How to Tell If My Puppy Is Playing or Fighting

Puppy Buddy

A puppy’s playtime is an essential part of their social development and growth since it teaches them limits and good manners. Sometimes, puppy playtime can become a bit rough and transition into a full-on fight. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced puppy parent, telling the difference between pups playing and pups fighting can be quite tricky, especially since both activities look and sound the same. It’s important to note that there are key behavioral differences between the two, and every puppy parent should learn what these are. Here are a few ways you can differentiate between your fur-babies playing and fighting.

  • The play bow: This common puppy behavior is pretty simple to translate. Your pup will bow its front end and put its back end and tail up in the air, sometimes with a silly grin on its face. When you see your pup doing a play bow, don’t worry. This is your pup’s way of inviting another pup or you to play with them. If your pup is stiff and the hair on its upper back is raised, they’re no longer playing and may initiate a fight if further provoked.


  • Tail wag: Besides the play bow, one of the first things that your pups may do to initiate play is wag their tail. If their tail looks soft (not stiff) and is wagging happily, then your pup is vocalizing its comfort and may want to have a fun playtime session. However, a stiff, unmoving tail signals a warning to other pups, while a stiff, wagging tail means your pup feels anxious. Once you observe these behaviors, you may intervene to prevent a potential fight.


  • Bouncy movements: Your furry buddy may run in bouncy and/or exaggerated movements, especially among other pups. This is completely normal. Some pups like to show their playfulness by acting very silly. A pup that wants to start a fight will not exhibit any of these behaviors. Instead, their movements will be quick, direct and lack any silliness.


  • Play face: An obvious sign of playfulness, your pup may display a silly or relaxed open-mouthed grin known as their play face. While it’s not known if it’s a form of body language for other pups or a sign of outward happiness, this expression at least lets you know that your pup is content and acting silly. A pup with its ears pinned back and curling lips is a sign that they are not happy and are ready to bite–not playfully, either.


  • Play-growling: Continuous growling or snarling does not necessarily mean your pup is fighting since both are normal aspects of puppy playtime. Play-growling, however, is often exaggerated and loud, often sounding scarier than growls during fights. Still, if you notice your furry companion’s growl is increasing with intensity, and is displaying other negative behaviors, make sure to take preventative steps.


  • Repetition: Pups that are enjoying their playtime will not want to stop. Ever. They will continue to come back for more over and over again. Some pups may even swap roles, with one pup chasing the other and vice versa. When it comes to fights, their duration can be short or long, but either can cause physical harm to your fur-baby so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Every puppy parent should know (and remember!) that your pup’s playtime with other pups can easily become rough and transition into a fight. By learning to tell the difference between your pup’s playful and fighting behavior, you will be able to prevent potential fights and/or any injuries that comes with too much rough-playing.

To learn more about your pup’s different behaviors, check out our other blog: What To Do When Your Pup Gets the Blues.