What is play and what isn’t between dogs?

How can you recognize play?

  • role switching – it’s not just one dog who chases/gets chased and so on
  • micro pauses – from time to time dogs will stop for a second, that’s when we often see play bows as a way of asking if play should continue
  • self-handicapping – a fast dog won’t run at full speed, so that the other dog can “get them”; a large dog plays carefully with a small dog
  • activity shifts – the dogs are capable of pausing play on their own; they go sniff, pee etc.; sometimes they re-initiate play, sometime they don’t

Pay attention to the body language too:

  • “inefficient” movements (like round, hoppy gallop)
  • softness: in the face (blinking, open eyes) and in the whole body
  • exaggerated expressions (like the play face), for example extremely wide open mouth, “funny” grimaces
Healthy play


Dogs can easily get overaroused during play, especially when they are young. And once the arousal level is too high, misunderstandings and aggressive communication come into play.

The simplest method to avoid this problem is recalling your dog play from time to time, even for a couple of seconds. Give them a treat and – if everything is fine – release them back.
This way you can avoid overarousal and teach a useful skill at the same time: that it pays off to come when called even if they’re playing

Playful body language as a way of diffusing tension