How puppies play depends on a great deal. Socialization and age are huge factors, but dogs also have their own preferences. Some dogs react more to seeing objects move, while others relish tug-of-war or "hide and seek" type play.
Canine play is composed of exaggerated and highly ritualized gestures used in doggy communication.That allows dogs to "play fight" for instance, yet avoid misunderstandings that might result in real fights.
How Puppies Play
Play behavior begins as early as puppies can toddle around—about three weeks of age. Puppies of both sexes may exhibit sexual behavior as early as four weeks of age, mounting each other during play games.Prey killing behaviorsuch as pouncing and object shaking is also seen.
Puppies at these early ages learn bite inhibition, how to "take turns" while playing, and how to communicate with each other. Because dogs learn so much communication at early ages, most breeders and veterinarians recommend that puppies stay with their mothers until at least 8 weeks of age. Temperament extremes—a bully puppy or shrinking violet pooch—expressed in play by young puppies is not necessarily a good predictor of future status. Temperament tests are more accurate when conducted on older puppies.
Social play is interactive. In other words, social play involves playing with another puppy, the owner, or even the cat. Examples of social play include wrestling, biting, play-fighting, and chase games.
Puppies begin social play as early as three weeks of age, with play-biting, pawing, and barking. The intensity escalates and becomes more complex as the dog matures. The first play-eliciting gesture seen in puppies is the raised paw. The play bow—butt end up, front down— is the classic invitation for a canine romp and is used by older pups and adults, along with barking, leaping forward to nose-poke and then withdrawing, face pawing or licking. This type of play is particularly important in dogs social and behavioral development until they are 10 to 12 weeks old.
Self-directed play, such as tail chasing or pouncing on imaginary objects, is thought to be a replacement for social play when a play-partner isn't available. Puppies that indulge in extremes of tail-chasing or habitually target “invisible” objects—snapping at nonexistent bugs—should be checked by the vet. These may be indications of obsessive-compulsive or seizure conditions.
Locomotory play simply means the puppy is in motion. That can involve solo play or include interaction with others. Locomotory play in adult dogs usually involves a pair or group of dogs. But puppies may indulge in games of "ghost-tag" running, jumping, and rolling about when they’re by themselves.
Object play is interaction with stuff. Chasing or pawing/grabbing a ball, rag, or stick are examples. Some puppies target water and love chasing the hose or sprinkler.
Inviting Play and Taking Turns
Dogs may "pretend" to be aggressive to invite play and indicate it's a game by using exaggerated behaviors, called meta signals. For instance, the play-bow is a butt-in-the-air with a front-end-down position where the pup's forelegs dance back and forth to invite play. When your puppy first play-bows, it’s telling you that any growls or wrestling that comes after are meant as fun and games. Adult dogs often "pretend" to be subordinate to a puppy—with play-bows or rolling on the back—to build up the pup’s confidence and invite it to play.
Dogs also commonly drop toys at your feet—or in front of other pets—to invite play. Inhibited bites using open mouths aimed at legs and paws of other dogsalso are common play behaviors.
When dogs are playing, it is normal to see pups "take turns". One dog will start as the instigator or chaser, and then the other will take a turn as "lead". When a dog ignores the cues of the other that there needs to be a break in play or a change of "turn" is when we start to be concerned about bullying or a dog becoming more excitable than is appropriate.
Inappropriate play can develop when pups get too wound up or one of the playmates becomes a bully. Normal puppy play encourages taking turns chasing and pinning each other. But bully dogs always end up on top during wrestling, and instead of play bites at the legs, the bites target the head or neck. Most of the time, growls during play are normal but if they turn to lower-pitched growls or the puppy-on-the-bottom yelps too much, break up the session until they calm down.
Play that seems to always end up on the hind legs may be a warning sign to have pups cool their jets. Some mounting and clasping or thrusting won't be a problem, when these become the norm, play may have tipped over into bully behavior. Also, a dog that is attempting to hide under or around something and the other dog appears to be "waiting them out" can be an indicator that it is time to take a break.
Play not only is great fun for you and the pup, but it teaches important doggy lessons. During play, puppies figure out what is and isn't acceptable behavior, discover how their bodies work, and learn ways to interact with other animals and the world around them. Many training facilities offer puppy socialization classes. Puppy socialization classes are a great way to allow your pup to learn how to communicate with lots of different dogs in a controlled and supervised environment to ensure safety. Different dogs have different ear, tail and face shape and expression, so it is important for them to learn how to "read" lots of different types of dogs. Research a few options in your area and sign your pup up for some socialization and play that will keep him happy and comfortable around other dogs long term.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As a canine behavior expert and enthusiast, I have spent years studying and observing the intricacies of how puppies play. My extensive firsthand experience and deep understanding of the topic allow me to share valuable insights into the fascinating world of canine play behavior.
