Are These Dogs Fighting or Playing?

Playtime is an important part of a dog’s well-being. There are times, however, when we all want to know, Are these dogs fighting or playing?

Are these dogs fighting or playing?
Bowing down (front end lowered, butt in the air) usually means, “Let’s play!”

Playtime is an important part of a dog’s well-being, as well as in his development into a well-mannered animal companion. There are certain times, however, when we all want to know, Are these dogs fighting or playing?

According to the book Dog Lover’s Daily Companion, playtime among dogs often appears to be a competitive match. Normal play can look to be “ruff and tuff,” even having sounds of being trouble-bound.

A little yipping (not yelping) and a little melodious growling (not nasty snarling) are quite normal coming from dogs that are happily interacting and “talking” to one another. If you notice pain or aggression in any of the playmates’ voices, it is time to stop their play session.

Look for the Body Signals

Paying attention to the body posture of the dogs that are involved in playful looking actions will often alert you as to whether they are engaging in friendly play. Usually, they will alternate chasing each other.

A submissive dog will say hello by crouching so that his playmate can sniff and greet him. If play is in motion, the shy dog will become an eager player in the jump and chase game.

Are These Dogs Fighting or Playing?

Play often begins with a “play bow” — front end lowered, wiggling butt in the air and an opened mouth smile. This communication between dogs is an attempt to show the other animal that any forthcoming growls, lunges or snaps will all be in the name of fun.

There might also be a quick slap of the ground with the forepaws from one dog to the other. Through their unique body language, the canines will reach the conclusion that all is well for them to have fun.

How can you tell when when play is going right? Look for constant, loose movement. The dogs may take turns being chasee and chaser.

If their ears and the corners of their mouths are back rather than forward, and there is lots of movement between them (where they are not locked into one position), chances are they are just playing. Even if there is a little growling and their teeth are showing, they most likely are enjoying the frolicking.

Here’s a video showing a good example of two dogs playing. Watch the body language:

On the other hand, how can you tell when if play is going wrong? If you notice the dogs stiffening up or freezing in place briefly, it is time to intervene (with caution). Deep growling that is getting deeper and more intense, as well as boxing while standing on their hind legs, are signs that these dogs are not getting along.

Just as with children, dogs sometimes get so wound up during play that a good time becomes fight time.

Additional Resources

Photo: mccun934/Flickr

Gayle Hickman

View posts by Gayle Hickman
Gayle Hickman has been researching and writing about pet behaviors since 2011. In addition to Petful, her articles have appeared on Reader's Digest, Yahoo Shine and WebVet, to name a few.

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