Oh No, Is that a Fight?
Last month we talked about how dog trainers appreciate a dog that wears his heart on his sleeve and lets you know what he’s thinking with his vocalizations. In Part 1 of this “Growls and Barks” series, we looked at the meaning behind growling during tug-of-war games. In Part 2, we’ll look at the reasons why a dog might be noisy (or communicative) in dog-dog play – and how to interpret this in the best interests of you and the dog.
Raucous Rumblin’ and Tumblin’
If your dog barks and grumbles while chasing and wrestling with other dogs at the park, is she out for blood? Not usually! Good dog play can get noisy. Barking, growling, wrestling, pawing, and pouncing are all aspects of normal, healthy dog play. Even jaw-sparring with lots of “fangs” exposed can be a form of play. Doggie parents who coddle their “babies” and don’t allow them to “speak dog” are not doing their dogs any favors. Dog language is something that must be learned from other dogs, so safe interactions with their own kind actually helps dogs develop needed social skills.
How do you know if loud vocalizations are play or signs of a potential fight? Watch for the metasignals dogs use to tell each other that “we’re not serious” even though we look like we are.
Play signals that are easiest to see include:
- Play blows: head down, rump in the air (and many subtle variations on this theme)
- Role reversals: you chased me, now I chase you; or you were on top, now I’m on top
- Rocking-horse gait: bouncy, goofy, up-and-down running that looks like a rocking horse
Another sure sign that two dogs are having fun is if they both keep coming back for more. For example, let’s say you have a wrestling match where the dog on the bottom just can’t seem to get up. Try this test: gently pull back the dog on top and restrain her for a moment. If the dog that was on the bottom runs off or hides, then he was overwhelmed. But, if he comes right back up to the dog you pulled off, ready for more wrestling – then they were both enjoying the play!