Your dog loves to play and sometimes that play can seem a bit rough.  This type of play is for the most part harmless and it is perfectly normal for dogs to nip, chase, bark and lunge, they really are being friendly.  However problems happen when play turns to growling and biting and someone or one of the dogs can end up injured.  How do know when your dog is playing and when they are being aggressive.

Aggressive Behavior

What causes aggressive behavior in dogs?  Most of the time it comes from a place of fear, dogs will get aggressive when they are scared.  If your dog wasn’t properly socialized when it was young then that can cause the behavior.  Male dogs can get aggressive when they are around a female dog in heat, that is a natural instinct for them.

Aggression can manifest in a number of different ways, a bit of bad behavior doesn’t mean you have a bad dog.  Sometimes aggressive behavior is appropriate, if you have two puppies playing then growling when one puppy gets their tail bit is normal.  When puppies or grown up dogs play growling and wrestling is normal but if it turns aggressive then you will need to intervene.  At the same time you need to remember that aggression can be re-directed at you especially if your dog feels frustrated.

Should You Intervene

You should intervene if the playing suddenly becomes fighting, here are some of the warning signs to look out for.

  • Stiffness: When the dog gets tense they will stand stiffly and rigid, look for tense muscles, it may appear like the dog is frozen
  • Staring Down: When your dog tries to stare down the other dog, it is a sign of dominance. They may also start stalking or getting extremely focused.
  • Snarling: Growling and snarling can happen during play but the body language doesn’t indicate aggression, that is just play.  But when a dog’s lip curls up and they start showing teeth and the growling is low then you need to intervene.

Preventing Aggression

Preventing aggressive behavior starts young.  Train your dog and make sure they are well socialized, let them play with other dogs that are well-behaved.  Get your dog fixed, it will reduce the aggression caused by hormones and make sure you don’t end up with unwanted puppies.  Use positive reinforcement when training your dog.  Treating your dog well goes a long way to giving you a well-behaved dog.