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

When your dog is socializing 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.

Socialization 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 recognize the difference in their behaviors and moods. As their pawrent, nobody will know your dog better than you!

Your Dog’s Breed Can Affect Their Behavior

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 warier around strangers. By learning to understand your dog’s own behaviors 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 behavior. 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 favorite 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.

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 Behaviors 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, a 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 behavior is very common to see, your dog is most likely trying to humor you.

Common Behaviors Shown Whilst Fighting

Often these are more noticeable in 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 behavior, walk away to prevent any sudden attacks. Remember to always have your dog’s leash 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 behaviors 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.

Sleep gifts at Yappy

All that time playing with other pooches can be tiring for your dog! To help your pup feel comfortable and happy during nap times and bedtimes, get them a soft and comfortable dog blanket from Yappy, it’ll help make them feel super cozy when it’s snooze time. You could also throw it on the couch so they can sleep right next to you during your movie night. 

Pillows can also provide more comfort and a pleasing aesthetic feel to your home. And, if your dog is ever staying out for a sleepover somewhere else, or you’re heading away for the weekend together, pick up an overnight bag to carry all of their essentials.

If you’d like to know more about what Yappy offers, don’t hesitate to contact us on

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