The Differences Between a Dog Playing or Being Aggressive

By Valdette Muller| October 8, 2018 | Blog

When does a dog go from being playful to exhibiting aggressive behaviour?

For dogs, learning how to play starts when they are around 2 weeks old when puppies first play with their siblings, this early play is a critical part of their social development.

Early playtime teaches puppies communication and self-control.

When your puppy starts to get a bit older, understand that they have not lost their playful tendencies completely. This adolescent stage of development forms just as important a part of play as in their younger years and also teaches discipline in play.

Give your slightly older pup the opportunity to make friends, but be vigilant. It is up to the owner to supervise and make sure your pup is enjoying good-natured play and is not becoming too aggressive with other dogs.

Playful signals

Here are a few signals dogs use to show other dogs they are ready to play and want to interact:

  • Dropping into a “play bow”: You might see your dog put their front legs on the ground and their back end in the air as they face another dog. Really exuberant dogs might even slap their front legs on the ground to show they are ready for a romp.
  • Taking turns: Dogs playing together will sometimes play a form of tag, where they take turns chasing each other.
  • A smile: You might actually see your dog looking as if they are grinning as they race around a dog park with a friend.
  • Exaggerated growling or barking: Puppies “play growl” and your dog might not have outgrown this puppy behavior. It could sound scary, but if this couple with other non-aggressive behaviours show you that your dog and his friend are just having fun then do not be alarmed.
  • Play Biting: This is typically one of the hardest signs for pet parents to accept because we associate biting as a negative behaviour, but this is simply what dogs do. It is not uncommon for one dog to submit and lie on their  back, while the other dog nips at their ears or nose. Both dogs may bare teeth, but as long as there is not aggressive growling, yelps or whimpers your dogs are probably just engaging in playful behaviour.

If you notice that one of the dogs does not feel like playing or messing around and would rather be left alone, it would be best to separate the dogs for a time. This can be common with puppies trying to engage in play with an older dog that just wants to take a nap.

By regularly getting your dog to meet and interact with other dogs, you may lessen the chance that your dog may react negatively to other dogs as they age.

Aggressive signals

A failure to communicate can lead to a breakdown in play. In any play situation, communication needs to be two-sided and both dogs need to be having fun.

Signs of a dog not having fun with added aggression can include:

  • Raised neck or back hairs/hackles (This can indicate your dog is angry or alarmed.)
  • Stiffness in body position
  • Snapping or lunging

If either dog shows these signs, separate them immediately. But be careful! Never get between two fighting dogs.

Make sure to give your dog a break

Too much play can also wind things up for the worse. When roughhousing gets too intense, separate your dog from the other so no one gets hurt.

Give your dogs something to chew on to help distract them.

Consider separating them briefly, by putting them in “timeout” such as ordering them to lay down for a few minutes.

If that does not work, simply separate the dogs by a door for 10 minutes. This might get them to calm down when they are eventually reunited.

 

Sources: https://www.canidae.com/blog/2013/10/how-to-tell-if-dogs-are-playing-or-showing-aggression/

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/mouthing-nipping-and-play-biting-adult-dogs

 

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