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Dogs tugging

Playing vs. Fighting

How rough is too rough?

I was at the Brewery with my mom a few weeks ago and I ran into my friend Rosie, who is extremely playful and loves a good tussle. I’m pretty rambunctious myself, so I was happy to engage in a little rough housing.

We were rolling around on the ground, while our moms chatted and a woman standing nearby noticed us and said she has a dog and worries that he plays too rough.

“How do you know the difference between dogs playing and dogs fighting?” she asked.

For me, it’s easy to tell when my friends are having fun and when they are fighting, but I guess for humans, it can look sort of the same (barking, lots of physical contact, showing teeth…).

But there are some warning signs to look for when you see two dog wrestling.

     1) Are the dogs disengaging and taking breaks? If the woman had looked a little closer, she would have noticed that Rosie and I would stop wrestling every few minutes and take a quick breather. In a fight, it’s an end-game scenario until a human comes to the rescue.

     2) Are the dogs biting each other or just “grabbing” with their mouths? Some of my friends who play rough, like to use their mouths as leverage when wrestling with another dog. They aren’t really biting, just getting a little mouthy. A dog showing real aggression won’t feign. They are biting to injure.

     3) What do your instincts tell you? Unfortunately humans haven’t kept up with their primal skills as well as we have, but I’ve heard people talk about their hair standing on end and their skin getting goosebumps. This is your remaining animal senses telling you something is wrong. Listen to them!

I’ve never been in a fight, and they don’t seem to be a common occurrence on Nantucket. However, we often get to play off leash and there is always a risk that one of us will lose it and start fighting. So it’s important to be an extra set of eye and ears for us and help us through any bad situations.

If it looks like our playfulness is getting too intense, pull us away from the other dog and give us break (on a leash if necessary.) Or if you hear our barking become more guttural that’s a sign that we’re switching to a more aggressive state. Sometimes we try to play with a dog who doesn’t want to play. Most dogs are pretty assertive and explain to their friends that they aren’t in the mood, but we may need a third party to reinforce the message.

This is just an overview, but if you find your dog is displaying serious aggression, it’s important to contact your vet or a professional dog behaviorist. They will be able to help you and your dog work through his or her problems safely and effectively.

There are all sorts of reasons for aggressive behavior. Possessiveness, fear, protectiveness…and, frankly, sometimes we just lose it. I once saw my mom’s computer screen go black and she threw a book across the room and yelled a dirty word. I think it’s sort of like that…(Don’t tell her I told you that.)

For more information about dog aggression, check out this article: “Dog Aggression: How to Leash It.” It has tons of information about signs of aggressive behavior, causes, triggers and how to get help.

J Dawg is parented by Janet Forest, a Nantucket who owns Nantucket Pet Sitters.