Video: Fight or Play?

Learn to read canine body language
By Julia Lane, April 2011, Updated February 2015

This might sound strange, but I've been studying dog play recently. A lot. My normally playful mixed breed, Ginger Peach, stresses easily in new environments.

She often refuses to tug on her toy, play with her Frisbee, or otherwise engage with me. She gets a glazed look in her eyes and pants heavily, completely overwhelmed by so many dogs, people, noise and no doubt smells.
 
This does not bode well for her long-term agility career if I don't figure out how to help her be as relaxed as she is in training or agility class.
 
I've been videotaping how she plays with my other dogs and reading as many books on dog play as I can. My friends and students enjoy watching some of the film snippets and good-naturedly listen to my latest canine body language observations.

What I find particularly intriguing is how some people can’t tell the difference between dog playing and dog fighting. When I showed the clip above to a friend, she thought my Dalmatian, Jolie, and mix, Ginger Peach, were fighting. The growling, teeth flashing and body pinning scared her. We talked about the difference between playing and fighting, and how to read canine body language. We also talked about play styles and why Jolie and GP are such a good match.

 
What’s your dog’s play style? How do you tell the difference between playing and fighting?

 

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.