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  • Writer's pictureVickie Foster

Is Your Dog Playing Or Fighting?

Play and fight can look very similar and sometimes may be hard to differentiate. But if you pay attention to their actions and body language, you will be able to tell the two behaviors apart!

Puppy behavior

Play begins in puppyhood and helps puppies develop good coordination while allowing them to practice a series of exaggerated behaviors that promote social ease. They jump on each other, body slam, and bite. When one puppy bites another too hard, the bitten puppy will communicate that they are upset with a yelp. The biting pup learns to back off and inhibit the force of their bite. Appropriate play is a valuable lesson that serves the puppy throughout their life.

Signs of play

Play includes pawing, jumping, mounting, biting, barking, running, and chasing. Rough players may even growl, show their teeth, and body slam. The benchmark of play is that the dogs are taking turns running and chasing, being on top, and being on the bottom while both dogs are enjoying these interactions.

Another signal of playtime is the play bow. One dog will bow to the other with their front end on the ground, their hind end in the air, and often wagging their tail. This can be accompanied by a play face, a relaxed open-mouth smile. Scientists are not sure if the play face is a communication feature or just an expression of joy in the game.

Play overload

Even if dogs are not hurting each other, if dogs gang up on one dog it can be an unpleasant experience for the underdog and can affect that puppy’s sociability with other dogs as an adult. If a dog’s tail is tucked, they are feeling overwhelmed. Keep an eye out for a dog that seems to have had enough. Using a distraction for the other dogs can make it easier to get a restful time-out for an overwhelmed pup.

Signs of fighting

A play session can go from playing to fighting very quickly. Things to look out for are raised hackles, stiffness, snapping, or lunging. Dogs showing these behaviors should immediately and carefully be separated. A fearful or nervous dog may initially be defensive and then become offensive. Your keen eye on your own dog’s behavior and ability to help them feel more comfortable will make you a reliable leader for your dog.

Play is important for dogs as social animals. By learning the behaviors that signal the difference between play and fight you can guide your dog to enjoyable play sessions!


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