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How to Differentiate When Dogs Are Playing or Fighting

Discerning Dog Play Behaviours from Actual Aggression and Dog Fighting

Playful and Aggressive Dog BehavioursIn many circles, it is highly encouraged during the early stages of a dog’s life that it be exposed to other dogs and to other people as a means of increasing its comfort in a wide variety of situations as it grows/matures.  These interactions, generally characterized as socialization, can also help in prevent dogs from becoming fearful or aggressive if/when they are confronted by someone or something new throughout their lives.

Within such exchanges between dogs, there will frequently be some playful behaviour, or perhaps play fighting, which can be manifested in a number of different ways, including:

  • Bowing – chest to the ground, hind end remains upright
  • Face-paw – swiping of a forepaw at the other dog’s face
  • Wrestling or rolling over each other while on the ground
  • Excited and repeated jumping or bouncing up and down
  • High-pitched barking/yipping – in short, repeated bursts

There will be times, however, when this playful dog behaviour turns into genuine fighting or the interaction simply starts at the aggressive or combative stage.  This could lead to one or more of the dogs being injured and, in some cases, the owners of the dogs may also suffer harm while trying to intervene/stop the fight/separate the dogs.

It is therefore important for the dog owners to discern between dog play, which may appear to be aggression on the part of one or both of the dogs, and actual aggressive dog behaviour that is undesirable and potentially threatening to any/all parties involved.
The following might be indicators that the fighting is real and not just spirited play:

  • Bared teeth and tense lips
  • Barking, snarling, deep growls
  • Repeated nipping and/or biting
  • Biting/clamping teeth on back of the neck
  • Standing over or sitting upon the other dog
  • Slamming into, or hip-checking, each other
  • Aggressively chasing and tackling one another
  • Rearing on the hind legs and/or trying to mount

In order to avert such aggressive behaviours from their dogs, and any repercussions as well, owners may want to take proactive steps with their own dogs as part of the overall process of socializing them with other dogs.  These actions may consist of:

  • Discouraging rough play or behaviour
    • Avoid engaging in dominance-type games with the dog (like a tug-of-war)
    • Keep the dog away from other dogs that are exhibiting signs of aggression
  • Avoid raising the dog’s level of excitement
    • Keep energy level moderate whenever interacting and playing with the dog
    • Allow the dog to have a cooling-off period after play with people/other dogs
  • Consider spaying or neutering the dog to help in reduc ing its dominant impulses
  • Learn the dog’s body language, especially in relation to dominance/aggression
    • Recognizing these signs can prevent unwanted situations before they occur
  • Similarly, learn about the breed in general regarding known behavioural traits

Practicing these steps on a repeated and consistent basis should assist in preventing dog play from turning into aggression/outright fighting when a dog encounters other dogs on its walks or in dog parks, etc.  This can be particularly helpful when a dog is faced with a new situation for the first time.

For cases in which dogs might not be responding as well as desired or expected, owners may consider the option of consulting with a qualified dog trainer from Alpha Paws.

Addressing Aggressive Dog Behaviours May Require Professional Training

Sometimes, aggressive behaviour can simply be inherent in a particular dog, or it could become a learned behaviour, perhaps as a defense mechanism.  These situations can be intensified and/or magnified if the dog has been:

  • Left unattended or abandoned
  • Deprived of socializing activities
  • Restrained during public interactions

Very often in such cases, the dog’s initial/original family has relinquished ownership and the adoptive/second family is left with the challenge and responsibility of addressing the disagreeable dog behaviour or behaviours.  And, despite their best intentions, success may be limited.

Since there may be other factors involved here, it might be prudent for that family to obtain a professional assessment by a certified dog trainer from Alpha Paws.  The Alpha Paws trainer will conduct this assessment in the dog’s home to identify potential causes of the aggressive behaviour then recommend the most appropriate course of action to remedy the situation.

This may include an aggression control training program designed to address the specific needs of the dog and its owners.  Alpha Paws will then deliver this dog training program in either of these ways:

  • Private Lessons: at the Alpha Paws property or at the owner’s home

If you would like professional support in identifying and rectifying aggressive behaviour in your dog, call the experts from Alpha Paws today at 905-830-9500 or 1-877-868-PAWS (5248) to schedule an in-home assessment at your earliest convenience.

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