In what the man interprets as rough play, Cocker Spaniel Sooty barks at dogs, jumping up and nipping their faces. He also goes for their feet.

Is it really just playful behaviour lacking dog manners?

After finding out everything I can about Sooty, I’m not so sure that it’s rough play.

In every other respect he’s a super, friendly little dog. The gentleman has worked very hard with him and they have a great bond.


Sooty is generally easily excited and aroused, as many busy Working Cockers are! The family sometimes unwittingly pump up his excitement levels unnecessarily.

No behaviour is in isolation. Working on calming certain times at home will help his behaviour when out and aroused by other dogs.

Unusually, it’s only when Sooty is off lead

The more unusual feature of Sooty’s behaviour ‘rough play’ behaviour when he nips dogs and gets very excited is it’s only when he is off lead.

On lead he is relaxed and friendly. Perfect.

Off lead he is fine if the dog is mooching about calmly. They can walk together. If it starts to move faster however, Sooty charges at it, barking, jumping on it and nipping. Is this rough play or something else?

He may also become very agitated if he see two dogs chasing each other or playing. The man says he wants to ‘join in’. I suspect he wants to stop them.

Is he fearing conflict?

The procedure.

Is it rough play, or is his arousal and reactivity due to anxiety? Whichever it is, the actual procedure will be much the same.

He is fine on lead which is unusual. My interpretation is that he takes some reassurance from being on lead.

I suggest that anywhere he may encounter other dogs, instead of letting him run free he should be on a long line for now.

The long line alone may change the rough play type behaviour.

Sooty can have his freedom as before to go to a dog, But the man will watch carefully. As soon as he reacts in a way that could be interpreted as rough play, that involves the aggressive sounds which accompany nipping the dogs face and feet – the man will call him away.

Nip the ‘rough play’ behaviour in the bud

Instead of trying to teach him to ‘behave’, probably telling him off, the man will call Sooty. He will be upbeat and reward him when he comes to him (he may need a bit of encouragement with the long line).

Because Sooty is so NON-reactive ON lead, the man can experiment with giving him less length of the long line – or with dropping it. He can see what works best. Either way, it will be easy to interrupt the behaviour before it sets in.

This method will prevent further rehearsal if it is simply lack of dog-manners and rough play.

If it’s something else – anxiety or a compulsion to control the other dog’s excitement, it will reassure Sooty that the nipping isn’t necessary.It’s a couple of weeks later and I received this lovely video along with this message: My little lad Sooty ……used to be nightmare walking on lead, tried all sorts …..halty….walking in circles etc ….. but Theo Stewart suggested about lead placement ……well bugger me…..have a look at this !!!! it amazing how much better he walks now !!! Life changing !! Walking no longer a chore !! Back to enjoyment for us both.’

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help