Dogs Play with Their Teeth
Dogs don’t have fingers and arms and hand dexterity, they can’t play twister (although sometimes it looks like they are trying) and they can’t play scrabble.
Dogs are limited in how they play and they often get in trouble when they use their mouths.
When it comes to you playing with your dog, it is important that you teach him to keep his teeth off you when you play. YOU as a human can teach him how to play with you using mental stimulation and obedience to get toys and interaction.
But when he plays with other dogs, chances are you are going to see a whole different side of him.
Now, let me preface this by saying that not all dogs like to play with other dogs. If your dog is showing signs of fear or serious aggression click here. Now that my older dog has died, not one of my other three likes “playing” with other dogs or going to the dog park… they are all very dominant with other dogs and have difficulty submitting to other dogs.
Playing should bring “joy” to your dog not be forced on him, or make him miserable or barely tolerant.
If you are not sure if it is serious aggression read on; but remember that I cannot diagnose behavior without seeing it with my own eyes and dog behavior can be quite complex.
Often when dogs are playing it looks like aggression. They snarl, and grow, and bark and bite and often times it is just in the name of play. Often when I look up “Dog/dog Aggression” photos online, it is clear to me which ones are just playing.
My oldest Belgian Shepherd that recently died was the best dog I have ever seen with other dogs. He would play to whatever degree they were comfortable playing at.
When he was 2, he got down and laid on his side to play with two Chihuahua puppies. I worked at a boarding kennel that allowed dogs in play groups and he would go from playing with these two Chihuahuas, to playing with a slightly dog aggressive white German Shepherd with severe pain and hip dysplasia (he loved the interaction with Nix, and Nix was always very careful not to hurt him), to playing with another Belgian Shepherd mix by tossing her around by her scruff and jugular.
I swear that their play habits almost stood my hair on end; they would grab and toss one another around by the throat running and playing for hours if we would let them. Her owners came to peak over the fence and watch them play once and were a little taken aback at how hard they played.
But It Was Clear They Were Best Friends
So how can you tell aggression from play?
Sometimes it takes a very skilled eye to read doggy behavior.
If in doubt or you want to learn, go and sit in a dog park and watch dogs interact; I love just watching dogs play.
Usually you will see one dog “play bow” and throw his front feet on the ground in front of the other dog in a way of appeasing or showing the other dog his intentions are to play.
Play bows are my FAVORITE form of doggy behavior!! I also look at their eyes and how they are looking at each other, if I have two dogs “staring” at one another I am more concerned. A dog with a hard stare and dilated pupils that runs right up to other dogs and gets into their face is closer to having an incident. A dog with soft, blinking eyes, and lateral movement when greeting is the sign of a submissive dog.
Knowing about a how a dog uses his tail to communicate also helps for more on that click here.
Dogs size each other up pretty quickly, one dog may be the dominant play partner in one play scenario and the submissive play partner in another. When dogs play with other dogs, it is important that they can play both parts.
Extremely dog dominant dogs, don’t usually play well with other dog dominant dogs. And, extremely submissive dogs usually are uncomfortable being constantly dominated by other dogs. It usually takes a dog that is somewhere in between.
Although my dog was usually the submissive, he could also show dominant body behaviors with some dogs. The difference is; that if another dog had dominant body posture he would be the first to throw down those front feet and run in an invitation to play.
If you watch dogs for a while, you will see that the ones that have problems are the ones who can’t figure out who is going to submit. Often this is followed by, climbing on the back of the other dog and trying the “dominant hump”.
Many dogs won’t tolerate being mounted by another dog.
When dogs are on leash and meeting I never allow them to do this in the beginning before I know how they will deal with it. Mounting usually escalates aggression and behavior very quickly. Either the mountee will throw himself on the ground in a submissive acquiescence, run off to play, stand there and be humped, or he will muscle up and threaten to fight for such behavior.
If I am not sure if my dog is a “player” or not; I keep both dogs on a leash so that any altercation can be broken up quickly.
In the beginning, I don’t allow mounting behavior. Dogs are separated when either one grabs the other or one dog forcefully puts his chin over another dog’s shoulder (also very dominant).
Once they have played successfully for a while, and it is clear to see who is dominant and who is going to be accepting and submissive I can let them play with leashes dragging (again so I can grab leashes if need be).
My other rule, is that my dog be obedient enough to listen to me.
When I stay to “stop” or “come” I want my dog to listen. If he is not listening he is putting himself at a risk that I can’t control.
I will also stop rough play if I am unsure if it will escalate.
If I am not sure and I think play is getting to rough, I will stop it.
Ultimately I am the “Mom” or “Alpha” whichever you like to use and when I stay to stop you need to listen.
This keeps play from getting over the top.
As I get to know each dog I can allow more roughness.
If you don’t know doggy behavior go and watch some!
But always make sure you keep your dog as safe as possible and be in control of the situation to the best of your ability.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.