Rough Play

by Dena
(Vero Beach, Fl)

Rough Play Between Dogs--Should I Intervene?

I have a five year old female spayed pit mix we adopted when she was a pup. She is very social with small dogs and has several small dog friends she plays with. she has historically been very afraid of dogs her size or bigger and I never pushed her to be socialized in this area.

We also have a 16 year old female cockerpoo. A few days ago we adopted another pit mix, a male who is maybe a year to year and a half old. He was just neutered, and came to us very timid and nervous around people.

He came from the humane society and before there lived in an outdoor kennel with other dogs but never in a house with people. He loves other other dogs and we thought his docile nature might be ok with my pit who has a fear of larger dogs.

The first three days she was very fearful of him and he kept trying to play with her. She corrected him regularly, snapping and barking and he would back off quickly. Then for some reason she decided she was ok with him and initiated play. Since then they are getting along pretty well and play regularly throughout the day.

My question is regarding the rough nature of their play. They are similar in size, and they get pretty rough. They tug with toys, bump into walls and furniture, and are very mouthy when playing. My female get noisy with growls and barks during play but he does not. Is there any point where I should intervene during these sessions, or is it best to let them work out their relationship on their own and decide on the hierarchy?

She seems to have the upper hand and play initiates only when she decides it is ok, and stops when she says so. I worry that the pup will take things too far and she will get aggressive out of fear. I have never had dogs that played like this so any advice or thoughts
are appreciated.

Gale's Reply:

Hi Dena:

Much of what dogs do in play would be seen as aggressive in another context. So it's no wonder that owners often feel confused about whether rough play is getting too rough.

Barking, growling, mouthiness are all part of normal play behavior. What's more important is body language. Dogs that are having a good time playing with each other have relaxed bodies. There's alertness--even intense interest--but no tension.

From your descriptions above, it seems that your power of observation is actually pretty good--perhaps better than you realize. But, if you'd like to confirm that, this basic body language quiz with its explanations of the correct answers may help you assess whether you understand what you're seeing when you look at your dogs.

For anyone really interested in the topic, Canine Body Language - A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject I've seen. It was ranked #4 in Dog World's 12 Best Training and Behavior Books of 2010.

Certainly, if you notice that one of your dogs is getting annoyed or frightened, you'll want to intervene and give them a break from each other. But, it's also good to remember that dogs can still get injured even when they're having a good time.

Excitement can escalate into aggression. So, I'm definitely a proponent of early intervention. If you feel your dogs are getting amped up to a point that's not comfortable for you, go ahead and intervene. Intervention isn't punishment. It's giving them a break from each other and giving you an opportunity to moderate the intensity of their play.

After all, it's your house. Maybe you'd prefer to not re-paint the walls or move furniture back to its rightful place each time they have a play session. :) It's really up to you. Just make sure they are getting plenty of exercise and opportunities to burn off some of that bully energy.

Good luck and kudos for adopting your new pittie from your local Humane Society. Please feel free to let us know how things are going.

Comments for Rough Play

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Sep 15, 2011
rough play
by: Django

I got an abandoned male pit bull (age 4 now) to be a companion dog to my female german sheppard (age 5 now). I have never seen two dogs click so well as these two have. They've run off(escaped) together on adventures only to return always together totally worn out. They are walked together and they interact on very tender levels with each other. There seems to be a deep bond between them. They play pretty hard when they aren't sleeping a top one another, I can feed them a plate of left over chicken (bones removed) and they each eat without fighting. It seems that outside the German dominates the pit and sometimes I have to watch carefully as I will interfere (never have yet) if one is malicious to the other. Most people who see my dogs play think they are fighting but Father knows best. Inside the house the pit is boss and he dominates the german. So it seems that I am able to allow them to work out their own relationship since neither dog has malicious intent. No blood, No skin ripping, No bullying or punking of the other dog, No malicious acts. Sometimes I see the german dominating the pit outside in the backyard and If I deem it to be bordering on bullying I will talk to her and change the situation by bringing them in the house or throwing a ball. So observation is key along with proper action when behavior falls or comes close to something potentially harmful to any dog

Sep 15, 2011
by: Gina H

I have 2, 3 1/2 yr old pits that are brother & sister & they play VERY well together 99% of the time. He is pretty big (90lbs & she is 77lbs) & it's funny how they take turns being the top dog & do they play ROUGH!! THey take each other down & grab necks but never really hard that the other cries or yelps. They usually try for each others collars to grab more than skin. I will intervene ONLY if one gets hurt & goes after the other or my male is pinning the female too long for my liking. They are to me like regular siblings. My brothers use to play fight & same thing if one hurt the other the one hurt one would get mad & start punching harder or just start swinging. Same with the pits really, they only get aggressive or their play fight turns mean if one gets a good bite or nip in then it can be a loud verbal confrontation that USUALLY ends after a few good growls & snaps, if not then I quickly yell STOP & they do. Neither has kept going thank goodness or I would step in & separate the until one has cooled down same as you would your kids. They do the same with their mom & dad but they play less together than my 2 which I have had since their births. You can usually tell when & if you need to step in by knowing them & their mannerisms & tones of their verbal confrontations. My vet always warns me that it's not good to leave 2 pits together all day but we have & even with the parents & the 2 pups & SO far, (knock on wood) we've never had any fights where there is injury more than a nick or cut for a good snap & they've never locked into an uncontrolled all out war fight. If I even hear them getting worked up or either one really going to town on the others collar or neck, I will say HEY! EASY! or LET GO!! & they seems to know what I am saying & they stop. I think til you get to know them WELL & see how they interact longer then decide if they should be separated when you are not there to play referee. Good luck!

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