What is Good Play?

When watch­ing two dogs inter­act, we’re often asked, “Is that okay?” Dogs can play rough. They bite each other, growl, roll around on the ground… So what is good dog play?

Puppy and Older Dog

Here’s an anno­tated exam­ple of good play between a puppy and an older dog.

Two Adult Dogs

And here’s a great exam­ple of two adult dogs play­ing together. (The puppy has now grown up!)

In Sum­mary

Good play is mutual. Both dogs are engaged and inter­ested in interacting.

Good play is about loose, relaxed, floppy bod­ies. Play move­ments should be inef­fi­cient and floppy, like a puppy.

Good play is about tak­ing turns. If one dog is on top, that dog should back off after a few sec­onds and not sim­ply pin the other dog under their body.

Good play is short and has nat­ural pauses. These pauses may only be for a sec­ond or two, but they calm the play down. The dogs may shake off, and may give a play bow or some other sig­nal, and then the play is on again.

Less desir­able, and pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous, is play that con­tin­ues to esca­late in inten­sity until one or all of the dogs get over­whelmed. This tends to lead to rude or fear­ful behav­iours such as bit­ing too hard, using exces­sive force, or snap­ping at the other dog to get some space.

Also less desir­able is one dog always com­ing out on top; one dog con­sis­tently pin­ning the other dog; one dog engag­ing in a pushy man­ner while the other dog is try­ing to move away; or one dog chas­ing another into a cor­ner or under a table, bench, or under people’s legs.

Behav­iours that are con­sid­ered rude include drawn-out bum sniff­ing, body slam­ming, exces­sive bark­ing, and exces­sive mouthing of another dog.

Just as not all peo­ple you meet will be friends, not all dogs are good play­mates either. Most dogs are less inter­ested in play as they get older, and usu­ally don’t want to be both­ered by pesky younger dogs. In addi­tion, dif­fer­ent breeds have dif­fer­ent play styles that don’t always match.

When look­ing for dog play, seek out dogs who are a good match for your own; if the dog(s) aren’t a good match, just move on — go for a walk, or bet­ter yet, get out a toy and play with your dog yourself!

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