Canine Behavior/rough play


QUESTION: Hello Jill,

I have two spayed Lurcher bitches. The first one (we'll call her the black one)I've had since she was 2 and is now 6. She is gentle and obedient, confident, has a bit of separation anxiety with me but eager to please and a beautiful dog inside the house and out. (She has just one eye. I'm sure it's not relevant but just to give you the full picture...)

With other dogs in the park she goes up to them quite calm but happy, tail in a confident but friendly posture, wagging... but if there's lots of running about she would sometimes get exited and start spinning around and around in a circle and then run and run and then crash into one of the other dogs, very rough behaviour. Or she would seem to choose one to just charge at them and bowl them over. Not every dog, not every time.  She only does this in wide open spaces like the park.  In the woods they walk and run nicely together and enjoys chasing a squirrel or just plod alongside me.  She is her normal gentle and easy-going self and doesn't take much notice of other dogs. If they go up to her and lick her mouth or try and play she just looks at me and almost ignores them.  She occasionally might have an initial sniff then continue to walk with me, disinterested in the dogs.

But, because she didn't 'play' very well at the park with the other dogs and lots of owners get so protective and cross I decided to get her a friend she could play with who would be comfortable with her as they would be part of the same pack and be used to each other.  So, 2 years ago we rescued another lurcher, from RSPCA,(we'll call her the white one) who was aged 2 and is now 4.  The white one had been owned by gypsies and was very nervous and anxious at first, clearly ill-treated. She has improved a lot with training and a stable home life. Generally they get on well, respect each other's space, eat happily next to each other and sleep near each other but they are not close.  They'll walk, sniff and 'hunt' together but other than that they seem to just co-exist.

However, if the white one is running when out in the open park,  the black one will chase her down and run her over.  The white one will stop running or come to us to prevent the black one from crashing into her as she dislikes the roughness. Again, if in the woods they walk and run together beautifully.  But, if other dogs are involved and the white one tries to play with them the black one will cut her off, almost like stopping her playing with them, or she may even try and join in with them but ends up being too rough and causes the white one to back off because she doesn't like it. It sometimes even looks like she's joining the white one in hunting the 3rd dog down although the white one is only trying to run or play (she is super gentle and calm) but the black one doesn't seem to get the play concept.

I have worked with dogs for many, many years but I have to say I find her behaviour perplexing. Was she just badly socialised during the critical period of her life as a pup perhaps?  Why is she gentle and submissive and obedient with everything else but so rough at 'play'. I have to say she doesn't attack or bite the other dogs, just run into them or run them over. She did once catch the white one whilst chasing her, but it was during the chase, I don't think it was an intentional bite per se.

I mostly walk them in the woods to make life easier but would love to know how to deal with her. Is it too late due to her lack of socialisation with other dogs when young or would long leash training help? I just feel the latter would be difficult for a sighthound due to speed etc.

Thank you for any help you can offer.  I have to say I enjoy reading your advice pages and have quoted you often in my papers for my behaviourist course.

ANSWER: You cannot in any way discount the very serious effect on perception, reading body language, and general ability to engage cognition in a dog with one eye.  Therein lies your problem.

In multiple dog environments with open spaces, your black Lurcher is seriously hindered.  This is a sight hound without sight in one eye.

What she is doing with your white Lurcher is called "splitting": she is coming between her companion and those other dogs whom she cannot fully observe and she is obviously in distress because of this lack of observation ability.

No dog parks.  No environments that cause the distress you describe.  Your two dogs are fine by themselves.  Be careful with off leash environments with sight hounds: one can easily (in this case, more likely the white one, but given her former life experience perhaps in temperament she is less likely) just "take off" while "locked on" in chase: this is a truly biological and genetically driven behavior.  I used to be Whippet rescue in the tri-state NY area.  Several dogs got "lost" (permanently, unfortunately) because they were off leash and sighted a "prey", only to disappear into the woods.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your answer, Jill, that totally makes sense and I will bear your advice in mind with how and where I walk them in future.

Please would you be able to explain though why the black one used to spin and knock other dogs over and now with the white one when in open spaces? She can clearly see them and chooses to spin and crash into them or just run at them until she bowls them over? I understand it's probably a more difficult question to answer without seeing them but if you have any idea I would be so grateful to hear your opinion.

Best experienced guess (and intuitive lol):  spinning is a sign of either over excitement or confusion (cognitive dissonance).  In the first case, the black one is not able to "see", she cannot "clearly" see them.  Dog's vision is so much different from our own.  They are (NOT the sight hounds, which a Lurcher is) generally a bit more "near sighted" but their peripheral vision is phenomenal (it would have to be, as natural hunters, a characteristic the domestic dog retains to some degree but especially in certain breeds, such as the sight hound type).  As cognitive dissonance: hard to take "down" to the dog level but have you ever had the feeling that you wanted to go, and still had the feeling that you wanted to stay?  Cognitive dissonance in a human produces all sorts of horrors.  In a dog, it produces "whaddo I do whaddo I do whaddo I do" and an adrenaline rush (fight/flight kicks in).  "Bumping" can be a form of bullying (as seen in Labrador Retrievers, especially toward young children, a benign and "jolly" social statement, not so jolly to mommy and daddy lol), but in this case she is simply attempting, in her way, to STOP the chaos.  And it IS chaos to her because she DOES NOT have full use of her visual field.  Coming between "her" companion (the white one) and the others is simple splitting.  Dogs will often do this if, for example, one dog is getting attention the other would rather it did not have (social hierarchy) and is attempting to dissuade the human from giving it (in a benign manner that makes a strong statement to the other dog, by the way), or one dog perceives another strongly affiliated with itself is in "danger" or in a situation the first dog cannot "understand".

I wouldn't worry about it, you have two fine dogs and you're doing a darn good job.  The white one is also getting the signal (when the black one "splits" and "bumps") that "other dogs" in multiple dog situations are not, somehow, "acceptable", which is why she's coming to you.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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