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  • Robert Berkelhammer, M.Ed.

Dog Play Group Behavior Standards: Not Just Playing Around

A question I hear often is "Don't dogs just play when they meet in play groups?"

No. Dogs need to learn how to play with other dogs in a social way. I explain about a dog behavior group in Chapter 2 of my book Pet Care Givers & Families-Getting the Most from Dog Playgroups, Walkers, & Pet Sitters. For examples look at the chart below.

Dog Behavior Group Standards Chart

Positive Running Negative Running

Positive Wrestling Negative Wrestling

Positive Biting Negative Biting

Positive Ball Play Negative Ball Play

Positive Licking Negative Licking

Positive Pool Play Negative Pool Play

Positive Transport Negative Transport

Positive Barking Negative Barking

Positive Staff Contact Negative Staff Contact

Positive Jumping Negative Jumping

Dogs in a well-run behavior playgroup learn to increase positive behavior and decrease negative behavior. Dogs model positive & negative behavior and staff reinforces positive behavior and intervenes when negative behavior occurs. Proportionately, more positive behavior is modeled by the dogs than negative behavior.


For example, positive licking occurs when dogs do not overwhelm other dogs with licking. The frequency, intensity, and location of the licking is acceptable to the receiving dog. Negative licking is unwanted licking by the receiving dog. The licking may be too assertive in touch or in an unacceptable location on the dog’s anatomy. Dogs may react like they don’t want to receive any licking at all by backing off or growling. A more socialized licking dog will read these signals in the recipient and adjust accordingly by backing off and stopping or perhaps licking an ear instead of an eye or licking softly versus hard licking.


Positive biting is learned quickly in a behavior group attended consistently over time by a dog modulating their biting pressure. Biting occurs in running, walking, and sitting. Proper biting modulation does not cause pain in other dogs. Negative biting causes dogs to cry out in pain. Certain dogs with chronic biting trouble may be unsuccessful in learning bite modulation and will not be able to stay in a behavior group. These dogs may not have a mean bone in their body and behave well at home with adults and children, but for some reason they don't learn socially positive biting. Certain dogs may have genetic herding and biting in their breed or other factors making it hard to overcome the unmodulated biting impulse. Positive biting may occur with greater frequency in windy colder weather.


Positive ball play looks analytically to the human eye as joyful and competitive jumping, running, biting, and retrieving a ball. A dog can play by themselves with a ball or with other dogs. Negative ball play may reflect aggression problems like resource guarding when a dog growls or bites to inhibit other dogs from playing with the ball. Resource guarding can occur in the home, at a people park or dog park, at a doggy day care center, or in a behavior group. Dogs in the behavior group are protected from negative ball play thru staff interventions to discourage negative behavior and encourage positive behavior. Balls are used as well as denied depending on group dynamics. Regarding dogs with ball play problems, my website features an entry Disempowering and Redirecting Obsessive Compulsive Dogs Ball Play for dog owners and pet professionals.


Positive barking is limited barking as a dog learns how to play in a pack of dogs with minimum barking. Negative barking can reflect excess stored up anxiety, nervousness, unreleased tension, and not knowing how to play with other dogs. Dogs become familiar with their own emerging play style through socializing, which reduces barking frequency. Dogs learn by seeing other dogs modeling what works for them in the ever changing milieu of dog playgroups.


Positive running and positive jumping are joyful and excludes over aggressive contact with other dogs. One large dog may jump gracefully thru the air and gently graze the shoulder of another large dog who acts at peace with the jumper. Controlled powerful running is positive for those dogs ready and able to participate. Positive running and jumping can involve 1- 5 dogs or more. Necessary release of stress occurs in positive running and jumping, and is often followed by dogs choosing to rest before running again. Negative running and jumping scares other dogs and can cause physical injuries, disturbing a dog’s safe routine. Negative running and jumping encroaches too quickly and closely on those dogs not running or jumping. Negative running and jumping is disturbing to the play style of dogs who are predominately slow walkers who rarely jump or run quickly. Dogs with soft tissue and skeletal conditions need to be protected from further injuries. Traumatized dogs dislike high speed dogs running near them.


Dogs wrestle on the ground, on all fours, and occasionally standing on 2 hind feet. Positive wrestling has no noticeable pain or prolonged breathing suppression by the weight of one dog on top of another dog. Dogs let each other separate before renewing the contact wrestling. Negative wrestling looks like one dog is consistently controlling and overpowering a second dog thru physical tackling, painful biting, excessive pressure on the throat, excessive laying on top of a dog, or pushing a dog into a fence. The dog being overwhelmed may lose control, panic and bite painfully to stop the aggressor, or struggle frantically to get away and hide.


Transport is an important aspect of behavior group where groups of dogs ride together from their homes to the social training group facility. Positive transport involves dogs learning gentle relaxed behavior enjoying transport. Negative transport includes an inability to sit still, excess moving around a seat and barking, jumping other dogs, chewing a leash or chewing something in the vehicle interior, etc.


Positive staff contact includes dogs learning to allow staff to set limits on their behavior thru voice commands, whistles, hand signals, balls and other toys, respecting fences and gates, and not jumping on staff. Negative staff contact includes dogs jumping on staff, which is dangerous and unsafe, not hearing or listening to staff setting limits, trying to jump over a fence, warning bites and biting, and trying to pilfer something from staff pockets like work gloves.


Certain dogs adore water filled and empty pool play. Swimming, soaking, drinking, or rolling on the back in an empty pool is popular. Negative pool play is running too quickly into the pool and knocking dogs over or peeing in a pool.

Robert Berkelhammer is the Author of Pet Care Givers & Families: Getting the Most From Dog Playgroups, Pet Sitters, and Walkers. Also, see our MULTI-USE FAMILY PET CARE CONTRACT, a must-have organizing tool for you, your family, pet care professionals, and most importantly your pets!

Please consider helping me continue my important work helping pets as I develop as pet care professional and expert. All Donors will receive a free copy of the 16-page Family Pet Contract! Learn more here:

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