Dogs need to play, in some way. After all, life isn’t all about eating and sleeping. Most dogs love to play. Not all dogs like to play with others. Not all dogs play well with others. Kelly doesn’t like to play with other dogs, but she enjoys playing with toys, and interacting with us for a little tug or catch, or just some good ol’ belly rubs and tickles.

Belly rub, please.

For the most part, play is positive.
Play is healthy, providing good exercise .
Play develops bonds with others.
Play teaches dogs etiquette and rules of behavior with one another. An adult dog teaches a puppy when Bitey Face is acceptable play and when he’s gone too far. Ike is a very patient teacher and lets puppy Zeke gnaw on his lip, neck and legs for quite some time before telling him to scram.

What I like about dog play is when two or more dogs run after each other full tilt, ears flying. Pure joy!

 What I like is when dogs play Keep Away and make quick, sudden changes of direction.

What I like is when a dog play bows and the other dog responds, and I feel smart for understanding the body language.

What I don’t like about play is when it sounds like two wild bears in the woods.

Okay, I really don’t like Bitey Face, but I’m learning to accept it as the way some dogs play.

Can play go too far?
This is a question I’ve asked repeatedly since I’ve been babysitting puppy Zeke. Especially with two senior dogs in the house. Kelly made it easy–she made it clear that she’s the boss, and at 13 years old she has no interest in playing with a young whippersnapper, and furthermore, he’d better stay out of her way. And he obliges.

Ike is 9, very laid back, very submissive, very, very gentle. He lets Zeke climb all over him, bite him all over, shake his limbs, and steal toys out of his mouth. It’s all okay with Ike.

I like when Zeke takes the toy out of Ike’s mouth, then Ike takes it back out of Zeke’s mouth, then Zeke takes it back….it’s usually very gently, very calm and sweet. They’re playing, sharing, and the give and take is equal.

What I don’t like is when Zeke hangs onto the fur on Ike’s neck and shakes really hard.

I don’t like finding scratches and marks on Ike’s skin because of the puppy’s sharp baby teeth and nails.

I don’t like that Ike doesn’t tell the puppy off just a little more often.

But I’ve learned not to step in and interfere unless Ike seems in distress, or if Ike is trying to get away from Zeke and can’t, or if the play seems to escalate into a fight.  If this happens at any point during your dogs play, stop them, distract them, separate them, give them a break. I’ve given Ike and Zeke a few breaks when Ike seems tired, but otherwise they’ve never seemed to be agitated or upset.

What I like is when dogs are clearly having fun. Can you see them smile?!

What I like is when they sleep comfortably, peacefully,  afterwards. Maybe dreaming of another play date.

Do your dogs like to play? What is their favorite type of play with other dogs? Have you ever worried about how rough the play becomes? Do you have a dog who doesn’t like to play?