One of the best ways puppies learn the ropes is by modeling the behaviors of their parents and older dogs.

This mock-fighting and roughhousing teaches them several things that can be useful later in life. This instinct for an adult dog to play-fight with puppies in an old one, deeply embedded in their DNA from the days of when they were wild.

Unfortunately, sometimes this form of play can become dangerous for a puppy when it is too aggressive. Your friends at Blue Valley Animal Hospital have a few tips for a safer way for puppies and dogs to play together. Let’s begin!

Is It Playtime or Time to Separate? 

It’s normal for puppies and dogs to growl and romp over one another in a mock battle. Most dogs display behaviors that can seem a little aggressive to us, but as long as they are within the boundaries of good fun, it is usually okay (and can help them with socialization skills).

When your pet’s playtime is positive and fun, they will display a number of clues to let you know it. Likewise, if your puppy is afraid or is trying to get away, yipping, crying, or other indicators of fear, they need a reprieve. This is also true for senior pets, who aren’t willing and able to be trampled on by puppies. They, too, need a break from the rowdiness at times.

When Puppies and Dogs Play Together

There are some tell-tale signs that all is well in puppyland, when interaction is safe, positive, and welcome. Here are some clues that your pets are getting into the fun.

  • They are play bowing – This posture is the definite call for playtime invitation for you or their dog cohorts. When they are really excited, they sometimes pound or stomp their paws on the ground as they bow.
  • They’re being silly – This is when your pet is noticeably acting goofing and gesturing to other pets that they want lively exercise. Your pet will seem to appear like they are trying to get your attention or their peers’ attention through an exaggerated play style.
  • Your dog is exposing their belly – Rolling over and exposing the belly is a way to say they’re being passive, or comfortable with the situation. Smaller and younger pets will also do this as a way to pacify bigger dogs, a sort of a “I surrender” or “I am not a threat” pose.
  • The yips, growls, and barks sound excitable – Rather than a growl of warning, these play-growls and barks coincide with having fun and playing. Your pet’s posture will denote they are upbeat, energetic, and getting into the game. Real growls follow a stiff body posture, erect tail, bared teeth, and other signals of fear and aggression. 
  • Your dogs are chasing each other – That’s part of the game! Most pets will want to aggravate the other pets into chasing after them, either by play bowing or nipping at them.
  • They are obviously smiling or grinning – Big, open mouths that look like your dogs are smiling are a sure giveaway that the game has been most enjoyable for all.

When Trouble Brews

Sometimes, when dogs play together, it can turn into more roughhousing than is safe or acceptable. One or more of the dogs may try to get away or act out by biting or other aggressive behavior. To prevent an injury, keep watch for the following red flag signs of a possible fight.

  • Curled lip, exposed teeth
  • Yawning
  • Looking away
  • Growling
  • Stiff posture
  • Ears back and flat
  • Puffed up, fur raised
  • Trying to get away

If these signs occur, distract the dogs and separate them so they can have some alone time. Some dogs simply do not like this form of roughhousing. If that’s the case, give them something else to do, like a challenging puzzle, while the other dogs participate in the more energetic games.

Out and About

Make sure to watch your dog or puppy carefully when out at the park, dog park, doggie daycare, or other places where dogs socialize. If you notice that your pet is being bullied (or is the one ganging up on another dog), then get your pet to a separate area or leave. Some puppies are too small to be left alone with older dogs, so try and find other pets to play with that are about their size and/or age.

Last but not least, ensure your pet is getting the proper training and socialization they need to develop good manners. For more information on how puppies and dogs play, or to schedule a wellness examination, please contact us.