I love watching dogs play. When it goes well, it’s like an intricate dance. There are nuances of body language and eye contact that can be hard to notice unless you are aware of them. My dogs have a very ‘rough-and-tumble’ style of play. There is gnashing of teeth and loud growls; at first, it was hard for me to tell whether they were fighting or playing, but having watched them play over the years, the difference is clear to me now. What purpose does it serve them, in an evolutionary sense, to play? I’m not sure, but it seems fundamental to their health and well-being. Not every dog is able to play. Some traumatised dogs seem to have ‘unlearnt’ how to play. When adopting a dog, always allow it some time to settle in it’s new environment – it may take a while before the dog is comfortable enough to play. For a dog to play, just as for humans, they need to feel safe in their environment and relaxed.
How can you tell if they’re playing? Watch for these clues in the video:
- Tails wag throughout.
- Body posture is relaxed and fluid.
- Each dog gives the other space from time to time – for instance, Charlie runs off with squeaky toy, then comes back for a second go.
- In this video, Charlie offers plenty of play-bows, signalling that ‘it’s just a game’.
- Both run around each other in circles.
- Their tongues are lolling out, ears are floppy, eyes are bright and mouths are open.
- Play-biting/nudging to incite the other dog to play is normal. Often, dogs play ‘bitey-face’, where they’ll just mock-bite each other’s faces and growl – never any blood draw but it’s sort of mimicking a fight. They do this a little at the end of the video.
If you want to see more, have a look at this amazing video of dogs playing with a tiger!