is always priority opposite the others. This is the only way that our dogs do not gain bad experiences and learn that they can rely on us. If we let them do their thing and don’t stand by them in dicey situations, sooner or later they will have to choose a new strategy. Often these strategies end in a battle.
No matter how “friendly” and socially competent a large dog may be, when he greets the Chihuahua puppy he often runs into them. The small one may have learned that approaching a large dog means pain and he will adapt his reaction to such situations in the future. That often annoying barking of many small dogs originated from the need to make themself seen instead of being trampled down. If this barking then develops into a practicable solution strategy for the small dog (“if I bark, I won’t be overlooked and have distance”) he will show this behaviour more frequently. The “little barker” has already learned how he can help himself if he is not helped by his actual protection officer, the human being.
So if we disregard quite obvious signals, which make the discomfort of the smaller dog clear, like squeak, scream, run away, seek shelter with humans or under tables/benches. We must still pay attention to which other attempts to communicate discomfort are perhaps overlooked by the larger play partner. Following questions can provide information about this:
He wants to play:
- Does the smaller dog after a short respite approach his larger play partner again?
- Does he ask him to play?
- Is the game even? (sometimes one runs after the other, sometimes the other way round, sometimes the other lies at the bottom)
He doesn’t want to play:
- Does he turn away, yawn, stay lying and suddenly find a blade of grass much more interesting than the other dog?
- Is he hiding behind you or does he seems scared?
All these are calming signals, which can be recognized by the other dog, but do not have to be. This makes it all the more important that humans keep an eye on these so-called “calming signals” and intervene when the smaller dog needs support.
These things apply in every dog game! No matter which dog plays with which one, it is always important that all participants feel comfortable.
How can you help?
If you notice that your dog is afraid or uncomfortable, squat down and offer him protection. You can block the other dog with your hand and ask the owners to call him back. Try to recognize in time which situations your dog finds less funny and avoid them.
If your dog is a little hooligan, call him out of the situation as soon as it gets too wild. Learn him the social contact with conspecifics. You can also take a trainer aside for this.
Dogs are social beings who appreciate the closeness of their fellow dogs and flourish in the common dog game. However, if there is an imbalance in size and social behaviour, problems may arise (usually for the smaller dog). So always pay attention to the needs and signals of your or someone else’s favorite.