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!