How do I know If My Dogs are Playing or Fighting?

Ralph and Rupert regularly play fight.  Jumping at each other, body slamming, biting and pulling skin.  Sometimes we don’t know whether to step in and break them apart or just leave them too it.  Problem is Rupert is 4 years younger so has a lot more energy, plus he is 3kg heavier.  Ralph makes all the grunting noises and Rupert just carries on.

Dogs playing this is a common theme and helps them understand their limits with each other.  When to stop, when to back off, when they are being too aggressive, or simply when the other has had enough.  Unfortunately, with a younger dog and an older dog, the younger one may go 1 step too far and cause the older one to retaliate.  This happens regularly with Ralph and Rupert.  Learning how to tell the difference between a fight and some playful time together is sometimes difficult.  This is something you need to learn.

What Behaviour should I look for that says “We’re having fun”?

  1. Bowing down – Dogs wanting to initiate a fun and playful time with another generally bows down.  Lifting their rear end of the ground and pushing the front paws down.
  2. Grinning – Believe it or not, dogs do give out a cheeky grin.  This ‘smirk’ will trigger another dog to notice and start the fun.
  3. Bouncing – Dogs start bouncing like kangaroos up and down up and down acting silly towards one another.
  4. Weird Growling – Ralph is a growler, not an aggressive growl but a long drawn out gargling growl.
  5. Drama – Rupert is definitely the dramatic dog in our household.  He will nudge Ralph and then rollover onto his back and kick him with his back legs.
  6. And finally, playful dogs will keep going back for more and pretend to be fed up and then off they go again.  Sometimes Ralph and Rupert chase each other up and down the garden and then sit at the door for a breather and off they go again.

What tell me that this is more than playing?

  1. Hackles, or fur on back, tends to be raised up.  This is generally visible in short hair dogs as longer hair hides the hackles.
  2. Warning Growls are a quick message to the other dog to back off.
  3. Ralph tends to be the one that becomes the aggressor when he is fed up.  He will quickly show his teeth and bark loudly and sharply at his to show him whose boss.  Rupert though still goes back and then that’s when Ralph becomes more agitated and tries to walk away.   This is where we intervene.
  4. Tail tucked in and looking sad, miserable or wanting to get away with no where to hide.

Always Have a Plan for your Dogs

There are several things to think about when out and about with your dog(s).  if hey get into a playful fight, great, this is one of the best things for socialising.  However, if you identify a real fight between dogs then there are actions you need to take.

  • DO NOT get involved by grabbing or reaching in for your dog. This can cause you to get bit by yours or the other dog.
  • Carry something that will distract the dogs or stop them. Air Horns / Whistles tend to work quickly and effectively.
  • Finally, keep your doggie on a lead at all times then your dog isn’t to blame for initiating a fight.

When at home:

  • Separate your doggies – baby gates, plywood, fences etc to keep your dogs apart.
  • Always carry treats so when they do start, be firm and when they stop and listen, treat them

Keeping your doggie entertained will also reduce the risk of fighting because of boredom and make life so much more peaceful for you.