Group of purebred dogs at play

Dogs at Play: Is That Fun Fighting or Fight Fighting? Here’s What You Need to Know

Despite tens of thousands of years of domestication, sometimes it seems it seems that dogs aren’t too far removed from their wolf’ish origins. And nowhere is that more evident than during play time!

What to a casual observer might look like a snarling, biting cage match, to one who understands the psychology of dogs at play, it’s nothing more than a get-to-know-you session.

Dogs At Play: Fun Fighting

That said, play can sometimes turn rough. And that’s why it’s important you keep a close eye on your pup during off-leash play dates or dog park visits. Here’s you should know when it comes to dogs at play:

  • The Bow: The play bow is generally the initiation of playtime. An invitation, as it were. The dog might bark or play growl, but the front legs are splayed, the chest is close to the ground, and the rump is high in the air. Usually with the tail wagging.
  • Biting Around the Head and Neck: See above re: a snarling, biting cage match! This is when many new dog owners get nervous, because it can look and sound vicious. But really, it’s the best of playtime. If both dogs are giving as good as they’re getting, and there’s no yelping or skin piercing, this is typical dogs at play behaviour.
  • Vocalization: Dogs are very vocal when they play. You’ll often here growls and barks, plus huffs, puffs and sneezes. This is actually a form of communication and indicates safe play behaviour. If you notice these friendly noises come to a halt, it’s likely the interaction is turning into some type of altercation.

Dogs At Play: FIGHT Fighting

Can a fun day at the dog park turn ugly? Yes. Watch for poorly socialized dogs, an intact male, or a group that exhibits “pack” behaviour. Here are other signs that the what started as a play-fight has turned into a fight-fight:

  • Tension: Has your dog (or the other dog) tensed up? Become stiff? Seems intensely focused, staring hard at another? That is a sign that what was originally fun play is becoming aggressive.
  • Raised hackles: If a dog literally “gets his or her back up” when interacting with others, it’s time to break it up. It’s a sign that your pup is uncomfortable at best and angry at worst.
  • Pinned ears and raised lips: Curled lip snarls accompanied by pinned ears indicate trouble is brewing.
  • Pack behaviour: Some dogs play well in large groups, taking turns chasing each other – but dogs can also gang up on an unfamiliar dog. If you notice your pup being chased non-stop, crowded, or otherwise surrounded and showing signs of discomfort such as tail tucking and cowering, it might be time to end your visit.

Don’t be afraid to allow your pup to have some good old-fashioned rough-and-tumble play. It’s good for their socialization (especially in younger dogs) and is perfectly normal. But keep your eyes peeled for the more aggressive signs above – you’ll be doubly sure you can both have a great play date!

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