Excessive Indulgence and Inappropriate Play
Just as neglect and isolation may exert an adverse influence, excessive or inappropriate contact and indulgence can also contribute to the development of maladaptive behavior. Heightened social dependency may impede a dog’s ability to function independently, thereby impairing its problem-solving abilities. When performing a simple problem-solving test, dogs most closely bonded with their owners tended to perform worse than dogs having a less intimate bond. Although moderate amounts of spoiling and pampering are probably not detrimental, excessive dependency-enhancing interaction may adversely affect a puppy’s development, perhaps facilitating the development of certain behavioral deficiencies and problems. Overly dependent dogs appear to fixate developmentally and remain “perpetual puppies”: they may fail to develop adult like intentional and impulse control abilities, lack appropriate skills, e.g., delay of gratification) need to cope with frustrative situations, respond maladaptively to anxious arousal, and, finally are often prone to exhibit disruptive separation-related behavior when left alone.
Many behavior problems can be traced to inappropriate play. Permissiveness toward undesirable puppy excesses like mouthing, jumping up and teasing displays often lead to persistent problems later. Although there appears to exist a significant independence between aggressive play (e.g., tug games) and serious aggression, excessive and aggressive tug-of-war and chase games may inadvertently elevate a puppy’s relative competitiveness, increase its aggressive readiness,
and gradually cultivate its confidence to act out aggressively towards humans. Hard agitational tug games not only develop aggressive readiness and confidence, they also encourage puppies to bite hard and to struggle with a human opponent. Puppies being raised for bite work as police or military working dogs are routinely agitated with rag play, thereby promoting aggression that is gradually and systematically shaped through various stages into a full attack response.
Structured and pacifying tug games can perform a useful role in the control of playful aggression, the promotion of bit inhibition, and control over aggressive impulses. To make such play constructive and avoid untoward side effects, the owner should always initiate play, control the direction and intensity of play, and teach the puppy to release the tug object (usually a ball with the length of rope) on command, thereby promoting impulse control and deference. Once the object is released, the competitive phase of the play is concluded and is immediately followed by the cooperative phase of the game. The cooperative phase consists of tossing the ball a short distance and encouraging the dog to return with it. The owner either proceeds to initiate additional tug activity or trades a piece of food for the ball. Signs of excessive aggressive effort or unwillingness to release the toy should be appropriately discouraged.