When dogs play, it is a lot different than when children do and to a new dog owner sometimes it can look a little scary. There are five things to look at to detect if a dog is acting playful or aggressive and they are the ears, head, mouth, the fur on their back and their tail. But to get the best understanding of a dog's mood, you need to look at all parts together.
When dogs play, they use their mouths and paws as their way of interacting with their play mate. They will gently bite, nip and knaw their friend or owner as a way to have fun and show their affection. They will use their paws to bat or push while playing and since they have nails, sometimes this can result in a scratch even though they had no intention of harming you. It is important that puppies learn at an early age about what is ok versus not ok biting or scratching behavior. When playing with older dogs, the older dog will literally teach them when they are playing too hard. This is one reason why socializing at supervised dog parks or places like the Dog Dude Ranch so they can socialize. As a dog owner, you need to do the same otherwise they will run the risk of injuring you or someone else when they are playing.
When a dog is in a playful or submissive mood, the ears will be either down in a relaxed position and the mouth will probably be open with a slight pant and "smile". The tail will also be wagging either high up or slightly down if they want you to pet them.
The fur on their back especially in between their shoulders is another excellent indicator if a dog is calm or not if it is not a dog with long curly fur like a Poodle or Goldendoodle. If a dog is happy and in a playful mood, the fur will be settled and flat, but if the dog is in an aggressive mode, the fir will raise up on its ends and stand up.
When dogs come for day care of boarding at the ranch, our team of dog experts are supervising their play and eating times. It is their keen ability to read each dog's body language that keeps the harmony each day. As you get to know your dog, you will get to understand the slight nuances of your dog's expressions that can help you know just how they are feeling.
For more detailed information on ways you can understand playful versus aggressive looks, click here.