Dog Play Styles and Aggression

Not all dogs like to play the same way. If your dog turns playtime into a contact sport, it's your responsibility to manage the situation before someone gets hurt.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
2-minute read

If you visit dog parks regularly, you’ll have noticed that dogs don’t all play the same way. Some dogs like to chase and be chased. Some dogs like to wrestle or play tug together. Others are only interested in games with humans. (Translation: Your dog wants to play fetch with you.) And some dogs play hard, slamming into other dogs and bowling them over. Or “boxing” on their hind legs.

In a large, uncrowded dog park, dogs with similar play styles seem to do well at finding one another and staying out of the hair of incompatible dogs. But when dogs on the receiving end of body slams and hip checks aren’t enjoying themselves, they may naturally respond by lunging or snapping. A fight may ensue. Often the lunging or snapping dogs are blamed for “being aggressive,” since after all the body slammer was “just playing.” But how else can the slam-ee convey his displeasure? Also, full-contact play may hurt and frighten smaller dogs, old dogs, and puppies – and quickly turn into bullying.

So if your dog is among those for whom play is a contact sport, supervise closely – especially if your only option for off-leash time is a relatively small park or run. Teach your dog to “Leave it” on cue and to come to you instantly when called. And if you often find him getting into trouble with other dogs, it would be better to schedule play dates with compatible dog friends, instead of mingling at random. 

For more advice on doggie manners, check out the full Dog Trainer archive at quickanddirtytips.com/dog-trainer.

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).