Dog on the Couch

2015-10-15 06:00

Hello Susan,

I HAVE two Labradors, Josh and Jess, who love playing together. I have noticed that my Alsation, Gypsy, always breaks up their game after a few minutes. She lowers her head, which seems aggressive, and passes between them while pushing the male away slightly with her shoulder. What should I do about this? I am worried Gypsy may bite one of the labs.

Thanks, Bess

What you describe appears to be what is known as “splitting”, a distance increasing signal, which serves the purpose of diffusing tension between dogs. You may also see this behaviour when a dog comes between a human, for example, embracing or having an argument. Splitters are usually savvy senior dogs who are serene peace- lovers. They are the mediators of the dog world and you are fortunate to have such a dog in your group.

Gypsy is interrupting the play bout when tensions increase to a volatile level. Like children playing without supervision, a minor disagreement or misunderstanding may lead to a full blown fight. She will be reading and smelling subtle increases in the stress levels of the two dogs who are testing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This latter is known as ritualised aggression and can often bubble over into real aggression, so Gypsy is enforcing a well-needed calming pause into the play session to keep it safe. Gypsy’s lowered head, which you have observed, would in this context indicate her neutrality rather than aggression.

However, there is the possibility that one of the Labs may not take kindly to the interruption of the game and may respond aggressively towards Gypsy. Please remember that not having personally witnessed all the interactions, my comments are based on your description. If you still have any concerns after taking note of my comments and all the body language given out in this play, ask a reputable behaviourist to monitor the situation first-hand and advise you further. -Susan Henderson (accredited animal behaviourist).


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