CynoCentric Training & Behavior

“Puppies are born with the genes for love, but it still takes a village to raise a loving dog."

Dog-Dog Socialization & Puppy Play Groups

This is an incredibly important and complicated subject. Objectives include

  • Puppy is comfortable interacting with dogs and puppies of different breeds, sizes, types and personalities
  • Puppy develops play skills and learns to read normal dog body language
  • Puppy is able to be called from play
  • Puppy is able to be calm around other dogs, listen to the owner, and be okay walking past other dogs without meeting them
  • Owner is able to make good choices about when and with whom puppy should play
  • Owner is able to recognize and interrupt potentially problematic play

Goals for Off Leash Puppy Socialization & Play

While it can be pretty fun to stand around and watch a group of puppies run completely wild, that is not necessarily in their best interests.

Understanding the specific objectives of group puppy play time can help make sense of when and how we interupt play, why the groups are divided the way they are, and why it is sometimes the best choice for a puppy not to play in group (that week) at all.


~ Protect each puppy from harm
~ Interrupt aggression quickly


  • Increase each puppy’s enjoyment, comfort and confidence around other puppies.
    Off-leash puppy socialization can provide opportunities for positive exposure to other puppies. It is critical to intervene whenever necessary to protect each puppy from and to quickly mitigate any potential distress from an inappropriate exposure. Classroom helpers play this role, and all puppy owners are encouraged and empowered to step in to protect any puppy by gently blocking the incoming/rougher puppy
  • Manage (generally decrease) each puppy’s arousal and encourage appropriate, calm play.
    Classroom helpers and owners should gently and positively interrupt over-aroused and hyper dog-focused play styles, calm puppy with food and easy obedience or gentle restraint, and reward calmer play with praise and continued access/play.
  • Decrease or eliminate each puppy’s inappropriate play behaviors and encourage each puppy’s appropriate play behaviors.
    Classroom helpers and owners should quickly interrupt inappropriate behavior with a short, gentle time out. Allow puppy to try again as soon as he has shown that his full attention is now on the owner (more info on inappropriate play behaviors below).
  • Increase each puppy’s attention to the owner around other puppies and begin foundation for off leash control.
    Owners should insist on owner-focused behaviors to allow each puppy to initially access play.  Owner should establish a strong foundation of collar grabs from play, insisting on owner-focused behaviors to access continued play after each collar grab.  Fantastic rewards should be used to help puppy learn that owners are still relevant even when other puppies are around and all are off leash.  For puppies who are playing well and socializing nicely, owner can begin training easy recalls from play (more info on foundation recall from play below).

Puppy Play Styles/Types

Not all puppies have the same play style, and different puppies need different sorts of help and support. The more you can understand who your puppy is and what he needs to learn to be his best self, the more quickly you can provide the appropriate intervention for your puppy.

Review the play styles below and see if you can identify your puppy’s general tendencies in play. Think about where to best focus your energy and how best to support your pup.

The categories are not fixed. Perhaps your puppy is a Bully at home with an older dog, but becomes Shy around puppies he doesn’t know. That’s okay, adjust your approach to who the puppy says he is at the time.


If your pup hides under the chair or behind you; sticks within your reach; tucks tail, retreats and/or snaps when approached; appears avoidant, does not approach other puppies…

…she needs protection, encouragement, cheerleading, positive associations (see more for shy/proximity sensitive pups below)

Over Aroused/Dog-Focused

If your pup relentlessly plays/doesn’t take breaks; does not respond to your voice; is friendly but can be overwhelming to other puppies; is hard to catch…

…she needs frequent breaks, high value rewards from you, calming touch/work, down-stay training


If your pup does not respect the cut-off signals of other pups; pins/holds/shakes/growls; targets and chases; has ‘intense’ body language (stiff/hard/forward/direct)…

…she needs frequent positive breaks w/ high value rewards, time outs when necessary (see time-out how to below, see responding to undesired play behaviors below)

Dog Social/Handler Attentive

If your pup is easy-going, with loose body language; splits attention between playing and you; is not easily distressed by other pups’ bad manners…

…she needs recall practice, continued socialization, protection from trauma

Shy &/or Proximity Sensitive Puppies

  • Hiding under the bench or behind owner
  • Sticking within reach of the owner
  • Tucking tail, retreating, snapping, fleeing and/or hiding when approached

The goal is for puppy to build confidence and develop play skills with other puppies and dogs through appropriate interaction and handler interventions.

How to best help puppy in class

  • This puppy is easily overwhelmed. Block other puppies from charging, jumping or rolling him (by placing yourself in between or by gently blocking incoming puppies with your flat hand on their chest). Top priority!
  • Reward your puppy when he is brave. Use happy talk and treats to reward your puppy for approaching other puppies in a pro-social and friendly manner, and for accepting their approach. Use food as a reward for bravery – never as a lure to trick or bait him to do something he is not comfortable doing!
  • Create positive associations. This puppy is nervous when other puppies come close or approach. Change the way he thinks about other puppies by pairing their proximity with good stuff. Puppy comes close? Give your pup treats! (and make sure the other puppy does not come too close or overwhelm your puppy)
  • Facilitate good learning experiences. Keep him in the smaller/younger/shyer group. If he is in the smaller/younger/shyer group and is still having significant difficulty, ask to be put in a play group with just your puppy and one other specially selected easy-going puppy.
  • Try an artificial set-up. The instructor may be able to select a special puppy to be a ‘helper’ puppy in a set-up. The instructor can hold the ‘helper’ puppy still (and facing away) giving your puppy the opportunity to approach and sniff the helper’s rear-end. Don’t forget to reward your puppy with happy talk and treats for bravery! There are other set-ups your instructor may try to help your pup.
  • Teach puppy that when he is overwhelmed he does not have to snap or bite, he can leave instead! Work on your recall/come-away skills during puppy play and around other puppies.

How to best help puppy outside of class

Do not take him around pushy, rough, or playful young dogs. Generally, shy and proximity sensitive puppies are most overwhelmed by juvenile and adolescent dogs, highly aroused dogs, and groups of dogs. Keep him away from situations likely to overwhelm him.

When out and about, every time your puppy sees or hears another dog, give him treats. Tell him, in a relaxed and upbeat tone, how marvelous you think he is. The closer the other dog is, the more treats and praise your puppy should get. The goal is for puppy to WANT other dogs to come closer, because when dogs come closer, great stuff happens! Be careful not to let other dogs come so close that puppy becomes frightened. Ask a PosiDog Instructor to demonstrate this technique for you if you like.

Generally, shy and proximity sensitive puppies can learn best from mature/older, slower, easy going, tolerant adult dogs with very good social skills. Good activities are older dog allows pup to sniff and investigate her; older dog and puppy sniff interesting bits of grass and explore together; pup and older dog greet pup’s owner together (and both get pets and praise); pup and older dog go on a leash walk together (parallel, one handler per dog, no pressure to interact but allowing pup to approach older dog and to sniff areas that older dog has explored; older dog goes about her business and puppy tags along.

Responding to Undesired Play Behaviors

Managed puppy play helps ensure that puppies do not practice (too many) undesirable behaviors during puppy play.  We want to avoid each puppy rehearsing over-arousal or aggression during puppy play, and we also want to prevent all puppies from being overwhelmed or victimized by a too-rough puppy.

The below list is a guide to what is usually the appropriate human response to specific undesired puppy play behaviors. For help distinguishing a truly antisocial, over-aroused, aggressive, or fearful situation from normal (but wild-looking) play, see the section below on Consent Checks

If you are concerned about your puppy’s dog-dog behaviors at home or in class, speak with us and also consider learning more by reading Fight! A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression by Jean Donaldson.


Undesired Off Leash Play Behavior(s)  >>>>>

Group chase/mob attack
Group pinning (poking, circling)
Relentless engagement
Grab-bite with strong head shake
Neck/throat fixation
Continuing to engage with a hiding pup
Continuing to engage with a tucked tail or cowering pup
Persistent herding


Collar Grab – for the perpetrator(s)
  • Keep collar grabs positive, reward generously!
  • Insist on handler focus and food consumption before allowing the pup to re-engage in play.
  • Once re-engaged, quickly reward alternate and desired play with praise and food.
  • Interrupt earlier, if possible, in the future.

Targeting/obsession/single pup focus
Piloerection with stiffness or growling
Standing over/T-off/stiffening over
Uninhibited bite/makes other pups yelp

Collar grab or Time Out if Tarzan/Bully. Be sure that arousal is lower and that pup is handler focused before allowing pup to re-engage in play.

Forceful rolling/crashing/hard physical contact
Charging and pinning (with or without snapping/snarling)
Continuing to engage with a yelping pup

Time Out –for the perpetrator. Consider a time out word. Consider a different playmate. Insist on handler focus and lower arousal before re-engagement.

Persistent barking (frustration)

Collar Grab/calm down then new playmate(s) if possible


Gentle redirection

Collar Grabs

Collar Grabs should not be a bummer to your puppy. They should be happy to be grabbed by, and moved by, their collar when necessary. This is not natural and it is your job to teach him to enjoy and accept this sort of handling. We train and use Collar Grabs so much that our own dogs will run to us and push their necks/collars into our outstretched hand on request. Collar Grabs are a great tool to reset or manage your puppy (and eventually your dog), and are a great way to help keep your dog comfortable with being reached for and restrained by the collar as well.



Take hold of pup’s collar and gently (and decisively) guide him away from play and toward you. Reward immediately and generously.

Work with puppy until he has convinced you that his attention is on you. Be generous with treats when you see that he is making a choice to stay with you. Then, clearly release him to play.

Training Collar Grabs, generally, is covered elsewhere in this course. However, you can start using Collar Grabs immediately in play whether you have worked on the Collar Grab activity or not.

