Dogs love to play, whether they’re playing on their own with one of the best puppy toys, they’re playing tug-of-war with one of their favorite humans, or they’re bouncing around with another canine friend.
When dogs play, it helps them hone their hunting skills – even if they’re totally pampered and have no need to hunt! However, this means that behaviors we might find worrying, like growling and biting, are actually totally normal during canine play.
That said, sometimes it can be necessary to interrupt play between dogs, to ensure the safety of everybody concerned. Award-winning trainer Lisa Burton of Listen Dog Training has offered some advice in an Instagram post to help you keep your pup happy and safe during play.
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“During a well-mannered play session, dogs will mirror one another,” explains Burton in her post. “Likewise, a successful play session should involve plenty of turn-taking.”
She also explains that dogs will display meta signals when playing, conveying that they’re enjoying themselves and having a good time. If your pup is with another dog, and they’re both quite loose and bouncy, perhaps making goofy faces, it’s a sign that they’re both enjoying playtime.
As mentioned, when dogs are playing they might display behaviors like growling and biting, which could be mistaken for fighting. This is normal, explains Burton, “as long as there is a frequent shift from one activity to another”. In other words, if the dogs are wrestling or chasing each other for a long time without shifting to another activity, or without breaks for sniffing or going to the toilet, it might be time to break up play.
Meanwhile, there are other indications that interrupting dog play fighting might be necessary. If you can’t see any air between the dogs’ bodies, their play is getting faster or more intense, or they’re mismatched – perhaps one’s large and strong while the other is small and older – you may want to remove your dog from the situation.
Signs in your dog that they aren’t happy with the situation and would like it to stop include excessive blinking, lip licking, panting, and tension in their hind muscles.
Ultimately, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If in doubt, calmly and safely separate the dogs from each other. As Burton says, “If you do so and your dog chooses not to reengage, allow him to leave the situation”.
Play is important for dogs, but it’s important to keep your pup safe, too, so they can have fun without the risk of danger. To find out more about how to tell if your dog’s enjoying themselves, check out this article: Can dogs laugh? How to know if your dog is having fun.
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Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. 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.