Play fighting with your dog can be okay in moderation. However, there are a lot more potentially negative consequences than beneficial ones when you play fight.
As a dog trainer in Portland Oregon, I do not generally recommend roughhousing or play fighting with your dog. However, I do recommend playing with your dog which can include many structured games.
The truth is many dog owners find it very hard to resist play fighting with their dogs even though they inherently know it’s probably not best.
So, I will be going over some recommendations to ensure things stay safe and positive if you insist on play fighting with your dog.
In addition, I will provide some ideas for structured games and activities you can do with your dog instead of play fighting.
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What Is Play Fighting?
Play is an important part of development inherent in dog and wolf biology.
For example, play helps wolves bond in their pack and learn valuable social skills like communication, conflict resolution, and how to control their bite strength.
When dogs play with each other it helps them practice the physical skills and prowess they might need for hunting and catching prey. Play develops physical strength and provides cognitive stimulation.
Play Fighting Vs Real Aggression
How can you recognize play fighting vs more serious dog aggression? It can be hard because the behaviors overlap, all the more reason to avoid play fighting with your dog.
Play fighting includes behaviors such as those below.
- Play bows
- Pining each other down
- Gentle nips
- Playful pounces
Can I Engage in Play Fighting with My Dog?
Humans and dogs communicate very differently. The primary communication method for humans is verbal, whereas for dogs it is body language.
The danger of too much play fighting with your dog is that you can miss a lot of body language ques and it can get out of hand very quickly.
Plus, in play fighting, a dog is usually practicing a lot of unwanted behaviors such as jumping and mouthiness. These are the very things your dog will be taught NOT to do in dog obedience training!
In addition, play fighting can lead to real aggression in some dogs. If you are wondering how much roughhousing you can do with your dog without causing problems, it depends on the temperament of your dog.
If a dog is quick to bite and knock you over, you may never want to engage in play fighting or roughhousing. Instead, you may want to opt for more structured play, games, and activities.
Most of my dog training clients struggle with dogs that are overly amped up or excitable.
Play fighting can bring a dog into a hyper mental state known as “arousal.” If a dog is often in arousal, we tend to struggle more with obedience and getting our dogs to listen to us out in the world. This is because our dog is becoming adrenalized without practicing their “off-switch,” which means, impulse control and calming down.
Problems from Humans Play Fighting With Dogs
Play fighting with your dog can lead to many problems. Below are a few.
- Dogs can perceive humans as antagonistic.
- Dogs can become more aggressive.
- Play fighting can cause injury to you or your dog.
- Dogs can become more comfortable jumping, mouthing, and slamming into people.
- Humans can miss body language cues causing frustration in their dogs.
- Play fighting can put dogs into a state of arousal which can lead to unwanted behaviors.
- Dogs can become confused as to what behavior is appropriate around humans.
Children Play Fighting with Puppies
Children commonly fight with their dogs, especially when they’re puppies. Don’t ever let young children play fight with dogs. This can be dangerous.
When play fighting, children will often tease a dog, too. Never let this happen. Instead, teach children about dog body language and respecting the space of all dogs.
Always supervise children and dogs closely, of course.
Tips for Play Fighting with Your Dog
If I haven’t convinced you not to play fight with your dog, let me share a few tips for those of you who insist on it.
Limit Play Fighting Time
If you are play fighting with your dog, keep the sessions brief. I recommend sticking to about 5 minutes or less at a time. This ensures that you remain in control and can stop the play fighting when you say it’s time to stop.
How Often Can I Play Fight with My Dog?
Don’t make play fighting a daily practice. I wouldn’t engage in play fighting more than a few times a week.
It’s worth repeating there are better activities to do with your dog than play fight.
After Play Fighting
Teach your dog how to calm down immediately after play fighting or even when doing structured play.
If you are wrapping up your session, grab some treats and make your dog do some obedience tasks to switch gears.
Make Your Dog Relocate
Use the “place” command after you’ve been play fighting. This gets your dog to stay on his bed, or, ideally, a raised dog cot. The place command is really helpful for calming down your dog.
Is It Bad to Tease Your Dog?
Play fighting inevitably involves teasing.
If you are wondering if it is bad to tease your dog, the answer is most likely, yes.
While teasing may seem harmless, it can cause relationship problems.
Teasing can create issues in your pack including frustration, confusion, aggression, and fear.
It can do damage to the bond you have with your pooch and its’ level of trust with you.
If we constantly tease our dogs, we may see unwanted behaviors begin to surface as dogs are always responding to our energy.
What Is Structured Play?
I really love structured play as a healthy and stimulating alternative to play fighting with your dog.
It’s a great way to help them exercise their mind and body.
Whatever structured play you choose to engage in, make sure it’s the right match for your dog’s temperament, age, physical condition, etc.
Games for Structured Play
Tug is a great game to play with your dog that assists with bonding and physical and mental enrichment. It does not cause aggressive behavior in the same way that play fighting can.
In fact, it can help your dog to learn self-control as you can also teach your dog the “drop-it” command when playing tug.
Be sure to check out safety concerns before playing tug with your dog. (https://demarinisdogtraining.com/how-to-safely-play-tug-with-your-dog/)
Fetch is another great game to play with your dog. It gives your dog lots of physical exercise in addition to mental challenges. Some dogs naturally learn to fetch while others need to be taught.
A flirt pole is a moving lure for your dog to chase. This is a super fun way to exercise your dog while utilizing their prey drive. Teach your dog both the “get it” and “drop-it” commands to make it more engaging.
Puzzles, Snuffle Mats and Stuffed Kongs
These are great toys to utilize for your dog’s daily meals. These tools help tire them out while giving them a fair amount of cognitive engagement.
I recommend to always be practicing some basic obedience with your dog. Most dogs find it fun and rewarding especially if you work with them for their daily food.
Many dogs and owners enjoy agility classes, but you can also build some agility obstacles at your own home.
Summary for Play Fighting with Your Dog
Hopefully, this article has addressed your concerns on the topic of play fighting with your dog.
We want to project calm energy with our dogs and show them that we can help them to feel safe in life. That safety begins with us and our home environment and extends into the outside world.
Understanding your dog’s need for proper play and engagement will strengthen your bond over time and help nurture a dog that listens to you.
Author Bio: Ren Marshall has been a balanced dog trainer in Portland, Oregon for several years. She helps overwhelmed dog owners build confidence in their dog handling skills and basic obedience at Balancedpackk9training.com. She is passionate about the work she does and helping her clients to improve their lives by improving their relationship with their dog. Ren got into dog training when she adopted a dog from the pound that had a ton of behavioral issues including human and dog aggression, leash reactivity, pulling on walks and cat chasing. Wanting to keep him, started her on a journey of dog training courses that yielded real results. Seeing the transformation in her dog inspired her to attend seminars and start helping other people with their dogs. Ren also has a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She has also worked as a clinical healthcare chaplain and believes that dog training is really about making strong human connections with owners and helping them feel empowered.