Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
The term "fun police" is generally used to depict people who monitor interactions and intervene to make others stop having fun. "Here comes the fun police," people may remark at a party when somebody comes to stop the fun.
The Fun Police Role in Dogs
When it comes to dogs, the term "fun police" or "hall monitor" is used depict dogs who start barking and attempt to get in the middle when two or more dogs are playing.
Unlike dogs who just bark due to the excitement of play, these dogs bark more in a "controlling fashion."
Typically, these dogs will stick to the edges of the dog park, hovering around the dogs like a referee monitoring a soccer game.
These dogs will moderate the play and then decide to break the dogs up by either putting their body in between them and physically separating them, or barking repeatedly in their faces. It's as if these dogs were claiming: "Too much chaos is going around here, we need some order here!"
Some dogs may take a more troublesome approach, engaging in more controlling behaviors including growling, snapping and threatening to bite.
*Some dogs may also act this way when around hyper people or when boisterous kids are running around.
Common in Certain Dog Breeds
Among the vast array of dog breeds, the most inclined to this type of behavior are the ones bred for herding such as border collies and Australian shepherds. Why is that?
Herding breeds were selectively bred to control the movement of livestock and therefore they have an ingrained propensity for barking and nipping at the heels of the animals they herded to keep them in check.
Something similar happens when these dogs are around other dogs playing, especially when the play gets rough. The fun police dog will attempt to moderate play sessions, getting in between and attempting to herd them away and stop all the young hooligans' fun.
On top of herding breeds, certain dog guardian breeds may be predisposed to play the fun police role as well. German shepherds, Dobermans and Rottweilers may be seen engaging in these behaviors (some of these breeds were also used for herding at some point in their history).
Other Possible Issues as Play
Typically, fun police dogs will scamper up to two playing dogs and use their barks and body blocks until they stop playing. Once their mission is accomplished, they will go back to sniffing or urine marking. The fun police behavior therefore happens when two dogs are playing in a certain way.
However, the fun police role is not always consistent. I have seen some dogs engage in similar behaviors with some dogs, while not with others. For example, a client of mine had a dog who did this only when another dog started playing with his littermate. If the two dogs playing were unknown dogs, he could care less.
This seems to suggest that this particular dog struggled with some sort of "jealousy" (yes, a study has proven than dogs can feel jealousy) or perhaps just some type of protective instinct directed towards who was playing with his litter mate.
A Matter of Under-Socialization
In another circumstance, a dog labeled as playing the "fun police" role was in reality an under-socialized dog who would attack any dog that would engage in play behaviors - not to control their movements, but mostly because he interpreted such play behaviors as threatening and he reacted to them defensively.
Indeed, the "fun police" behavior didn't always occur contingent upon two dogs playing, but even contingent upon single dogs exhibiting the happy panting sounds dogs emit when wanting to play or other signs of healthy play in dogs.
"Splitting," A Calming Signal
Some dogs may instinctively engage in "splitting" when play gets too intense. Turid Rugaas, in her book "On Talking Terms With Dogs" categorizes splitting as a calming signal, basically a way of preventing a fight from breaking out.
Overtired, Cranky Dog
Many dogs can get particularly "cranky" when tired and this may lead to nipping behaviors. If you take your dog to daycare or the dog park and you observe this behavior mostly towards the end, it can be a sign that your dog had too much play and he is overly tired.
Reaching Social Maturity
Finally, consider that dogs may get less tolerant over certain types of play as they become socially mature (between the ages of 12 and 36 months). If your dog was OK with playing dogs during puppyhood and now he's become less tolerant, it could be he's no longer enjoying certain types of interactions.
Risks With Dogs Playing the Fun Police Role
While this type of referee behavior may be tolerated by the two playing parties, problems start when some playing dogs may object to this "intrusion" or when the fun police dog decides to engage in more troublesome behaviors, using a threatening approach that may escalate into aggression to stop the dogs from playing.
On top of this, when dogs are roughly playing, their arousal levels are already high, so things can escalate more quickly if they feel threatened.
Not to mention, sometimes "policing" may be contagious; your dog may attract other dogs that join in and soon you have a bunch of dogs "ganging up," which can turn ugly.