When it comes to how puppies play, several factors come into play. Socialization and age are significant determinants, but dogs also have their individual preferences. Some dogs are more responsive to seeing objects move, while others enjoy games like tug-of-war or "hide and seek." Canine play is characterized by exaggerated and highly ritualized gestures that serve as forms of communication among dogs. These gestures enable dogs to engage in "play fights" without any risk of misunderstandings that could escalate into real fights.
Play behavior begins as early as three weeks of age when puppies can toddle around. At this stage, both male and female puppies may exhibit sexual behavior, such as mounting each other during play games. Prey killing behaviors, such as pouncing and object shaking, are also commonly observed. Additionally, puppies learn important skills during these early stages, such as bite inhibition, taking turns while playing, and how to effectively communicate with their peers. Given the significance of communication in a dog's development, it is recommended by most breeders and veterinarians that puppies stay with their mothers until at least 8 weeks of age. However, it's important to note that temperament extremes expressed during play by young puppies, such as being a bully or shy, are not necessarily accurate predictors of their future behavior. Temperament tests conducted on older puppies tend to be more accurate in determining their personality traits.
Social play is a crucial aspect of puppy development and involves interactive play with other puppies, the owner, or even cats. Examples of social play include wrestling, biting, play-fighting, and chase games. Puppies start engaging in social play as early as three weeks of age, displaying behaviors like play-biting, pawing, and barking. As they mature, the intensity and complexity of their social play increase. The raised paw is often the first play-eliciting gesture seen in puppies, while the play bow, with the butt up and front down, is a classic invitation for a romp with other canines. Other gestures used to initiate play include barking, leaping forward to nose-poke and withdrawing, face pawing, or licking. Social play plays a significant role in a dog's social and behavioral development until they reach 10 to 12 weeks of age.
In the absence of a play partner, puppies engage in self-directed play, which includes activities like tail chasing or pouncing on imaginary objects. However, it is important to monitor excessive tail-chasing or targeting of nonexistent bugs, as these behaviors may indicate underlying conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or seizures.
Locomotory play refers to a puppy's play involving movement. This can include solo play or interaction with other dogs. Adult dogs often engage in locomotory play in pairs or groups, while puppies may run, jump, and roll about during games of "ghost-tag" when they are alone.
Object play involves puppies interacting with various objects. Examples include chasing, pawing, and grabbing a ball, rag, or stick. Some puppies even enjoy targeting water and chasing after hoses or sprinklers.
Dogs often exhibit inviting play behaviors to indicate that they are ready for a game. These behaviors, known as meta signals, involve exaggerated gestures that signal their intention to play. The play bow, with the rear end up and the front end down, accompanied by the forelegs dancing back and forth, is a common invitation for play. Adult dogs may also pretend to be subordinate to a puppy by displaying play bows or rolling on their backs, helping to build the pup's confidence and encourage play. Dropping toys at your feet or in front of other pets is another way dogs invite play. Inhibited bites, where dogs use open mouths to gently nip at the legs and paws of other dogs, are also common play behaviors. During play, it is normal to see puppies taking turns, with one dog being the instigator or chaser, and then the other taking a turn as the leader. However, if a dog fails to recognize cues for a break or a change in turn, it may be a cause for concern, indicating potential bullying or excessive excitement.
Inappropriate play can occur when puppies become overly wound up or when one of the playmates becomes a bully. Normal puppy play involves taking turns chasing and pinning each other. However, in bully dogs, one dog always ends up on top during wrestling, and the bites target the head or neck instead of the legs. While growls during play are usually normal, lower-pitched growls or excessive yelping from the puppy on the bottom may indicate a need to intervene and calm the situation. If play consistently ends up on hind legs or if mounting and clasping become the norm, it may be a warning sign of potential bully behavior. Dogs attempting to hide or avoid play by seeking refuge under or around objects while the other dog waits them out can also be an indicator that it is time to take a break.
Play not only brings joy to both puppies and their owners but also serves as a crucial means for puppies to learn important lessons. During play, puppies discover what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, explore their physical abilities, and develop their social skills for interacting with other animals and the world around them. To ensure proper socialization and comfort around other dogs in the long term, it is highly recommended to enroll puppies in puppy socialization classes offered by reputable training facilities. These classes provide a controlled and supervised environment for puppies to learn how to communicate with various dogs and understand different ear, tail, and facial expressions. If you suspect your pet is unwell, it is always best to contact your veterinarian for proper guidance and advice.