Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if two dogs are playing or fighting. Many mammal species enjoy playing, including humans. Playing with others is necessary to discover boundaries and appropriate social behavior. It can also help to build bonds and fortify mutual understanding.
When a dog’s tail is wagging, he or she often wants to play. If the posture of the dog is rigid, he or she isn’t in a play bow, or the dog is barking or howling in a particularly aggressive manner, there is cause for alarm. Listen for crying, watch for blood, and make sure there is no severe biting or scratching.
Although one dog may want to play, the other dog could have different intentions. Pay close attention if a small dog is playing with a big dog. The big dog may be unable to properly accommodate the small dog, and the small dog may be threatened by the big dog’s size. If the small dog initiates play after playing with the large dog before, that is a good sign.
Occasionally, dogs that are playing may still hurt one another. It is important to supervise play; however, freedom to make mistakes should be encouraged. Dogs, just like children, need to learn how to play without being overly aggressive. A dog who is not socialized is in many ways, feral.
Ideally, dogs would just know what to do in any given situation, but this is self evidently not the case. To ensure proper socialization, a dog must be allowed to play or even “fight” with other dogs. Distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate behavior is a necessary developmental step for any pet or even human.
Risks must be taken in order to uncover limitations and it is preferable to take risks in an otherwise secure environment. If you have a notably aggressive dog, be careful when introducing them to others by using a leash to keep control of the aggressive dog. Preferably, both dogs should be on short leashes, to minimize a confrontation and quickly remove the offender from the situation.
Dogs will become more inclined to fight if they believe a treat is at stake. Non-neutered male dogs are probably a bigger threat than most to bite or maim another dog. Bulkier dogs will probably do more damage than their skinny counterparts.
Thankfully, some dogs are all bark and no bite. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, you shouldn’t take your chances letting a stranger’s dog play with your own, especially if there is a significant difference in size.