It therefore goes without saying that, when there are dogs playing the fun police role, there is an increased risk for dog fights to erupt.
Can You Identify the Fun Police Here?
How to Stop a Dog From Playing the Fun Police Role
As seen, a dog playing the fun police role at dog parks or in your multi-dog household can turn problematic regardless of the underlying reason. Dogs engaged in "paw enforcement" therefore need help in finding more appropriate things to do with their ingrained instinct. Tackling this issue often requires a multi-faceted approach.
Prevent Rehearsal of the Problem Behavior
Practice makes perfect, goes the famous saying. The more your dog rehearses the fun police role, acting as the party pooper, the more the behavior becomes habit-forming and ingrained, getting more out of hand.
Soon, acting as the fun police becomes the dog's default behavior, the dog's "new job" he or she will want to play over and over when visiting the dog park or being around dogs engaging in off-leash play.
Therefore, it's important to prevent the dog from rehearsing this behavior, by keeping him or her on leash when around other dogs or simply not taking him or her to such places. If you have three or more dogs sharing the household, schedule separated two-on-two play sessions.
Train an Alternate Behavior
While preventing rehearsal of the troublesome behavior is important, you may want to take a more active role and train your dog to act calmer when around other dogs playing. You will need the help of a dog trainer or behavior professional for this part as encountering challenges is very common.
Here's the thing: dogs are prone to instinctive behaviors, but we can morph these behaviors if we can prove to them over time that engaging in an alternate behavior is far more rewarding. We can do this by reinforcing the alternate behavior with things the dog finds highly rewarding.
For example, if you have two dogs and don't want your hall monitor interfering with their play, train him or her to do something that will keep him or her occupied and happy. It's important that your dog finds the alternate behavior much more reinforcing to engage in than playing the fun police.
For example, you can train your dog to come to you and hold a sit/stay or down/stay on a mat nearby you where he is rewarded with intermittent delivery of high-value treats for just hanging in there. Here is a guide on how to train a dog to lie on a mat. Or you can keep your dog busy by asking him to do several fun tricks in a row like give paw, sit pretty and target your hand.
If your dog is at the dog park, you should aim to train a very strong response to a recall so that you call your dog back at a moment's notice as soon as you see the smallest sign of trouble.
When she comes to you, praise, move her away from the playing dogs, and give her several small pieces of a high-value treat in a row and take her on a walk or play with her (many herding breeds love playing fetch with their owners with a ball or Frisbee).
It goes without saying that such behaviors need to be trained well beforehand and up to a very fluent level, before asking them in the vicinity of the strong distractions of two dogs playing. You may need to keep your dog on leash initially to ensure she stays focused on you and isn't tempted to just take off.
Learn to Recognize Early Signs
If your dog engages in the fun police role only on some occasions, it's important to recognize early signs of trouble so that you can interrupt your dog quickly before she has a chance of rehearsing the problematic behavior.
Once your dog is already chasing and barking, it may be too late: he'll likely be too focused on the task to listen.
For instance, my Rottweiler Petra had a tendency to be the fun police and I discovered it once I took her along with me to classes to become a certified dog trainer.
Dogs in classes were allowed to be off-leash and play every now and then (these were great opportunities to watch and interpret different body language), and I knew she would go into "paw enforcement" mode when she would get a serious stare in her face (her forehead would wrinkle) and sometimes she would lift her paw before thinking to chase.
If I would call her at this point, she would still be responsive to my "leave it cue" and would therefore switch her brain away from focusing on her next target.
Provide Impulse Control and Outlets for Herding Behaviors
Many herding dogs benefit from learning better impulse control and being provided with outlets for their natural herding behaviors. Here are several impulse control games for dogs. These games help dogs better control their impulses. It's important training dogs enough to a level of fluency so they can learn how to cognitively function despite high arousal.
Herding trials and the sport of Treibball also provide great outlets for natural behaviors, but it's important to also incorporate training.
Importance of Seeing a Professional
If your dog is prone to playing the fun police role, it's important to work alongside a professional, at least initially until you get a hang of what you need to do to help your dog learn to better control his or her instincts.
This is particularly important, especially for those cases that involve dogs acting aggressive (barking, growling, attempting to bite) when two dogs are playing too rough.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli