We’ve all seen it – crazy roughhousing between dogs. Is it play? Fighting? Something in between? Here’s an example of two male Akitas having a pretty good go at each other. Can you tell if their antics are happy or hostile? They look fierce, and their energy level is daunting. They’re moving at top speed, and their body slams are certainly rude. But these guys show good give-and-take, and they both pause between jousts. Notice they both have curved bodies, not stiff ones. And despite being mouthy with each other, their tails and mouths are relaxed and not tight. That belly-up move? It’s a form of “self-handicapping.” The dog taking that pose is allowing the other dog access, and he’s not using his full abilities. It’s PLAY!
We humans have a hard time knowing what we’re seeing in our dogs’ interactions. Sometimes we think dogs are going to play well together because they’re quiet. Or because they’ve never had a run-in with another dog before. And we assume that all loud and rough interactions mean a fight. Those aren’t safe assumptions. Remember this: Dogs play by their rules, not ours. If you plan to let your dog play with others, you need to learn about dog body language so you can prevent uncomfortable or dangerous social situations. And so you can allow your dog to engage in truly fun social interactions. If you do, he’ll be safer, and you’ll both have a better time. For more information, call us, or check out Turid Rugaas’ book, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, or her DVD.