Is My Dog Playing or Fighting? Here’s How to Tell the Difference

When your dog is socialising with other pups, it’s important to know the difference between aggressive and playful behaviour (especially when friendly play can look scrappy). For dog owners, knowing the difference is key to keeping your pup happy and safe.

Socialisation is key to your dog’s development, especially during their puppy years as it teaches them how to behave correctly around others.

During your dog’s younger years, they will be excitable and eager to play, so it’s vital that you learn to recognise the difference in their behaviours and moods. As their pawrent, nobody will know your dog better than you!

Your Dog’s Breed Can Affect Their Behaviour

Your dog’s breed will also influence how they behave. Certain breeds are well known for becoming ‘yappy’ and vocal around other dogs, they may also be more wary around strangers. By learning to understand your dog’s own behaviours and triggers, then you will know when your dog is playing, itching for a fight or in trouble.

What Can Cause a Dog Fight?

Typically, the situation your dog is in will have an impact on their behaviour. During a walk to the park, you may find that a younger puppy is trying to play with a more mature dog. This could cause the other dog to become irritable and have a bad reaction.

There are other various factors that can cause your dog to fight, such as being territorial over their favourite things, like treats and toys! Your dog may also show redirected aggression if they begin to feel threatened by something they can’t reach, however this is more common in multiple dog households.

It Was Just a Game

One minute your dog may be innocently playing and very suddenly things could take a turn for the worse, escalating into a fight.

To avoid this, we have compiled some common behaviours that dogs show when they’re playing vs when they’re fighting so you can act quickly if you start to notice any bad behaviour.

To keep play-time friendly, why not browse our wonderful selection of dog toys, which are proven to provide endless amounts of fun!

The Truth Is in the Tail

Your dog’s tail will tell you a lot about how they’re feeling and their emotions. When your dog is happy, their tail will be waggling fast, and it will be quite soft to touch. Whereas, when your dog is anxious or aggravated, their tail will be held high and not move.

Common Behaviours Shown Whilst Playing

Play Bowing

If your pup starts to push their front legs down on the ground repeatedly, this is a sign that they want to play with you.


Light/soft biting is expected during play. If you want to give your pup something to bite down on, our Eight Shaped Tugger dog toy is a great choice. Not only is it ideal for tug of war games, but it helps keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy too! Who said keeping your teeth clean couldn’t be fun?

Cheesy Smile

If your pup is grinning from ear to ear and their mouth is wide open, this is a clear sign that they’re having fun!

Tummy Tickles

If your dog is lying on their back, this is a sign they’re playing with you. They also want all the attention and plenty of belly rubs.

Loud Growls

You may experience snarling from your dog during play which is even more exaggerated than when they’re fighting. This is usually from their excitement!

Acting Silly

Bouncy and exaggerated behaviour is very common to see, your dog is most likely trying to humour you.

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Our Squeaker Sneaker dog toy is guaranteed to put your dog through their paces!

Common Behaviours Shown Whilst Fighting


Often these are more noticeable on short-haired breeds. When the fur on your dog’s back is raised, their body will look very stiff and this is a common sign that they’re unhappy about something.

Fast Movements

Instead of bouncing around, your dog will be quick and strategic with their actions. If you notice this behaviour, walk away to prevent any sudden attacks. Remember to always have your dog’s lead to hand so you can quickly remove them from any dangerous situations.

Warning Growls

This type of growling may not be as loud as you experience whilst your dog is playing, instead it will be low-pitched.

No Smiling

Your dog’s mouth is likely to remain closed, and they may snarl. Often, their lips will be curled back.

Pinned Ears

You may notice your dog’s ears are pinned flat, this is because they’re solely focused on the situation in front of them and it’s a tactic used to block out any noise distractions.

Fur Those Times in Need

We hope this article will help you to understand your dog’s behaviours and that you can take away some key points. Unfortunately, dog fights can happen very suddenly, even when you follow all precautions.

If your dog is involved in an altercation, we would strongly recommend seeking professional veterinary advice. For immediate care, our First Aid Kit is packed with 36 essential items to help care for minor injuries.

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A travel size first aid kit is pawfect for dog emergencies

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