Here’s what to remember when it comes to dog wrestling and play-fighting

Two dogs playing together in the park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dogs often like to wrestle and play-fight with each other to let off steam — and it can help them learn boundaries and social cues, too. 

It’s something that’s natural, but while it’s fine to let your pup play-fight with their canine pals, it’s important to keep an eye on them to make sure things aren’t getting too rough. 

It’s a fine line, and it can be hard to know how to get the balance right between being too overbearing and also not protecting your dog — when do you decide to distract your dog with one of the best long-lasting dog chews, or their favorite toy?

Fortunately, certified dog trainer Melissa Goodman of Mission Pawsitive has got some advice to share in a new Instagram post. 

“I do not allow dogs to wrestle nonstop,” Goodman explains. “Most of the time, one or both dogs aren’t actually having fun, it is very easy to escalate to something more aggressive from being overstimulated or someone playing too rough.”

In Goodman’s video, the dogs, Aspen and Honey, are engaging in light wrestling. Though Honey is the heavier dog, she’s restraining herself. And while both dogs are using their mouths and their bodies, they aren’t grabbing onto each other or trying to pin the other down.

Importantly, they take plenty of pauses, too, so they can check in with each other. They can then make things less intense if they need to, or resume chase-based play instead. But all dogs are different, and this might not be the case depending on the dog your own pup is playing with.

Goodman says, “If dogs are being too rough with each other, I will separate them for a few seconds to help them take a pause. If that has to happen several times in a short amount of time, I will put both dogs on leash and give them a longer break.”

If it’s clear that one dog isn’t enjoying the play date any longer, or the dogs are finding it difficult to go back to lighter, less intense wrestling or play-fighting, it might be better to end the play date there. 

Dog play-fighting can be great for your pup, but it’s important that all of the dogs involved are having fun. If one wants to stop, the other should respect that. And we should always put safety first. Keep an eye out for potentially aggressive behavior, and always stand up for your pup. If they’d rather relax instead of play-fighting, they should be allowed to. 

Maybe your dog wants to play, but they don’t have any doggy friends around at the moment? Here’s how to play with a dog for some extra inspiration.

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Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.