How to Recognize (and Correct) Inappropriate Dog Play
How to Recognize (and Correct) Inappropriate Dog Play (Guest Post)
November 4, 2019
Daniel Keeling

Dogs might be the best play buddies you’ll ever have, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll always play fair. No matter how smart your pup is, they’re still just a pup. This means that you’ll need to put some time and effort into socializing them correctly and teaching them how to act appropriately. Dogs learn best through play, and most importantly, they show their goofiness and animalistic nature through play.

This isn’t to say dogs are wild or that they can’t be trained, it just means that your dog is bound to get carried away and maybe even hurt you during playtime if you don’t react. This behaviour can easily spiral into something worse. Your dog could learn that it’s acceptable to bite and scratch and that aggressiveness isn’t punished. Instead of having a well-mannered gentle pup, you’ll be getting a nightmare.


Exercising is the best way to get rid of excess energy. This is very important for dogs and puppies alike, as excess energy can often cause them to be more aggressive and playful than they intend to. They need to let off some steam regularly in order to function properly. Just like you need to let off some steam, go for a run, or go to the gym, your dog needs a way to let off excess energy.

Getting your dog some exercise also means it will be much less aggressive during play sessions with their friends and with you. You can exercise your pup by taking it out for walks regularly and letting it run around the dog park.

Taking a break

Too much play may seem like a good idea, but it definitely isn’t. When your dog plays too much, they can end up getting riled up instead of tiring themselves out. This is especially true if your dog is still a puppy. Roughhousing can very easily get too intense, which is when you should make your dog take a break. If you don’t separate the dogs and give them a time out, they can easily hurt themselves and each other.

Give your dog something to chew on and release their excesses energy on. A time-out this way will help them calm them down easily. You can also order them to lay down for a few moments. If they’re still riled up after that, you can put your dog in a separate room and close them for 10 minutes.


If you want to effectively socialize your dog, it won’t be enough to keep taking them to the dog park. Instead, you’ll need to practice at home, too. Playing at home means that your pup is in a controlled and safe environment. There are fewer distractions and more opportunities to show your dog what’s acceptable behaviour and what’s not.

Furthermore, this also allows you to get to know your pup better. In other words, you’ll be able to better differentiate between aggressive play and actual play. This is a valuable learning session for your dog, too. They’ll be able to learn cues and boundaries more easily. For example, if your dog bites you or nips you, you can verbalize your pain with an “ouch” and stop the play session. This kind of practice also discourages your dog from acting out in future play sessions. Their goal is to continue having fun and getting attention, so they’ll avoid doing anything to jeopardize that.

Know the signs

The most important thing about stopping aggressive behaviour is knowing the signs. Your dog will clearly show you when they’re just playing and when they’re being aggressive. It’s sometimes hard to differentiate the two because the signs may look similar, but don’t worry. If you’ve never had a dog before, dog magazines and websites like Totally Goldens can help you clearly mark the difference between aggression and play.

The play bow is the first sign that your pup is just goofing off. The dog will put his front legs on the ground and arch his back end in the air as they face their playmate. If your pup is excited, they may even slap their front paws on the ground to show their excitement. Of course, the wagging tail and a smile will always be present. 

If your dog is feeling anxious, they’ll show different signs. Dilated pupils and tense ears which are held back are the first signs of distress. These signs are commonly followed by a stiff back and rigid shoulders. Nervous scanning, having their eyes wide open, and not meeting your gaze are also huge warning signs something is wrong. An anxious dog should definitely be removed from the environment and be given a chance 

Letting nature take its course

Intervening and monitoring your dog isn’t always necessary. Sometimes letting the dogs work things out themselves is the best course of action. You should do your best to socialize your dog and raise a playful pup, but don’t forget that they can learn social cues from their playmates, too. Effective communication isn’t that uncommon in dogs. This is especially true when we take into account that your dog has more playmates.

Each new dog will clearly set limits during play that your dog can easily follow, taking into account that you’ve socialized them first. Whether it’s turning their back on your dog, yelping, or growling, the message will be clear. Of course, you should still monitor the play closely just in case things get out of hand. This is especially important if your pup is young and just learning how to play with others. Playing too rough isn’t always foul play, it’s an opportunity to learn. 


It’s not hard teaching your dog how to behave when they’re playing if you can recognize the behaviour right away. Training a new pup is definitely challenging and will take a lot of time and patience, but it’s both necessary and rewarding. There’s nothing better than knowing you have a well-mannered dog at home that knows how to behave and how to play regardless of who they’re playing with. 


The Writer

Simon Dupree has loved dogs since he was a boy. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors and walks in the park with his two-year-old golden retriever. If he is not writing for Totally Goldens he is probably out exploring the world with his pawsome friend