Dogs, like people, are social creatures and most enjoy interacting with other dogs through play. This is an excellent release of energy, a great form of exercise, and a good psychological boost to dogs – unless, of course, playing becomes fighting.
Playing dogs can appear vicious through barking, showing their teeth, wrestling, and even occasionally growling. It isn’t hard to see why telling the difference between playing and fighting can sometimes be difficult!
Dogs who are having a good time playing with their canine companion will show the following signs:
- Loose, fast tail wags
- Wide, excited eyes, glances at, and away from, the other dog
- Relaxed mouth, slightly open (teeth covered)
- Play Bows (front end on the ground, back end in the air)
- Fluidity to their movements, almost like dancing
Fighting dogs will act in the following manner:
- Straight tail, slow stiff tail wags
- Squinted, intense eyes/stare
- Exposed teeth, snarl, possible quick bites
- Rigid posture, hair on back raised
- Calculated, harsh movements with intent to threaten or harm
There are some characteristics that Playing and Fighting dogs may show. They must be taken into account with the rest of the dog’s body language to determine the dog’s intentions.
Both Playing and Fighting dogs may show:
- Quick movements
- Wagging tails (Playing – Loose, fast. Fighting – Straight, stiff.)
- Biting (Playing – soft bites, no intense reaction from playmate. Fighting – harmful bites, elicit intense response from other dog.)
- Wrestling behavior
One surefire way to determine whether dogs are playing or fighting is to separate the dogs by moving the aggressor (the one playing/fighting the hardest, usually this is the dog who is on top during wrestling behavior) away. If the other dog happily runs right back to the dog, rest assured, they were playing! If the other dog instead runs away, growls, raises his or her hackles (back hair), or continues to focus intensely with squinted eyes, then you just broke up a dogfight.
Most dogs will work out their differences with a couple of hard, intense stares, and the occasional growls/snaps. In fact, it is usually best to let dogs work things out amongst themselves.
However, if your dog has a history of getting in fights, or if you or your dog are unfamiliar with the other dog, break up these potential fights as early as possible!
In the event of a dog fight, the best way to intervene is to determine who the aggressor is and wrap your arms around the dog’s belly – just in front of the dog’s back legs – and lift the back legs off the ground. This throws the dog off balance and will cause him or her to look back at you to see what is going on. As soon as he or she looks at you, grab the collar and lead the dog away. Keep the dog as far away from you as possible during this to prevent a “transference of aggression” where the dog may potentially use excess energy to bite you.
Keep these tips in mind next time your dog begins a canine interaction and remember the golden rule – if you aren’t sure whether the dogs are playing or fighting, break it up.
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.