Four rules for managing play fighting between your dogs, according to an expert

Two Jack Russell Terriers play fighting outside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a multi-dog household, then you're probably used to seeing your fur friend's playfully duking it out from time to time. 

Dog play fighting is really common, both between dogs that know each other well, and those that have only just met.

However, expert trainer Adam Spivey says it's important that play fighting comes with rules to prevent it from turning ugly.

"Play fighting is a bit like mock fighting or sparring, it’s fun and dogs love it, but as adrenaline rises often that play can intensify and turn from play to aggression," he explains.

If you want to allow your dogs to play together, or perhaps let your dog play with the dogs of family and friends, it's important you understand the rules of play to help everyone stay safe.

Read on as Spivey outlines what these are...

1. Play must go back and forth: "This means both dogs are enjoying it and there's not one being a bully or being bullied," explains Spivey.

2. You must be able to stop play: "It’s a dangerous game if you can’t stop it. Because if you struggle to stop play you will almost definitely struggle to stop a dog fight."

3. Know when to step in: "Interruption of play before it gets too intense teaches your dog limits to play and also lets them know a human is in charge of the play," says Spivey. "Interruption of play also gives the dogs energy levels a chance to reset — practicing excitement to calm is great for impulse control."

4. Never force your dog to play: "It’s ok if your dog doesn’t like to play with other dogs, don’t force a dog to play or interact with dogs as that won’t help them. Instead understand what your dog likes to do and use that to your advantage."

Spivey says there's absolutely nothing wrong with your dogs rough playing together (or with other dogs) as long as when you say 'enough', both dogs know that they need to stop. 

If you feel that your dog behaves aggressively when playing or interacting with other dogs and you're wanting to learn how to tackle dog aggression so that it doesn't get out of hand, we recommend reaching out to a qualified trainer for advice and guidance. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.