If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how rough should dogs play there are plenty of considerations that affect this answer, and ultimately it is down to you as their owner to step in when you feel that it’s not appropriate. Dogs naturally play with their mouths, so ‘play fighting’ is very normal. It is your role to determine whether this behaviour is safe in the situation, and whether it has gone too far and become problem dog behaviour. Here are some of the top things to consider:
Dogs that your dog should not play rough with:
- Dogs they meet on the walk. If they don’t know one another they may see each other as a threat, so there is a strong possibility that rough play will lead to play fighting which could lead to real fighting, injury to either dog, vet bills and potentially even court cases. Err to the side of caution here and if play becomes a bit rough, rather than waiting and then trying to stop your dog from fighting if it goes to far, confidently call your dog over and end the game.
- Dogs much bigger/smaller than them: The size differential could lead to injury. Many owners have commented to me that their bigger dog has injured their smaller dog during play. Calmly break it up.
- Dogs much younger/older than them: See point two, young puppies and elderly dogs are very vulnerable to injury.
- Dogs they are sharing a space with but aren’t from your pack: E.g. if you are dog sitting, avoid rough play between your dog and the visitor dog as they could be potentially vying for whom will be in charge between them. By stepping in you are showing that you are in charge and they can relax!
- Dogs that like their own space: If your dog has a tendency to take itself off for a bit of peace and quiet, and you have another dog which is always trying to initiate play while it is having some relaxation time, bring the active dog away so your other dog can rest!
Situations where your dog shouldn’t play rough
- When there are babies/young children around. Many children develop fear of dogs and often this is because dogs have been play fighting around them. Do not let children get involved in rough play with dogs under any circumstances. While one child may think it’s fun, their friend may not. And the child which enjoys it may not recognise when a dog is being playful and when they are giving him/her a warning to leave them alone.
- To get your attention: Rough play is quite a natural part of interaction with one another, and some dogs will use it as a way of getting attention from you. If they are playing rough to get a reaction, and you don’t feel you can ignore them, then calmly separate them, one into one room and one into another, leave them there for a few minutes, until they have calmed down.
- In small spaces indoors: Jan Fennell doesn’t let her dogs play indoors, she sends them outside if they want to play. You can adopt that tactic too.
When to break up rough play
If you are happy that your dogs are playing in a safe environment and they are both your dogs, then it is okay to let them get on with it. We all play to learn skills for the future, children play at being nurse, fireman, etc., dogs play at being able to pull down their prey. This is why they will grab each other by the legs and neck. Very normal behaviour and the majority will play with an inhibited bite, so they are not causing pain to the other dog. If you hear yelping or squealing, I would calmly break things up. This is your duty, to protect your pack if things get out of hand, just as you would as a parent.
If rough play is a problem in your house and things are regularly escalating, or your dog regularly ends up fighting with dogs on the walk, then it would be a good idea to get a Dog Listener in to help you improve your dog’s behaviour. I work in the Essex, London and Kent area. I can recommend Dog Listeners in other areas of the UK so if you would like more help please get in touch.
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Bear in mind, whatever your problem, this is one symptom which is a signpost to an underlying problem. Dealing with the one problem on its own is rarely enough, which is why bringing in a Dog Listener is advised as they will ensure that you are doing ALL the things that you need to be doing to ensure your dog’s behaviour is the best that it can be.