What is safe play and what is escalating aggression?

Sometimes it’s hard to know right? Some dogs play really rough, all growly and barky, humping, chasing… It can be overwhelming to know if or when to intervene, and when to let it go.

First up I can reassure you that playing and fighting sound different. Unfortunately in many situations, you’re not going to know what’s normal play for the dog and what is escalating; sometimes it takes a fight to know what to listen for. But that’s not ideal, of course.

So as with all doggy situations, context is important. Regardless of the sounds being made or the teeth that might be on show, what is the dog’s body language telling you, nose to tail? Lip-licking plus tucked tail plus mostly lowered body language could indicate a very uncomfortable dog. Tail up plus beady eyes plus mostly standing over another dog could indicate a very overt, confident dog. Two confident dogs together or one bully dog could see play escalating in all the wrong ways.

Look for over-excitement. Has the dog stopped listening? Is he pushing play or chasing a dog that’s not really into it? Is he mounting or humping other dogs without even going through some polite introductions? He might need a timeout.

In general, respectful play is pretty even – both play the chased and the chaser, both have time on the ground or on top, neither are pushy when one wants a bit of space. Shoulder checks where they both turn away after contact are more respectful. Both dogs on their bellies playing bitey face are more respectful.

Ultimately, if what they’re doing makes you uncomfortable, end it. Our dogs are great at picking up our tension or anxiety, and you could inadvertently cause an escalation. Putting on the leash and walking away for a bit gives you both timeout to regroup.

Remember, you know your dog and are her best advocate. Set yourself and your dog up for success on your own terms. Don’t fall prey to dog-park-peer-pressure.

Call me, I can help.

Photos courtesy Ryan (for pointing me to Pixabay), Kristy and Donna, thank you!

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