I have a sight hound, small (22#) female, spayed, not quite 2 1/2 years. We go to the local dog park regularly so that she can run and play. I usually take her to the small dog side, but have taken her into the large dog pen when no one her size is there to play.

On the large dog side, she is sometimes intimidated by the larger breed dogs. As a result, I try to watch and I am teaching her to come to the picnic table (where I am) if she becomes anxious about the rougher play. Today she went running to the gate to tell me she was "done". On the small dog side, she will taunt the other dogs into a game of chase (or tag). They mouth eachother, but there are not any displays of agression. No growling or posturing, they just act like they are (pretend) biting without actually biting (no punctures, no blood). She plays best with dogs her size, but she tends to be persistant about getting them to run. She loves to run, especially if the other dog is chasing her (she's so fast!).

Yesterday she was playing rough and tumble with a smaller dog. One of those fluffy things that might weigh 15 pounds. The owner and I spoke and she confirmed that her dogs play like that in their home, no foul, just rough housing. Until... my dog started tossing the smaller one onto his back. That concerned me. But I got really upset when I saw my dog start to shake her head (while holding the smaller one's throat). I prompty stopped her and we left the park shortly afterwards.

Everyone has the right to take their dog to the park, the problem is that there isn't a "medium dog" area. Small, five pound dogs come in to "play" with 40# dogs, and the large dog side has everything from smaller dogs to Great Danes.

I have considered that roughhousing with the smaller dog kicked in a latent prey drive and her (hunting/hound dog) instincts took over. Despite appreciating that she wasn't intentionally trying to hurt the other dog, it still horrifies me. And it's... "inappropriate behavior".

How can I teach my dog that she can roughhouse with some dogs, but not other dogs?

1 Answer 1


This sounds like a tricky situation specifically because you are fine with her rough play when it is with a dog more similar in size. Teaching dogs to distinguish when a behavior is acceptable given external factors (like the size of the playmate) is hard, and it is not clear whether all dogs even have the intelligence needed to understand something like that. Some certainly do, but likely not all.

However, there is another solution that will likely solve the problem just as well. My recommendation is to work on reinforcing her basic commands, especially her recall ("come here"). If her recall is stable in all situations, then it won't be an issue. You can interrupt play at any point by calling her to you. If you just need to let her cool down a little, you can then work through a series of commands (sit, down, stay for increasing intervals, tricks, whatever) to fully shift her focus to you. When she is no longer overexcited, you can release her to continue calmer playing. Essentially giving her space to take a "time out."

Judging from what you've said, I would suspect she already knows a basic version of recall, at least one that she'll obey in low-intensity, training specific situations where she knows that you have treats. If not, it's easy enough to teach and you can either ask an additional question or google for the basic steps.

However, lots of dogs have difficulty with recall when they are overly excited and lots of things are going on. In some cases, a dog may have not even connected the spoken command that you issue during calm training sessions with the word that you shout in an entirely different setting. Teaching a dog to know a command in all settings is called proofing, and you can google checklists that give you ideas of what sort of things should be covered to "proof" any command.

But the basic steps for expanding the effectiveness of recall are:

  1. Get some tasty, special treats. These shouldn't be used for anything except recall, and they should be her absolute favorite if possible. Hot dog pieces work well for many dogs, or non-spicy turkey or beef jerky. Or maybe there's a special type of store-bought treat that she really, really loves.
  2. Practice all the time. Start incorporating recall into everything you do (make sure to always have your special treats on hand). In your home, on walks, when you take her out to pee, at the park, at the pet store, etc. If she's on a leash, you can practice by letting her go to the end of it and then calling her back to you.
  3. Set her up for success. She'll learn best by doing it correctly and quickly, so start by practicing in situations where she's bound to succeed (already right next to you, very close and going to come anyway, few distractions, etc.) and slowly work up to situations that are "harder." Practice makes permanent, so you want to avoid situations where she is going to ignore the call.
  4. Practice in low-risk situations. As she starts to get better at it, practice her recall when you are at the park but there isn't rough play happening. Practice when she's sniffing something interesting, when she is first meeting another dog, when she is playing lightly, etc.

Hope this helps, best of luck!

  • 1
    I do those things (special dog park treats, interrupted play, moderate relaxed training) and overall she's a good dog. I just got so freaked out when this happened that all I could get out was, "no" over and over again (while seperating the two dogs). Perhaps I am the one that needs the training....
    – elbrant
    Jan 13, 2019 at 19:14
  • Ahh, yes, human error always happens :) Jan 13, 2019 at 19:23

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