Is Nonstop Play Okay?

Constant play between dogs can be intense and annoying. Learn how to tell whether it’s really play, and how to encourage your dogs to interact in low-key ways.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #145

This week, a listener question. Elizabeth writes that she and her family have a 1-year-old Coonhound, and her mother has a terrier mix who’s now about 10 months old. Whenever the families get together, the dogs play – constantly. It seems to Elizabeth that there’s a dominance contest going on. The humans spend a lot of time pulling the dogs apart and would like to see a quieter atmosphere prevail.

Is Constant Play a Dominance Contest?

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To start with, let’s get dominance out of the way. Ethologists – scientists who study animal behavior in natural settings – use the word as a label for control over resources and other animals’ attention and movements. It’s shorthand for a complex array of interactions that can vary from situation to situation and it doesn’t tell us anything about the animals’ inner experience.

Whatever dominance is, it’s never a synonym for aggression or bullying. Bullying is inappropriate among dogs just as it is among people. Aggressive behavior is appropriate in some contexts – for instance, it’s normal for Dogalini to give Zippy a brief, hard look to warn him away from her bone – but frequent, repeated aggressive interactions between dogs reflect a problem.

If your dogs’ constant play seems too intense to you, or if it’s disruptive and annoying, you can teach the dogs to spend time together in more low-key ways.

Are the Dogs Really Playing?

So, more important than whether the dogs’ play has anything to do with dominance is whether it really is play.


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).