Letting our dog play with his friends is considered very beneficial for his physical and mental exercise and its also enjoyable for dog owners to watch! Some people usually find the dog play to be too aggressive but the truth is that every dog has different play styles and temperament and most of the times play includes growling, snarling, baring of teeth, snapping and barking.
But what should we look for, in an appropriate dog-to-dog play?
Bouncy Body Language
Normal dog play always includes exaggerated big bouncy movements with many play bows and use of paw as an invitation to initiate play. We can also see loose and wiggly body postures, relaxed faces, grinning expressions, ears forward, open mouth.
When our dog plays with other dogs we definitely want to see them changing roles for example the dog that was the chaser, now becomes the chaser or the one that was on top, now stays on the bottom. Taking turns is a sign that ensures us that play is going well.
A healthy dog to dog play involves loads of pauses. When our dog removes himself from the other dog, he usually tries to calm down, recharge batteries and decides if he wants to continue playing. At that stage you may see the dog shaking off, lying down or sniffing the ground. These little break times are usually very short and many dog owners miss them but they can also last longer.
When there are size/strength differences in two dogs playing together, the bigger and stronger dog may exhibit self-handicapping in order to make the weaker and smaller dog feel comfortable and safe. Basically, the bigger dog adjusts his play style and lets the smaller one to be on the top with him falling down. This kind of behaviour means that biting or body slamming is being delivered with the minimal force by the bigger dog.
Sometimes it can be hard for us to identify the good from the bad play but If at any stage we are not sure, we can conduct a Consent Test. When we do this test, we calmly separate the dogs and we then release the one that seemed not enjoying play (being on the bottom all the time, being bitten or chased continuously) to decide if he wants to go back for more play. If he does, we know that he consents in this type of play. If he chooses to find another playmate or do something else instead, we know that he wasn’t feeling comfortable with that type of play.
Play is an important aspect of our dog’s life and we all have great time watching them playing. Although human intervention is not usually needed, it is advisable to keep a close eye on dog-dog interactions and as responsible dog owners we have to be ready to identify if any dog is being pushed or seems not enjoying this.