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Are they playing?

The magic of PLAY!

For me, watching dogs play is one of the greatest joys in life!

I love it. I love watching their happy little face, mouth agape, tongue lolling as they scoot around, while the Golden Retriever they met 5 minutes ago chases them with an equally delighted expression.

But what is play?

As with humans, play goes so much deeper than the surface. Play is a significant and often underappreciated exploration of a dog’s reality. It is a world of make believe, but with a serious twist.

Starring roles including hunter and hunted are played out in a theatrical display of killer instinct.

The drama includes chasing, escaping, stalking, wrestling to the ground, protecting, biting…

Different breeds are likely to have different styles based on what a breed has been selectively bred for. Collies often enjoy chase games, lurchers like to run, bull breeds like to wrestle.

It is important to know what healthy play looks like. Understanding your dog and the role they are playing in this production is so helpful! In happy play, dogs want to do anything to preserve the game, so should be exhibiting bite inhibition, being considerate of the other dog.

Healthy play should look something like this:

Both dogs being equally matched in intensity

Role Reversal


Controlled breaks when necessary

Fluid, rocking horse style movement

Open mouths

Play Bowing

Play is magic, however, not every dog wants to play – and that’s perfectly fine too!

As we age, our desire to play changes too. Some dogs are happy in their own company (and yours obviously!) and that’s all they need. Not every dog has to play, and it is not the aim of every interaction.

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Caron F. Barnett
Caron F. Barnett
Mar 14, 2022

My pup plays a lot with my older dog (8) but it escalates quickly into snarly growls and snapping. I have to separate them but the pup is so strong now… he usually has time out in The garden.

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