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How can you tell when dogs are play fighting or being aggressive?

May 21, 2023

Duncan Houston

Distinguishing between play fighting and aggression in dogs is often a matter of understanding canine body language. Here are some factors to consider:

*Play Fighting:*

1. *Play Bow:* This is when a dog puts their front end down and their hind end up in the air. It is a classic sign of wanting to play.

2. *Relaxed Body and Facial Expressions:* Dogs that are playing usually have relaxed, loose bodies and facial expressions.

3. *Role Reversals:* In play, the chaser is often chased and the wrestler often gets wrestled. If one dog seems to be doing all the "attacking" and the other always seems to be on the defensive, it may be more than play.

4. *Breaks:* Dogs that are playing usually break their engagement periodically, even if only for a second.

5. *Bite Inhibition:* Dogs that are playing use controlled bites that don't harm their playmate.


1. *Stiff Body:* Dogs that are being aggressive tend to have rigid body postures.

2. *Direct Stares:* Aggressive dogs may hold an intense, unwavering stare at another dog.

3. *Growling or Snarling:* Growling can be a sign of play, but combined with other aggressive signs it might mean trouble. Watch for snarling (teeth bared) with growling.

4. *Uncontrolled Biting:* Aggressive dogs may bite hard and are not likely to inhibit their bites.

5. *Dominance:* If one dog is constantly trying to dominate another, with no role reversal, it may be a sign of aggression.

6. *Lack of Breaks:* An aggressive dog is unlikely to break the engagement or take pauses.

*Ways to Fix Aggression:*

If you notice signs of aggression, you should intervene immediately to prevent escalation.

1. *Professional Help:* If your dog is regularly showing signs of aggression, it is recommended to consult a professional dog behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist.

2. *Socialization:* Properly socializing your dog with a variety of people, environments, and other dogs can help them learn appropriate behaviors.

3. *Training:* Reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior. Obedience training can also help control aggressive behavior.

4. *Avoid Triggers:* If you know what triggers your dog's aggression, try to avoid those situations.

5. *Exercise:* Regular exercise can help reduce aggressive tendencies by managing a dog's energy level and providing mental stimulation.

6. *Medical Checkup:* Sometimes, aggression can be due to medical issues. A vet check-up can rule out any medical reasons for aggression.

Remember, it's important to understand your dog's body language and intervene appropriately to maintain a safe and happy environment. Always consult with a professional if you're unsure or if aggression is a consistent issue.