With dogs, sometimes it’s hard to know if they are playing or fighting. This is especially true with small puppies. They can start out by playing and it can turn into a fight minutes later.
How To Determine If Dogs Are Playing
Most people know that when dogs want to play they will give a play-bow. The play-bow is the dog’s way of saying, “Hey, everything we do now is just playing, okay?” For dogs who know each other well, the play-bow may be just a fast formality. You may barely observe it. One dog may just make a slight bow and then bounce in with an “attack”, but the other dog knows it’s just play.
Slapping The Other In The Face
Another signal that dogs are playing and not fighting is the slap in the face. Although this doesn’t sound very friendly you often see puppies doing this to each other. One puppy may be lying down, minding his own business, and the other will walk up and WHAP, him in the face with their paw. This is an invitation to play, even if it sounds like something out of the Three Stooges. This invitation to play usually works with puppies and dogs that know each other well, but if you have a big dog hitting a small dog in the face, or a young dog hitting an old dog, sometimes the dog getting hit may not appreciate it, especially if the dogs don’t know each other well. That would indicate a social faux “paw” on the part of the dog doing the hitting.
When dogs are playing you will usually see them with a relaxed mouth and ears. The mouth will be open. They may growl and even snarl at each other. They may show their teeth but their muscles won’t be tense. The play will be fluid and loose and neither one will appear stiff. To learn more about body language, check out our previous blog post titled “Understanding Your Dogs Body Language”.
When dogs play they usually change position often. If they are wrestling then they can take turns being on top and bottom. They usually take turns chasing each other. It may not be fifty-fifty but each dog is giving and taking.
Taking A Time Out
Dogs have social skills. Even if the play temporarily gets too rough and someone gets nipped or hurt, most dogs can work it out on their own. They will usually separate for a minute, shake it off, and decide if they want to continue playing. It doesn’t mean that the play will turn into a fight. Puppies learn these skills by playing and fighting. This is how they learn bite inhibition — when they learn not to bite their litter-mates or play too roughly.