Play is supposed to be fun. It is a pleasurable activity which animals engage in that are not part of the immediate business of their life. It is something done by mimicry, display, or rehearsal. During play, dogs often chase, jump, run, chew, bite, wrestle, hide, and sometimes even hump. When dogs play, all behaviors are a game to them and they are done all in the spirit of fun. There is no hidden agenda and no ulterior motives. However, play sometimes scares dog owners because they look a little too rough and might result in injuries. If two dogs are wrestling and it seems too rough to you because of the slamming, biting, and snarling, should you intervene? Well, do not stress yourself out because this is perfectly normal. Puppies play with other puppies constantly. From the time their eyes open until they go to their own homes, they spend most of their waking time wrestling with each other.
The Root of the Behavior
Play is said to be a necessary part of growing up, not only for humans but also for all young social animals and without any play, they will not be able to develop to their full potential. However, this does not seem to be true as animals deprived of play for various reasons still grow up to be behaviorally indistinguishable from their peers that had enough play. Play is not imperative for normal development, but dogs engage in it because it is a role-playing rehearsal for future adult behaviors. Play will prepare younger dogs for what lies ahead.
When puppies play, their minds and bodies are exercised, and they are made smarter and healthier. There are different types of play that unfold with various periods of learning. All forms of play start in the socialization period that is between 3 and 6 weeks of age and as the pups approach adolescence, they intensify, with the most intense period starting at about 16 to 20 weeks of age. Social play is very interactive and, needless to say, it involves playing with other puppies. Sometimes if there are no other puppies, dogs will play with their owner and even the household cat. Puppies will begin playing as early as three weeks of age and usually the intensity increases as the dog matures.
There are behaviors you need to look at in order to know that says it is all good fun. The play bow is front end down and the back end in the air. Dogs trying to initiate play will sometimes slap their front legs down on the ground repeatedly. There is usually a big and silly open-mouthed grin. Dogs act silly with loud and continuous growling and sometimes play growling can sound scarier than serious fighting, but it is all in good fun.
Encouraging the Behavior
Play should be encouraged in dogs as it helps dogs develop. However, it is important for you to know if the behavior is all in good fun or it is starting to become more than just a game. When play fighting, dogs will voluntarily make themselves vulnerable by “falling” down and allowing themselves to be caught when playing chase and taking turns with other dogs to chase each other. When they play fight, they often come back for more and they will not want to stop playing.
Just as there are signs of good play fighting, there are also signs that tell you it is more than just a game. When it starts to become a bit dangerous, the dogs' bodies will get very stiff, their mouth is closed, their lip is curled, and there is a low warning growl. The dogs' movements will also be efficient and quick, there will be no taking turns, and neither will there be bouncing around.
It is important to protect your dog and ensure that there is always safe play fighting. Not all dog breeds are meant for the dog park because there are some who are quick to take offense, so they might be better off left playing at home with you. Never allow your dog to be ganged up on by other dogs. He might not get physically hurt in the process, but he can be traumatized because of this bad experience and might start to fear other dogs. Such an experience can be very difficult to overcome and might affect dogs emotionally.
Keep toys and food away as dogs can be very possessive of these things and to canines, these things are worth fighting for and can quickly escalate an innocent play fight that they are supposed to enjoy into something more than can cause injuries.
Other Solutions and Considerations
It can be quite a challenge to monitor what is going on when your dog is playing outdoors because they can move very fast. Chase games will usually involve dogs being the chaser and being the one chased. However, there may be some dogs who want to chase more and will take this role more often.
As a dog owner, you must always have a plan for home and when you are away. If the play fight ends up in a real fight, refrain from attempting to separate them by grabbing their collars. Do not use any part of your body to separate them because you will likely get bitten. A loud noise can distract the dogs, so it is a good idea to keep a small horn in your car. Spraying their heads with water may also do the trick.
Play fight between dogs is only natural and should be allowed. It is a good exercise for your dog, a rehearsal for adulthood, and a good practice for socialization. However, play fights can sometimes turn into a real and dangerous fight. Know the signs of potential conflict so you can act quickly and calmly separate dogs before the situation worsens. By doing this, you also help ensure that everyone has a good time and are kept safe.