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Knowing When Dog Play is Getting too Rough

I apologize, I missed the weekly tip last week.  Hoping you were all busy with the holiday and didn’t miss it 🙂

When two dogs play together it can go one of two ways smoothly or not so smoothly.  When play is going smoothly between two or more dogs generally many calming signals are displayed during play.

What are calming signals?

During play these are displayed when the dogs are communicating that they are “only playing.”  It is similar to two people wrestling with playful communication rather than aggressive communication.  Also calming signals, calm or relax the dogs.  If arousal levels keep increasing in play, a fight is sure to break out.  By calming themselves down they are preventing the adrenaline from escalating too much.

What do calming signals look like?

Lip licking



Eye Blinking

Sitting or Downing

Walking Away

Freezing (Very common)

Turning the head to the side



Sometimes these signals may mean something completely different but in play with dogs more than likely they are calming signals.


When one dog displays a calming signal the other dog better mirror that calming signal or display a different calming signal.  If the other dog does not then a fight may arouse. One dog is saying “Stop hitting me for a moment.  I want to take a breath.”  If the other dog listens then calmness is created for a second or two.  If not then the dog gets stressed.

Generally during play you will see calming signals every few seconds.  They are fast and short lived at times.  Other times you may see one demonstrated and play completely stops for a while.

A great book to read on calming signals is On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.

If you have trouble seeing the calming signals.  Tape record the play session and play it back in slow motion.

Happy Training

Johanna Teresi Professional Trainer and Owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC

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