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When To Throw the Red Flag On Dogs Play

Originally published Nov. 4th, 2016

Cochise on dogs play
Cochise tells the tale

Most dogs like to play. Most of a dogs play is a lighthearted version of real-life skills: chasing, catching, fetching and … fighting.

As long as it’s done in the name of good, harmless fun, there is no problem. But if it should slide beyond play: because one “combatant” feels he is losing and doesn’t want to, things can get bloody fast.

Breaking up a dog fight is dangerous, especially if there is only one Peoples. It is best to red flag it before play turns to fight.

Signs of Play

Sampson demonstrates the classic Play Bow

When we’re playing, the tails will be swinging happily from side to side, we may bounce side to side or enter a play bow (forelegs and chest on the ground, butt in the air), we may lunge and retreat. When happy, our eyes are open and round, ears are up, and our mouths should be open and “smiling”. We may sound like we’re about to kill each other, but as long as it’s just trash-talking we’re okay.

We may wrestle each other to the ground and pin our opponent there. We may leap around and over one another, we may body slam each other, or we may take off and run – incorporating these other moves when we get the opportunity. Biting is okay as long as it’s gentle.

Cochise’s Kerfuffle

A few days ago Lancelot and Cochise had some sort of kerfuffle. I have no idea what it was about: they were outside, I was washing dishes. They have always been fine together before. I heard a dog yelp: it sounded like The Chief, I rushed out to see what was going on, but Cochise was already trotting up the ramp to the back door…dripping blood from a bite mark on his snout.

CochiseI cleaned the wound and squeezed some vitamin E into it. It didn’t look to be bad, but he milked it for all it was worth: insisting on having his favorite snuggle bed brought to the living room near me and a blanket hot from the dryer. And the space heater: he wanted the space heater too.

Blondie Bear came in and spent a good deal of time licking his owies for him and snuggling up next to him.

When Lance finally came in, his tail was tucked and his head hung low as he peered at me through his eyebrows; if he looked at me at all. He has been sleeping in another room during the day and the boys have been avoiding one another for days.

Cochise Talks About Meal Time

meal time pro
Cochise the Wise

Blondie and I are full-time house dogs.  We go outside when we need to, but we eat and sleep indoors with our peoples.  When foster dogs have learned the basic behavior lessons and can act in a civilized manner, they too are invited to stay in our house.  Usually, one at a time: it’s not a very big house and our foster dogs are generally 40 to 60 pounders. Blondie and I are 90 pounds each.  Three of us fill up a small house pretty quickly, especially at meal time.

Fosters start out being fed in their crate, which is in the food room so they can watch our meal time routine.  Then their blanket is moved outside the crate door and they eat on that.  If they prove they will not try to raid our dishes (Blondie and I prefer to dine leisurely; fosters often wolf their food then seek more) their blanket is moved to a position around the table with the rest of us.

meal time approachesLancelot learned the meal time routine quickly.  He also learned that Blondie gets excited and tends to leave her blanket and pace around when the food starts arriving at the table.  She knows if she wants a dish she must be sitting on her blanket, but lacks my sage-like patience.

Eventually she does settle on her blanket to receive her dish, but sometimes she sits on the wrong blanket.  This causes all manner of confusion for the dog assigned to that blanket, unless it’s mine: I know she will move, so I just sit nearby and glare at her until she does.  Lance decided the best way to prevent encroachment is to reserve his seat well ahead of time: just camp out on it during meal prep so Blondie can’t horn in on his turf.

He’s a clever boy, that one!


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