Difference in Dog Play vs. Aggression
Dogs often love to play with each other, however, sometimes they might be a little too rough when doing so. Because of this, some pet owners might be concerned that their dog is aggressive. However, sometimes rough dog play isn’t a sign of aggression, but rather of a happy and energetic dog. Below you’ll discover how to tell if a dog is playing or being aggressive. You’ll also find some ways how to combat dog aggressiveness if you think your dog might be hostile toward others.
Are My Dogs Playing or Fighting?
It can be difficult to tell sometimes whether a dog is playing or fighting with another. However, there are a few signs you can keep an eye out for to help tell.
Signs a Dog is Playing
There are a few signs to look for if you’re not quite sure whether your dog is being playful or aggressive to another.
- Soft dog play biting
- A large grin (their mouth will be open wide when playing with a friend)
While some of these might sound concerning, they are how dogs play and get along with each other. Because of this, they’re not as scary and drastic as they might sound.
Signs of Dog Aggression
While dog aggressiveness has a few common signs to dog playfulness, the level and intensity of it is what helps to determine whether or not your dog is being playful or aggressive.
For instance, your dog might be chasing another dog around. However, if they are doing so at extreme speeds and growling, it could be they are being aggressive, not playful.
Some signs of dog aggression include:
- Low constant growling
- Standing tall
- Lunging and charging toward another dog or person
- Showing their teeth
- A heavy dog snarl
What is Puppy Aggressiveness?
Even puppies can be aggressive toward other dogs and people. While puppies are a bit more rambunctious and will nip and pounce on others, this isn’t always a sign of aggressiveness. However, if you find your puppy does a very deep growl, has a curled lip, or is deeply staring at another person or animal, they are being aggressive. Because they are still young, puppy owners can work to help stop this aggressiveness before it gets out of hand.
Some ways to help your puppy stop being aggressive is to:
- Make sure they get enough exercise.
- Reward your puppy when they are being calm.
- Try to get them to safely socialize with others.
- Enroll them in an obedience school or teach them obedience commands.
- Keep them busy with physical and mental activities, such as giving them toys or treat puzzles.
By keeping these tips in mind, you can help to prevent your puppy from eventually growing into a very aggressive dog.
Playing Dogs: Dog Play Stance
If you’re still not sure whether your dog is playing or being aggressive, you can keep an eye out for a few clues, especially in their playing stance.
They Do a Play Bow
A common dog play stance is the play bow. This is where they will bend their front legs and stick their back up in the air. While keeping this stance, your dog will try slapping their paws down on the ground constantly to try to get another dog to play with them. In other words, they are inviting them to play with the stance.
If you see your dog jumping around in the air and doing bouncing motions, it’s a sign of playfulness. They might jump around a dog to try to get them to play. However, some dogs might be a little rough with this, especially younger ones, as they might jump on the dog because they are so eager to play with them.
They Keep Coming Back
Another sign of dog playfulness is that your dog keeps coming back for more. While they might run off and look scared, they will slowly come back because they want to play.
They Show Their Stomach
When a dog puts their stomach up in the air, it’s a sign of submission. This is a way for them to look vulnerable to another dog and show they have “given up” during the play. However, this is just for the moment. Your dog might then jump back up and try another round of “play fighting”.
My Dog Plays Too Rough: What Do I Do?
While your dog might be a very friendly pup, some canines might play a little too roughly. Because of this, it’s important to do a few things to prevent unintended injuries.
Take a Break From Playing
If you feel your dog is playing too roughly with another, remove them from the situation to take a break. Sometimes dogs can get wound up when playing and end up being very rough. This could cause injury to the other dog although not through aggression. Because of this, remove them from the situation and give them something to keep their mind on, like chewing a bone or toy. Once your dog has calmed down, let them go back playing again.
Watch the Sizes of the Dogs
Sometimes the size of the dog could also result in unintended roughhousing. If you let a large dog, like a Great Dane, play with a smaller one, like a chihuahua, the larger dog might end up hurting the smaller dog because they don’t realize the size difference and might be a little rough with them as they might be with a larger dog. Because of this, make sure if your dog plays with a smaller or larger dog, they are separated as soon as you think they might be getting a little too rough with each other.
Why Do Dogs Growl When Playing?
When dogs are playing they might make some growling sounds. However, is this normal dog playing? Yes, it’s completely normal and is how they communicate with each other.
While this might sound scary, usually it’s just a sign of extreme playing. The growls might sound louder than a normal growl making pet owners concerned their dog might be aggressive, but whines and growls also can be a sign of happiness. The way you can tell whether a growl might be a sign of aggression or pain is to listen to the pitches of it. A growl or whine that has a higher pitch at the end is usually a sign of distress while one that is lower or stays the same is a sign of contentment.
It’s important to listen to the growls and also watch the body posture of your dog. These two will help you to be able to help tell whether or not a dog might be aggressive or playing.
Why are Dogs Aggressive?
What makes dogs aggressive? The answer to this varies. Below are some common reasons as to why a dog might be aggressive.
