Play between dogs provides an important outlet for your dog’s natural behaviours. It is an important life skill for dogs to learn. Your dog can socialise with other dogs in a play session. Your dog can let off steam during a play session and he is likely to be more relaxed. But there are a number of things to bear in mind.
Firstly, just as we do not like everyone we meet not every dog wants to play with every other dog they meet. Some dogs are more reticent than others. Some dogs have never learned the skills needed to play with other dogs. This can be particularly true of rescue dogs. Other dogs may have had a bad experience with dogs in the past. This may make them frightened of dogs.
Play between dogs should be mutual and amicable. In general dog play will be reciprocal. For example dogs will take it in turns to chase each other.
Dogs should appear relaxed while playing. Dogs signal to other dogs that they are playing through body postures. Those to look for are play bows, bouncy movements, and one dog copying another dog’s behaviour. Play has its own rules, there will time outs, and play should be respectful.
Dogs should be able to adjust their play style to suit the dog they are playing with. For example if a large dog playing with a smaller dog the large dog may lie down to give the smaller dog an advantage.
Similarly an older dog playing with a puppy will often give the puppy the upper hand, by slowing down during a chase, or rolling over.
This is known as self-handicapping. In this way dogs of different sizes and ages can play together without risk of injury.
How Can You Tell Whether This is Play or Aggression?
Play often consists of mock fights and aggressive looking behaviours such as body slamming, growling and biting.
So how can you tell whether this is play or aggression?
Firstly play should be reciprocal. Good play should consist of one dog chasing and then being chased. If one dog always chases the other then this may not be play. If the dog being chased tries to hide it may be that this dog is not enjoying the game and may actually want to get away. This may also be the case if one dog corners or pins down another dog which is unable to move away.
Secondly both dogs must agree to play, if one dog does not want to participate and would like the other dog to stop then this is not play.
Thirdly dogs should always inhibit their bites while playing so they do not cause injury.
Finally dogs playing should be relaxed, look at the body posture of your dog, you should see play bows, their bodies and faces should be relaxed, mouths should be open and relaxed.
What if Play Becomes Too Rough?
What should you do if you think the play is becoming too rough and one dog wants it to stop?
Try to gently restrain the dog that you think may be playing too roughly and watch the behaviour of the dog that you think may be being harassed. If the dog goes away or looks relieved then that dog may not have been enjoying the game. If the dog comes back and invites more play then it is likely that it was just a game.