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Playing or Fighting?

Reading body language has never been an easy task, reading a dog and attempting to anticipate their next move can be very complicated.

People observe a wagging tail and immediately most would think that the dog is friendly and just wishing to say ‘hello’ but a wagging tail just shows that the dog is excited about something that is happening; this could be either good or bad.

The basic rule with a dog’s tail is that a high, upright, wag displays dominance and assertiveness; a low, fast wagging along with short sweeps show that the dog is no threat and being friendly; a low-set, slowly wagging with large and wide sweeps is showing the dog is happy to see you.

Being able to tell the difference between dogs playing and dogs fighting is tricky, especially if you are not around dogs much yourself. When my two dogs play they regularly sound as though they are trying to throttle one another! There are always lots of noises involved and lots of jumping on each other.

Dogs are very physical when they interact with other dogs or with people, this starts as puppies; they are always nipping each other and their owners during play, if they nip too hard their siblings tell them by nipping harder in return or by letting out a  loud yelp. If a puppy nips its owner too hard then the best action to take is either to turn away and ignore the pup, as they hate this action, or to give a loud yelp yourself.

A high percentage of dogs fighting with one another is down to them jostling to ascertain their positions, which one is the higher-ranking dog? This is generally sorted out quickly and always sounds much worse than it actually is, with lots of snarling, growling and biting. If the dogs are not fighting seriously then their bites will be inhibited, so even though it may sound and look frightening and real; the whole confrontation is unlikely to leave any real injuries.

There are signs, via body language and behaviour that show when a dog means business and is highly likely to attack. The dog’s tongue will actually be drawn back into its throat this is done to protect it if the dog is anticipating a fight, if the dog’s tongue is actually lolling from their mouth or if it is moving quickly in and out of their mouth then they are not expecting a fight.

A dog’s elbows also show signs of how the dog is feeling. If they are straight and stiff then this is viewed as dominant behaviour as dogs will often stand on the back of the weaker dog with both of their front paws, whilst standing on very stiff hind legs. If the elbows are bent this is an indication that the dog wishes to play.

One sure sign that you cannot misinterpret is the ‘play bow’, if the dog puts his/her front end along the ground and raises his/her rear end in the air, normally coupled with a slow wagging tail, this means play and says that the dog has good intentions.

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