Recognizing Healthy Dog Play

Whether you bring your dog to the dog park, or just have an occasional friend over with their dog, it’s important to recognize good, healthy dog play. So what are some things you can watch for to ensure that your dog and his friends are enjoying their social times together?

Rule number one is that all dogs should be willing participants in the play. The best way to confirm this is to separate the dogs by giving them a moment apart from each other, and then releasing them at the same time. If the dogs magnet right back to each other, they are likely both willing participants. If one uses this moment to get away while the other chases, be sure to step in and intervene. The dog doing the chasing may need a longer break to build up their self control, or a more appropriate play partner.

Healthy dog play should also involve frequent, self-imposed breaks. These short breaks enable the dogs to catch their breath and gather their wits before re-engaging in play.  Dogs who are playing well with each other will naturally take these breaks, and respect their play partners when they stop to do so. When your pup is first learning how to play with other dogs, you may need to intervene and impose these breaks. Most dogs will learn quickly how to regulate themselves after minimal intervention from you.

Play between dogs should always involve some type of role reversal. Dogs often play in pairs, and will take turns pinning and pushing each other around. If one dog is consistently tackling another dog without offering opportunity to be tackled back, it’s time to step in and separate the dogs. The same goes for chasing; Each pup should offer turns to be the chaser and the one being chased. This healthy play will come across as a nearly constant, circular, fluid movement with both dogs taking turns.

Last but not least, trust your gut. If you feel like your dog is being ganged up on, or being a bully to another dog, it’s time to wrap up the play session. It’s a great idea to teach yourself about play and body language, and become familiar with your own dog’s signals. Be an active participant in your dogs play, pay attention to what he likes and doesn’t like, and intervene when necessary. Play should be fun for both your dog and the dog he is playing with!