Time Out

Time Outs should be a bummer to your puppy but should never be painful or scary. Puppy should be disappointed that he lost the opportunity to do something (or continue doing something) that he wanted to do. Time Outs are an unwanted (by him) consequence that your puppy receives as a consequence of a specific unwanted (by you) behavior. We use Time Outs very rarely and not with every dog. However, Time Outs can be an extremely powerful tool to reduce or eliminate unwanted behavior when executed properly.



Say done at the moment you observe puppy’s inappropriate behavior. Immediately and calmly remove puppy from play.

Do not reward puppy again until he is calm. If you need to move further away, do so.  Reward when puppy settles down and is able to focus on you. Release to play, and then observe puppy carefully for more appropriate behavior to praise/reward – or a repeat of the inappropriate behavior, in which case you will repeat the Time Out.

We discuss Time Outs, generally, elsewhere in this course.  However, you can start using Time Outs immediately in play if your puppy’s behavior warrantsTime Outs are difficult to execute properly, and should only be used when necessary. Check with an Instructor for help in the moment.

WHEN IN DOUBT: Consent Check

Healthy dog play is made up of behaviors that in another context might be considered aggressive, predatory, or sexual. So, how can you tell the difference? Play generally involves most or all of the following:

  • Loose, bouncy, floppy, exaggerated movements (play bow, C-spine, helicopter tail, wiggles)
  • Flirting/coyness/invitations/progressive levels of engagement
  • Taking breaks, changing activities (not getting stuck in one pattern), self interruption, shake-offs, owner check-ins
  • Taking turns, role reversal, self-handicapping, size or strength compensation, rolling of self
  • Mouth wrestling/jaw sparring, inhibited bites
  • Wide open mouth, lolling tongue
  • Exploring together

It is possible for play to seem rough or aggressive to observers but actually be friendly and appropriate. If you have doubts about the nature of play (you think the play is probably fine but you are not certain) take a moment to check your judgment with the pups themselves! This way you can avoid accidentally overwhelming a puppy.

In some cases, all of the signs of appropriate play might be there, but you may just have an uneasy feeling for some reason. You don’t need to justify that feeling – because, why? Just do a consent check! It never hurts to ask the puppies how they feel about the play.

Using Group Play to Teach Puppy to Recall Away From Other Dogs

Once Puppy is beginning to play nicely and socialize happily with other puppies, and you are able to interrupt inappropriate play, the next priority is attention to you, the owner, off leash and around other puppies, and a Recall From Play.

If having your puppy come when called, even when she is playing with other dogs, then follow the steps below and use Puppy Class and Group Play as an opportunity to practice.

PHASE 1: Teach Puppy to expect amazing rewards from you when she is off leash with other puppies

a) Make sure that Puppy is accepting and enjoying your rewards before being released to play, each time
b) Every Collar Grab should be followed by super-high value rewards
c) Every voluntary Check-In should be rewarded with super-high value rewards

PHASE 2: Practice calling Puppy whenever you are you are almost certain she will come

a) Take a short break from play to practice a restrained recall for super-high value rewards (ask for other puppies to be Collar Grabbed and fed while you do this, if you like)
b) Call Puppy when it looks like he is already coming to you for a voluntary Check In (reward!)
c) Call Puppy when it looks as though he is less engaged in play, taking a short break, or switching activities
d) Call Puppy away from a through-a-fence greeting

If Puppy does not come when called, immediately go and get Puppy by gently moving him away from the other puppies by his collar. As soon as he is alone and his attention is on you, take a step away and call again. Reward generously when Puppy comes!

If Puppy does not come when called twice in a row, it is likely that the level of challenge you are asking him to overcome is too high. Make it easier for the next few times. Practice and reward more recalls during the week, and try again next week!

PHASE 3: Practice some real-life recall skills

a) Once you have a lot of success with easier recalls, occasionally call Puppy from more active play. Reward generously, then send back to play. Make a big deal when you reward – pretend your puppy just came from chasing a deer or from a child with an ice-cream cone!
b) Practice grabbing Puppy’s collar before rewarding. In real life, your priority will be safely securing your dog. Get him used to sometimes being grabbed before he gets a cookie. Your Collar Grab practice comes in handy here
c) Protect and preserve your recall! When it is time to pack up, avoid using your recall and instead just go and get Puppy, leash up, and reward. Avoid Puppy learning that being called from play means that the fun is likely to be over
d) Practice calling Puppy from on-leash greetings, with super-high value rewards for coming away
e) Practice being fun and rewarding around other puppies and dogs, whether on or off leash.  Try

  • Playing tug around other puppies
  • Playing treat-tossing attention games around other puppies
  • Working fun and well known obedience and trick behaviors around other puppies
  • Practice genuinely calm down-stays around other puppies, finish with “let’s go” and highly reward Puppy for moving away with you

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

Dr Ian Dunbar's

"Before You Get Your Puppy"

Dr Ian Dunbar's

"After You Get Your Puppy"