They Have a Medical Condition
Another possible reason behind dog aggressiveness is because they might have a medical condition. If your dog is in pain, they might try to protect themselves from a “threat” by being aggressive. Some illnesses might also affect your dog’s brain, like thyroid disease and tumors. Because of this, your otherwise friendly dog might end up being very hostile and angry toward you and other animals.
They are Scared
Some dogs might try to pretend they are “brave” by being aggressive when they are in fact very scared. They try to show they are in control and are also trying to protect themselves from this scary new situation. Because scared dogs feel like they need to defend themselves which can result in aggressive behavior.
They are Possessive and Territorial
Dog aggressiveness could also be because they are possessive and territorial. If your dog has a specific toy, dish, or item they know is theirs, they will try to guard it. This is very common with food bowls as the dog might feel as if you are a threat and are trying to take their food.
On the other hand, some dogs might be possessive and territorial of you. Due to this, they might become aggressive toward other animals and people as a way to help guard and protect you.
They are Hormonal
If your dog is not spayed or neutered, it could cause them to be aggressive due to a high level of hormones in their body. By spaying and neutering them, it reduces these hormones which can help them to be calmer and less aggressive.
They are Frustrated
Some pets might be aggressive because they are frustrated. If they only have a small yard to move around in or are limited to certain areas, they could be bored and frustrated because of that. Due to these limits put on them, dogs can become very upset and build up aggressive qualities.
Ways to Stop Dog Aggression
If you do find that your dog is aggressive, there are some ways you can help to stop it. Below are some methods to consider trying.
Sometimes medications can be very helpful when it comes to combating dog aggression. While it will depend on your dog’s breed and health, many vets will prescribe antidepressants which work to help keep the body calm and trick the brain into being “happy”.
However, make sure to talk things over with your vet who will then give a checkup of your dog to determine the right type to give them. Most vets will usually recommend you try alternative methods first before you use medication though.
Use the Services of a Professional Trainer
Another way to help stop dog aggression is to use the services of a professional trainer. While this option usually works best with aggressive puppies, many older dogs can also be taught to stop being aggressive with the help of a trainer.
There are both private and public classes your pet can attend which are usually divided by the size and weight of the dogs attending. Classes will usually start with teaching your dog simple commands and eventually move on to them learning how to socialize with others. This is a safer way of learning how to socialize as it will prevent other dogs from possibly being harmed.
While these sessions might be a little pricey, they often help to calm aggressive dogs down. This is because they work one-on-one with a person and possibly other dogs.
Prevent Your Dog From Getting Into Situations That Make Them Aggressive
Sometimes one of the only ways to help prevent your dog from being aggressive is to keep them away from that situation, person, or animal that sets them off. By keeping them away, it will help to ensure they stay calm which can prevent them from being aggressive. While this isn’t always possible, it’s still important to try your best to keep them from these stressful situations.
Be Calm and Positive with Them
It can be easy to chastise your pet when they are aggressive. However, this isn’t the right method to use. Yelling at them will only cause them to become tense and angrier. Because of this, it’s ideal to be calm and positive with them. If your dog is being aggressive, remove them from that situation but don’t talk or give them any form of affection. Rather, when you see them doing something calmly, reward them by petting them, giving them a treat, and being affectionate. Eventually, they will learn that calm and relaxed behavior will be rewarded.
Have Them Spayed or Neutered
Dogs might also be very aggressive due to a high level of hormones in their body. Because of this, spaying or neutering them can help to calm down their aggressive tendencies. It can also help their behavior to be a bit more consistent because hormones aren’t ruling over their body and causing them to be snappy one day and calm the next.
Use CBD Oil
If your dog is aggressive because of fear or pain, CBD oil might be the answer. Unlike other cannabis-related items, CBD oil doesn’t contain THC which is what causes psychoactive reactions. CBD will work in your dog’s endocannabinoid system which is what triggers the brain to be receptive to threats or pain. It will trick this system into being calm which can help your dog to feel relaxed. Eventually, this can keep your dog calm and could make their aggressive tendencies disappear.
You can give your dog CBD oil in a few different ways. The first is through CBD treats. There are many dog CBD treats to choose from which aren’t only tasty, but will give your dog the appropriate amount of CBD oil their body needs.
Another way to give your dog CBD oil is to rub the oil on their body. You can put it on the area where they might be in pain or rub it on their paws. Make sure to use the right amount though, as too much CBD oil could make your dog feel sick.
Pet owners can also administer CBD oil to their dog through their food. By putting a few drops into their food and mixing it in, your dog will ingest the CBD oil which will quickly get to work helping them calm down.
However, make sure to talk this over with your vet to make sure CBD oil won’t interact negatively with any medications or health issues they might have. Your vet will also be able to help you with finding out how much of the CBD oil is right to give them.
Dog play and aggression have many similar signs. However, there are a few ways you can help to tell which is which. With the information above, you can work to see whether your dog might just be roughhousing or being aggressive toward another. If you do find your dog is being aggressive, make sure to use the tips mentioned above to help stop them from possibly hurting others.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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The Innovet Team
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
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