Puppy Play Analysis: Understanding vocalization and body language

Hudson and Puppy Peaches

Dog play, quite simply, is radically different from human play.  Vocalization, meaning loud grumbling, exhalation, and other vocal expression by one or both dogs during play, is often misunderstood as aggression or inappropriate play, even though it’s often just the opposite and quite different from problematic, guttural growling.  In yet another effort to more closely examine the play between two of my dogs, I offer the following:


  1. Play the video, but don’t watch it.  Turn your back to the computer and just listen to the audio on full volume.
  2. Play the video, with the sound on mute.  Just watch the video and observe the dogs’ body language
  3. Watch the video with audio

Things to observe:

  • Hudson (black dog, and the one doing ALL of the vocalization during play) “shakes it off” a couple of times during play to ease tension
  • Hudson play bows several times
  • Hudson’s tail is mid-height and wagging most of the time, only rarely does it raise up past his butt suggesting a heightened level of arousal
  • Hudson looks back at me several times for assurance/comfort/guidance on what to do (if this were play between two less familiar dogs, I would have immediately called a “break” in play and encouraged him to come to me so he felt safe and a sense of relief)
  • Peaches (small, fawn-colored lunatic running around like a Greyhound on crack) is the one instigating ALL of the play, even though it often looks like Hudson is running at her and throwing her to the ground, she is actually doing that all herself because she is an intense and pushy, but submissive playmate
  • Peaches has her ears back and her tail tucked most of the time in preparation for submission should Hudson express any dislike of the play she’s initiating

Caveats to keep in mind when viewing this video:

  • I wouldn’t necessarily allow two dogs who don’t live together (or who aren’t familiar players) to play/run in this large of a space until I knew more about their play.  This is almost an acre of yard and might be too much space for two dogs who are unfamiliar but intense players, and who don’t know how to break play when asked
  • Peaches is an inherently submissive dog and, regardless of her arousal level during play, will always submit to the other dog while playing, ultimately negating any inclination on Hudson’s part to get overly excited or aggressive.
  • Hudson is an older dog with bad hip dysplasia who most likely experiences a good deal of physical pain when running.  Allowing him to run after another dog and play physically like this could very well cause his pain level to increase and trigger an aggressive response, which is another reason he is rarely allowed to play this intensely or to play with dogs unfamiliar to him.

About emily douglas

Emily Douglas authors The Unexamined Dog blog and writes regularly about "pit bull" advocacy, humane education and the parallels between the education field and the dog world. Emily and her dog, Peaches volunteer as a registered therapy dog team in the Southeast Michigan area, where their visits are affectionately known as Peach Therapy.
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3 Responses to Puppy Play Analysis: Understanding vocalization and body language

  1. Pingback: Versatile Blogger Award | Mados

  2. Pingback: Playing, Pausing and Playing Back | The Unexamined Dog

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