The Root of the Behavior
Others have coined the phrase "jaw sparring" to refer to open mouth play. While this activity can escalate to a point where it could be harmful to the dogs involved; for the most part, it is simply the canine version of a harmless bout of wrestling. But make no mistake, jaw sparring is not a UFC "No Holds Barred" cage match. For many dogs, it is a teaching time where older dogs teach younger dogs to exercise proper control over their mouths. Since a dog naturally possesses the ability to inflict great harm on other living beings, it is of great importance for them to learn the amount of pressure that is appropriate for interacting with their canine and human friends and family. But where does this type of play find its origins? Many of the behaviors we see in the modern dog are deeply rooted in their ancestry. If you closely observe dogs at play, you will notice that many of the actions you see can be traced to the things they would do in their day to day lives in order to survive but on a much less intense scale.
Encouraging the Behavior
Appropriate dog play is also often interspersed with "breaks." You might see two dogs go at it pretty hard for fifteen minutes only to wander off and pursue other things and resume play later. This is quite healthy and normal. If at any time you see a dog attempting to disengage from play, it is time to intervene and redirect the dogs. This is a preliminary warning signal that the play is going in a different direction, and you may not get another. Disengagement can quickly go from feigning disinterest and boredom to full-on aggression, so it is critical that play never be unsupervised, and action is swiftly taken when a dog appears to have had its fill. Signs that danger is imminent include raised hackles, hard staring, bared teeth, and low growling. If any of these signs are present, it is critical that all games be interrupted, and the dogs redirected. The fun portion of the mutual play time is now officially over.