Have you ever been alarmed at your dogs’ behavior while playing with other dogs and wondered – is it friendly or aggressive?
Here are a few common behaviors that are forms of friendly play.
- Barking is a vocal form of communication. The best way to tell if barking is threatening or friendly is to assess the dog’s body posture. If a dog is bowing and barking one or two times in a row to elicit a response, then that dog is trying to engage in play. Take action if a dog has ridged body posture or freezes.
- Reciprocal play. When dogs are playing and like each other, their body movements mimic each other or go back and forth like a conversation. So you will notice a lot of “taking turns” between the two dogs indicating that they are engaging in a friendly dialog.
- Wrestling. Depending on the strength and excitement level, this behavior can appear troublesome. Wrestling is when dogs are using their mouths and teeth like hands and are often biting each other back and forth. Wrestling happens to be one of the safest forms of play because dogs actively control the force of their bite to avoid breaking skin. It can become unsafe if dogs are tired and their actions get sloppy (like when basketball players start to foul each other) or if one dog accidentally gets hurt (and then mad).
- Vulnerability. Dogs will often roll over, lie on their back, etc., allowing themselves to be in a vulnerable position when engaging in friendly play. This is part of the give and take that happens when dogs like each other.
Here are some warning signs that indicate that dogs are not friendly and may be confrontational towards each other.
- Non-reciprocal play. This is when you see one dog trying to engage another dog in play, but the other dog is ignoring that dog by looking away, walking to a different play space, or even flashing their teeth at the dog. These are all signs that the dogs are not friendly and one of them, in particular, isn’t fond of the other. If you see this behavior, move the dogs away from each other.
- Growling. Sometimes growling may be a warning while other times it’s a threat. In a dog’s world, that is the difference between inaction and action. The pitch can tell you a lot about what your dog is trying to communicate. The lower and more intense the growl, the more likely the behavior combative. As with barking, if a low growl is coupled with ridged body posture, then it’s definitely threatening.
- Staring. Typically when aggressive behavior is brewing between two dogs, they will stop and stare at each other. This is a major warning sign, and it’s important to break them up before anything physical happens.
With these tips, the next time you’re at a dog park, you’ll know if the play is friendly or aggressive.