Playing or Conflict?

The following information has been adapted from the ASPCA pro website:

Here are some signs to look for when determining when to intervene. Again, it is vitally important to consider the whole body and the context in which the behaviour is occurring. Understand that after the invitation to play is accepted, everything that follows is assumed to be a part of play behaviour between the two dogs.

Common Signs of Play Behaviour Include:
  • Eyes squinty or almond shaped
  • Body loose and wiggly
  • Play bow
  • Elbow bends
  • Tail neutral (parallel to spine) to low (below spine)
  • Long, sweeping tail wag
  • Play mouthing or play biting
  • Grooming behaviours such as nibbling or play flea-biting
Common Signs of Conflict Include:
  • One dog chasing another with no role reversal
  • Bared teeth, ears forward, offensive pucker
  • Head or tail remain high and stiff
  • Body is stiff, not loose and wiggly
  • Hackles are raised
  • Repeated mounting attempts
  • Hard eye or whale eye
  • Snarl
  • Growl
  • Escape, avoidance, or hiding behaviours

For additional information and a more detailed description of each piece of body language, see ASPCA’s Body Language.

The following information has been adapted from material on the Center for Shelter Dogs website.

With multiple dogs who don’t know each other, allow the dogs to work things out on their own whenever possible.

If you observe signs of conflict as listed above, you should intervene immediately.

The Canine Ladder of Aggression is a useful tool to help you determine when an intervention is necessary. If you see signs past the point of “creeping, ears back,” you should intervene immediately.

ladder of agression

Options for Intervening During Tense Interactions Include:
  • Pick up the leash- if the dog who is provoking the conflict has a leash on, the person picks up the leash to remove that dog from the interaction, or steps on the leash so the other dog can move away
  • Body blocking- the person stands in front of the fearful/avoiding dog and prevents instigator from approaching
  • Voice – ONLY use your voice if you can remain calm (only use a steady, low-pitched tone). Dogs will sense anxiety in your voice if you are not calm, which might increase their anxiety. To interrupt a tense altercation, say the dog’s name or ‘enough’ to direct attention away from the other dog and toward you. Never yell or scream
  • Drawing attention away – one or several playgroup facilitators can solicit all the dogs to follow them and play. Use friendly voices and run in the opposite direction saying ‘hey dogs, let’s play!!’ Observe the dogs closely to ensure this intervention is eliciting signs of play behaviour and not signs of conflict behaviour
Intervention Techniques for Specific Circumstances:
Example: Intervention Technique:
Example: A dog chasing another dog or standing on top of another dog continuously, despite the other dog giving body language signals that it does not wish to interact (fear, avoidance, submission) Body blocking, voice, pick up leash, aversive tool (spray bottle, shake can, or quick blast of air horn)
Two dogs with stiff body posture directly staring at one another Voice, pick up leash, aversive tool
A dog attempts to interact with a fearful dog that is squealing or yelping Pick up leash, voice, aversive tool (spray bottle is preferred)
A dog attempts to interact with a very fearful dog that does not wish to interact Body blocking, pick up leash, voice, aversive tool (spray bottle is preferred)
Multiple dogs heading toward the introduction gate when another dog is entering, or multiple dogs heading toward an altercation Draw attention away

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