What does good roughhousing look like between dogs?
Watch their body language. If they are playing, look for play bows. Relaxed tails and faces. No holding on when biting. Dogs should be turning their side or back on each other. This means that they are comfortable. Vocalization is completely normal as long as both dogs are comfortable with it. The dogs should be able to stop when you interfere or when the other dog decides. Stiff bodies, high tails, chest out and head up and the dog not turning around are signs that the dog is not comfortable.
Why should you allow your dog to play fight?
Play fighting or roughhousing is how dogs play with each other. They can also play with each other through chasing and tug-of-war. That’s really it. They can’t go have a tea party or play dress up, go to the park together and play on the swings, they roughhouse with each other.
Roughhousing builds confidence in your dog and helps him for a better relationship with other dogs. They also learn bite inhibition during play fighting. Bite inhibition is where the dog learns how to bite without hurting the other dog or person. Dogs use their mouths as hands. So, just like with children when we tell them to not grab or be too rough with their hands, dogs have to learn the same thing. Play fighting lets them do that.
If you ever suspect that one of the dogs is starting to get a little too aroused during the game and might turn into being aggressive, simply stop the play and give the two dogs a break. They can return to play after a couple of minutes.
How can you tell if dogs are fighting or playing?
First and foremost get familiar with dog body language. Here are some helpful sites for that:
Signs your dog is playing:
- The play bow – front end down, back end in the air. Sometimes the dog trying to initiate play will slap his front legs down on the ground repeatedly.
- Rolling over a lot – rolling over is not a sign of submission and an end to play, it has been shown that it is an invitation to play.
- A big, silly open-mouthed grin.
- Exaggerated, bouncy movement. The dogs are acting silly.
- Loud, continuous growling and snarling; again, exaggerated. Play-growling may sound scarier than serious fighting.
- Self – Handicapping: this is when the dogs voluntarily make themselves vulnerable by “falling” down and exposing their bellies and allowing themselves to be caught when playing chase.
- They take turns. Both dogs should be taking turns at who is falling down and who is biting and chasing. They will probably take turns with most play-fighting behaviors.
- They keep going back for more. Even the dog that ends up on his back doesn’t want to stop playing.
- Turning sideways or showing their back. This means that the dog is comfortable during play and feels secure.
- Hackles might be standing up during play to make one dog appear bigger than the other.
Behaviors that tell you this is not a game:
- The dogs’ bodies get very stiff. Hackles (the hair on a dog’s upper back) are raised. You may not be able to see this if the dog has long hair.
- Closed mouth, curled lip, low warning growl.
- Movements will be quick and efficient – no bouncing around, no taking turns.
- Ears will be pinned flat and lips curled back and snarling. No big silly smiles.
- If the dogs get into actual combat, hopefully, it will be a short encounter, and the “loser” will try to leave the area. There won’t be going back for more play.
- The dog is trying to get away from the other one, and her body language is not happy and bouncy. Tail is tucked. She isn’t having fun.
Tips to ensure safe dog-wrestling:
- Not every dog is meant for the dog park, and that’s OK. They may be better off playing at home with you or with a dog buddy they know well.
- Don’t allow a puppy or dog to be ganged up on by other dogs.
- Keep food and toys out of the picture. Most dogs are possessive of their food and their stuff. To them, it’s worth fighting for.
- NEVER let your dog wrestle with a dog wearing metal collars like chockers, prong or pincher collars. During play, their teeth or tongue can get caught in the metal and you will not be able to separate them.
- NEVER let children join in between two dogs playing. Someone can get hurt.
- If dogs are not being supervised REMOVE ALL COLLARS to prevent one of the dogs getting caught in the collar and strangling the other dog on accident.
What to keep in mind when supervising your dog’s rough play:
Make sure that all dogs are comfortable during the play session! If you think someone is not enjoying themselves, just separate the dogs and give them a moment to catch their breath. If they were enjoying themselves they will go right back to playing with each other. Keep in mind that some breeds have more delicate skin that can rip and tear easily, so no holding should be allowed. Even when everyone is having fun accidents can occur.