You roll up to the dog park, and Fido is excited to play with all the pups. After a little bit, Fido has selected his playmate, and you notice the dogs are growling at each other while playing. Are they being aggressive, or are they just playing?
How do you know when playtime has escalated to aggression? And why do dogs growl when playing? We’ll help you understand why your dog growls when playing, so you can monitor the situation and ensure it doesn’t turn into aggression.
- Ways Dogs Play
- Why Dogs Growl While Playing
- When Playing Turns Into Aggression
- How To Separate Fighting Dogs
- Tips To Avoid Aggression
When dogs play, they tend to start with a quick downward dog pose, which can also look like a little bow to one another. This signals that they’re ready to play in a friendly manner. Here are some tips on how to have a smooth introduction between two dogs.
As they become closer friends, the dogs may exhibit a more casual version of this where they just quickly bounce their front feet on the ground and begin playing. Some of the ways they play include:
- Chasing each other
- Wrestling with one another
- Tug of war
- Face biting
- Friendly growling during roughhousing
While some of these may seem a bit aggressive on the surface, they’re all done in good fun and in a very fluid, natural motion. Some dogs even growl and snarl while they play. The growling may concern you as an owner, but most of the time, it’s just dogs being dogs.
If you’ve ever watched puppies play, you’ve heard lots of cute little growling sounds. This is how they communicate and play. However, humans often misinterpret these sounds for aggression. On the contrary, this is simply a common way that dogs express their emotions verbally. So be sure to consider their body language, facial expressions, and other behavior in reference to the growling sound before you assume that it’s hostile.
For most dogs, growling is part of play and not a reason to worry. As long as your dog’s tail is wagging and he’s not showing any signs of aggression, he’s most likely playing.
Dog Growls When Playing (Video)
The video below shows two dogs growling while they play. Watch how the dogs are play fighting, but they’re jumping around and wagging their tails too. Why do dogs play fight? This is simply the way dogs play. If one of the dogs was suddenly more stiff, baring teeth, or lunging, then it may be time to interfere and let them cool off.
Dogs unfamiliar with one another begin playing by testing the waters to see what works with the other. This is similar to how humans act when we meet someone new. We start with safe conversation topics like the weather, work, or a new local restaurant before moving to a more personal topic.
Dogs begin playing with gentle bites and chasing before going into full wrestle mode. However, if the dogs are not enjoying each other’s company or they feel threatened, play may quickly escalate to more aggressive behavior or even a fight.
How To Spot A Fight vs Play In Dogs
Below are some things to help you know when playtime has turned into a fight.
- Growl Gets Lower In Tone – While growling during play is normal, watch for a change in the tone of the growling. When a dog’s voice becomes lower and more throaty, the play is likely escalating towards a significant concern.
- Hair Stands Up On Back – If one dog’s hair starts to stand up along its backbone, then the dog may be feeling more aggressive. For some dogs, this is an everyday occurrence and is not a concern. However, if your dog doesn’t normally show this behavior, it’s time to halt play.
- Dog Attack – If the dogs are indeed playing, it should be approximately a 50/50 exchange of chasing, wrestling, etc. Each dog has an equal opportunity to be the chaser or the chased. However, when you see the power shift to one dog being the dominant aggressor, it’s time to intervene. There’s not much good that can come out of this situation when one dog is likely to end up pinned down by the other one and could even be subject to an attack. The majority of dog play doesn’t go this far, but it’s something to watch for.
This is why you should always be present when your dog is playing with other dogs, especially unfamiliar dogs.
If play has escalated to fighting, you should separate the two dogs as best you can. Ideally, you would do so when the first warning signs appear (hair standing up, one demonstrating dominant behavior, etc.).
Create A Distraction With Noise Or Water
Try to get your dog’s attention by calling your dog’s name. Most of the time, simply shouting will create an alarm and cause your dog’s head to snap out of the situation. Your dog wants to make you happy. So when he hears that you are unhappy/in distress, it’s likely to trigger a change in your dog’s behavior.
If shouting doesn’t work, try creating other loud noises like clapping or stomping your feet. While it may feel infinitely longer, most dog fights end in a few seconds. You may even consider keeping a whistle in your pocket whenever your dog might have the opportunity to play with another.
If you have a water bottle with you, open it up and throw water on the dogs. A dog water bottle or hose could also do the trick. Or maybe even splash water from a nearby puddle.
Just like us, dogs respond better to calm rather than rash behavior. So keeping your cool in a stressful situation can help you effectively communicate with your dog and, thus, resolve the issue.
Don’t Grab Your Dog
Your first instinct might be to grab your dog or his collar. However, this may result in your dog biting you. When your dog is in a stressful situation, it’s hard for him to distinguish between you and the other dog.
It’s nothing personal, but the dog’s first instinct would be to continue to defend against the attack scenario he’s currently in. So if you’re in the way, you might be mistaken for the other dog (by your dog or by the other dog in the fight). So, do not get between two fighting dogs. You may not make it out unscathed.
Lastly, here are some general tips to keep dogs from questioning the decision of defense vs play.
- Introduce them on neutral territory, so no one is protecting the property.
- Do not feed dogs together or even have food or snacks in the area. Dogs really like their food. Period.
- Eliminate/hide all the toys, bones, and other things your dog might get defensive over.
- Stay close to playing dogs so you can react if something arises.
Tip: If a dog is coming to your home, consider meeting outside with both dogs on leashes. Take them for a walk around the block together. Don’t let them be too close to one another until they’ve both calmed down and are showing no signs of aggression. Once they’ve gotten used to each other, you can go inside or in the backyard and try having them off-leash.
Does your dog struggle with aggression? If so, you may find our articles about how to handle dog-on-dog aggression and aggressive dog training tips helpful. Our experts discuss the different types of aggression, how to handle it, training options, and more.
Is your dog vocal during playtime?