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.

Millie is Gun-Shy

Cochise, on DST
Cochise tells the tale

It was a sunny weekend afternoon. NiceLady had Millie out in the play yard for some off-leash exercise. Millie was being good and just wandering around sniffing things.


Suddenly someone pretty close by fired off several rapid rounds with a large caliber gun, “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG

Millie shot across the yard and into the dog cabin with a thump.

It is not unusual for Millie to play in the cabin, so Lady did not think too much of it as she sat in a sling-chair up on the walkway. But after a few minutes when Millie did not emerge and there were so scrabbling sounds of Millie scratching the shred paper used as bedding in there, she became concerned.

Lady went to the dog cabin and called Millie.

No sound. No indication she was even in there.

She called again and added, “Want a cookie?”, which is always an enticement.


The roof of the cabin is hinged so it can be swung up to clean inside or make repairs. Lady opened the roof and found Millie curled up in a tight ball with big eyes in the corner farthest from the door.

Poor Millie!

She is a Plott hound, and Plotts are known to be great hunting dogs. But THIS Plott don’t hunt … unless maybe you’re using bow and arrow.

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Tinker Is A Good Friend

Cochise tells the tale

Before Millie had her heartworm treatments, Tinker and Millie were frequent playmates. Millie likes to play rough-n-tumble. Jasper was a great playmate for her, but Jasper has moved on. Blondie has not been fond of rough play since a foster snagged her eyelid and tore it, requiring surgery to repair it (and weeks in a cone collar). I don’t do rough play. That’s kid stuff. But Tinker likes to play, and he has been good with Millie.

Tinker is twice her size, but he does not abuse that, and neither of them get combative in play as some dogs do. When play turns to a fight it can get bloody fast. Tinker does growl when he plays. We don’t like that and are discouraging it. But some dogs are into trash-talking when they play and it’s hard to get them to stop.