Are your dogs playing so rough that their games are like a wrestling match? Some dogs can get quite dramatic and make horrible noises when they play.

Is play getting a bit too rough for your taste? Before assuming you are dealing with aggressive play, consider that dogs have different styles of play and that dramatic displays don’t necessarily lead to real aggression. Normal play is typically loose and bouncy. Dogs may change roles frequently, from chasing to being chased, from being on the bottom to being on top. A certain amount of growling, snapping and mouthing is expected behavior during a play session. Overall, the dogs’ bodies, mouths, and faces should be relaxed. It may not be necessary to interrupt this form of play as long as the dogs don’t appear to be unhappy.

There may be times that your pooches are playing rough and things suddenly escalate into something other than play. In normal play, dogs typically pause a few seconds before launching in a fresh game. These brief pauses help diffuse excitement and prevent the play from getting out of hand. If such pauses become less frequent and the game becomes louder and more intense, be on the alert mode. Watch for tense, stiff bodies and faster, less bouncy movements. Keep an eye on a dog pestering another dog that flees, hides or gives aggressive warning signs to be left alone. For safety’s sake, you may want to interrupt play in these cases using different approaches.

Are Your Dogs Playing or Fighting?

Are Your Dogs Playing or Fighting?

How to Stop Rowdy Play Among Dogs

If you are not too sure whether the dogs are playing or fighting and one of the dogs appears to be picking on the other, it does not hurt to step in and stop the action. Try to find a safe moment to gently remove the troublemaker and watch the other dog’s response. If the other dog follows the troublemaker and invites him to play again, most likely you can allow them to continue to play, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website’s Virtual Pet Behaviorist.

While your dogs have no problem vocalizing during intense play sessions, you should have no trouble voicing your opinion when the play is getting too rough for your taste. Institute some policies such as “no roughhousing in the living room” or train your dogs to respond to a “settle down” command. You can also successfully interrupt play by training a reliable recall command so you can stop rough play in its tracks and get your dogs’ attention when needed. You can then decide to keep the parties separated for some quiet time or encourage another activity such as a walk or a game of fetch or tug.

Sometimes, even the best supervision cannot prevent the play from becoming aggressive. If the game is deteriorating, use great caution to prevent redirected aggression. If the squabble is too intense, your dogs may not be under voice control. In such a case, remain calm and avoid getting in between the dogs. Rather, make a loud, startling noise; clap your hands, stomp your feet or bang two pot lids together. If this doesn’t work, spray the dogs with a water hose or throw a large blanket over the dogs. As a last resort, hold your dog’s back legs right under the hips and lift the dog in a wheelbarrow fashion. Afterward, move backward, making a 180-degree turn so the dog is away from his opponent.

How to Stop Rowdy Play Among Dogs

How to Stop Rowdy Play Among Dogs

How to Stop Rowdy Play with Humans

While dogs can play rough among one another without major injuries, thanks to their tough skin, there is no doubt that humans have very sensitive skin. If your puppy is playing too aggressively and is nipping you or a family member, you need to teach him how to better inhibit his bite. Try to say “ouch” as if you have been seriously wounded, and then suddenly withdraw from play and even leave the room, explains the Humane Society of the United States. With an adult dog, it may help to withdraw attention the moment he bites and while discouraging any form of rough play involving hands, feet,  and other body parts. Aggressive play in adult dogs may require the intervention of a dog trainer or dog behavior specialist because of the obvious risk for injuries.

Dog Aggression – Playing or Fighting?