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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