Understanding Dog Play Behaviors (Part Two)
The Different Play Styles of Dogs
In my previous hub, Understanding Dog Play Behaviors part 1, we discussed dog play and how dogs communicate to each other that play is just for fun and nothing major is going on among the parties. We saw cut off signals, meta-signals, self-handicapping and role reversals. In this hub, we will discuss different play styles of dogs and what causes play to get at times out of hand.
Part of the joy of watching dogs play is attributed to the fact that dogs have different play styles, to each their own! You'll see that herding dogs may stalk and "eye" more, whereas, boxers prefer to use their front paws a lot. Some dogs love to chase while others love to be chased. Knowing the play style of your dog is important when it comes to choosing your dog's best playmate. Matching energy levels and play styles may be a good idea. Some dogs may be intimidated by the play styles of certain dogs. Dogs of the same breed, often share similar play styles which may up the chances of them getting along. Does your dog play politely and uses play bows a lot? Or is your dog quite rowdy, vocalizing a lot and playing rough? You may find it helpful to read: How to Choose Your Dog's Playmate. And while you're at it, take a peak at some common dog calming signals.
Play is vary variable among dogs and you never get tired of watching. So put down your remote and stop watching television shows and enjoy watching the fun antics of play buddies having the time of their lives!
Different Play Styles
Size does matter in play. While some larger dogs may engage in self-handicapping, keep in mind that some large dogs may not. Also, keep in mind the chances for predatory drift. For a good reason, dog parks have started to separate play areas for petite pooches and jumbo dogs. Yes, you can have the gentlest Great Dane, but to a small wiener dog he is still 5 times his size and it's easy to get hurt! It's almost like a featherweight dealing with a sumo wrestler! Following are some common and not-so-common play styles among dogs.
- Keep Away
In this form of social play, a dog often grabs a toy and then goes into a play bow, tail wagging, rump in the air. The dog is simply trying to entice the other dog to play. Any movement towards this dog, would cause him to start running in a frenzy. The game is a sort of "come and get it, catch me-if-you-can sort of game. You'll see this game sometimes also directed towards humans, when the dog gets something you care about and takes off with it in hopes that you'll chase him.
- Leg Grabbing
Some dogs love to chase the rear legs of other dogs, especially when they're in movement! You'll see these dogs run after another dog with their focus on the other dog's legs or flanks. Often, these dogs will also use high-pitched barks. When they get a grip of the legs, the other dog may slow down and even try to sit! You see this game often in those herding dogs, perhaps triggered by the fact that they used to bite at heels of certain livestock.
- Face Fighting
You see this when two dogs are standing or lying down next to each other and keeping their teeth bared into a snarl, they move their heads back and forth while making these loud vocalizations. My Rottweilers do this quite often and when they do so, their vocalizations at times sound like Chewbacca in Star Wars.
- Body Slamming
As the name implies, this is when a dog slams into another dog full-force. Some dogs also accompany some loud growls with this behavior. You see this form of play among pit bulls, rottweilers boxers, labradors, retrievers and mastiffs. Not all dogs are too keen in being body slammed, so dogs that play by these rules need to be monitored.
- Head Biting
Some dogs seem to be obsessed with heads,necks and ears, and most of their play may be focused on reaching these body parts. You see this form of play a lot among labs, goldens and Chesapeake bays. In nature, the neck is a very vulnerable area, and not all dogs appreciate being bitten there, so keep a watchful eye on this form of play especially when one dog has the other pinned to the ground and is standing over him preventing the other dog from getting up.
When dogs are tired, they may lie next to each other and play bite the neck or paw at each other. Generally, despite the teeth showing and biting, this type of play is loose and relaxed.
Some dogs tend to mount other dogs at the dog park. This is often considered rude behavior and is often discouraged. Many dog object to being mounted, whereas, others may seem not to mind. For more on humping read "Dog humping behaviors".
Play starts to get a tad bit intense when the dogs are standing up on their hind legs more and more and they seem as if they were boxing with their front paws. This can become a prelude to a fight, so best keep an eye on the dogs.
These are often strong dogs who like to wrestle and are capable of pinning another dog to the ground. After pinning the dog, they may then growl and try to bite the neck of the victim. The biting is usually pretty inhibited, but the victim may be intimidated and panic since the other may prevent him from getting up, so it's best to discourage it if the dogs are not familiar and comfortable with each other.
Clean up after yourself!
As seen, dogs have many different styles of play and these are just a few. We have seen so far how dogs communicate their intent to play, different forms of play and signs of trouble.
*Tip: To better understand if your dogs are playing or fighting read "The difference between dog play and dog fight" Often, when play gets a bit out of hand, dogs will use cut-off signals. They may also scroll their fur as when they're wet to remove a bit of tension (or to get a deserved break). Your dog must also know that when a dog yelps, he is playing too rough and needs to give a small break and self-handicap more. Generally, if play looks like it's getting too rough, "play it safe" and give the dogs a time-out; call them to you, give a treat and reward lavishly. Once they're calmer, they can resume play but keep an eye on the trouble makers..
If you take your dog to the dog park, it's important to ensure he refrains from bullying other dogs and respects other dog's choices for taking a break. This is why I am not a fan of dog parks, there are too many chances something bad may happen! Better off organizing play dates with a few trusted dogs you know your dog gets along with.
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