There is nothing better for dog lovers than watching dogs play. However, dog owners can be confused about dog play. Are those dogs playing? Or are they fighting? Learning what to look for can help people to become comfortable with full on dog play.
All animals play. Play allows animals to practice the skills they will need to survive.
Dogs are no different and normal dog play consists of playful versions of standard, run-of-the-mill dog behaviours. These include:
- Play Fighting (there may be growling and biting)
- Play Fleeing
- Play Chasing
- Play Mounting/Humping (yes, this is a normal part of play)
Play can look and sound ferocious. However, there are signs to watch for that indicate it is play:
- Play bows
- Play-face (that open-mouthed, loose, face that playing dogs make at their happiest)
- Bouncy, inefficient, exaggerated movements (rocking horse run)
Play bows and play-face are a dog’s way of letting another dog know that “whatever happens next is all play.” You will also notice them moving around with very bouncy movements. This too indicates play.
Other things to watch for are:
- Self handicapping (biting with minimal force, a large dog allows small dog to knock him over)
- Role reversal (chaser becomes chasee, on top and then on bottom)
- Activity shifts ( chase game with regular breaks to play fight)
Rarely, however, play can become worrisome or even scary. When fights break out, it is usually because the activities of normal play have broken down. Although it isn’t very common, it’s always wise to watch for the signs. Monitor closely and be ready to interrupt and break up the chase if you see the following:
- Chase games where the chaser’s run becomes real, flat-out and no longer bouncy
- Two or more dogs chasing one dog
- Chase games that go on too long with no breaks or activity shifts
Big on small dog play of any kind should always be closely monitored. However, chase games where a large dog is chasing a small dog can be extremely dangerous and have a tragic ending for the small dog. It is recommended that you do not allow these.
Keep a close eye on your dog, make sure that all dogs are having fun and know what to watch for. You and your dog can then enjoy all the fun that dog play provides.