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Dogs Communicating During Play


Dog-dog play is complex and unique to each set of playmates; it involves action and reaction, like a dance, that develops over time. Some cues that may seem threatening in another situation can be part of play if the two actors have established that it’s “okay” via other signals. 


In terms of environment, dog-dog play often happens in a fenced-in area like a dog park where the dogs are off-leash, but secured within a finite space. There may be dogs with previously established relationships, and those without. 


There are different types of dog-to-dog play activities, including wrestling, and chasing, and even hunting, because play is believed to be one way animals practice survival techniques, including foraging, fighting, mating, and hunting. What is important to look for in all activities where the dogs are interacting is that you see prosocial signals during these interactions. If you do not see prosocial signals surrounding the activities, but instead see more and more antisocial behaviors, those are signs that the interaction should be interrupted or re-directed, and possibly addressed further or with professional help. 

  • Prosocial: Seeks positive, engaging interactions with others in a "friendly" manner

  • Asocial: Avoids interaction, does not seek attention from others either positive or negative. 

  • Antisocial: Displays intentionally antagonistic behaviors towards others


We can also use these signals to understand non-play communication at the dog park, as these behaviors are often a reflection of a dog's level of comfort, desire to continue, or interest in a particular situation. As an owner, learning how to listen to your dog is important for his/her wellbeing in addition to your wellbeing, and that of others around you. 


What are some main forms of nonverbal communication we can use as clues to identify whether a dog’s behavior is prosocial, asocial or antisocial?

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