Offleash Play-When Should I Intervene?

Watching dogs play can be so much fun! However, it can also be a little stressful if you don’t know what you are looking for. Is your dog being too rough? Did my dog cry because he got hurt or was he just startled? What do you do if two dogs with mix matched energy levels try to play together?

These are all valid questions that we get asked all of the time. When do I intervene? Here are a few tips.

Body Language

Signs your dog is having a good time.

When watching your dog play watch their body language. If your dog is relaxed his muscles will be look relaxed. He may go into a playbow or jump around all silly like. Sometimes when dogs play they like to grab at each others faces. This can look frightening. However, this is completely normal for dogs. Most of the time play does look a lot like fighting. Except with play all of your dogs moves are exagerated. For example: if two dogs are going at each others faces with mouths wide but they don’t actually touch each other. Or if they do touch they just stop and sit like that for awhile. Almost like they are contemplating their next move. This is play.

Your dogs tail should be loose and wagging. Sometimes your dogs’ entire butt will wiggle side to side in excitement. Your dogs’ ears will look relaxed and he will have his weight evenly distributed throughout his body. His eyes will be relaxed as well. He may even appear like he is smiling.

Signs your dog is scared or unsure.

If your dog is insecure he may look stiff. His body weight will shift to his back end. This makes it easier for your dog to escape a situation. He may have whale eye or diluted pupils. His ears will be back. He may look like he is walking on his tippy toes. Some dogs will do that to make themselves look taller. To scare the intimidating thing/person/dog away. Their hackles may go up. He may shake or pant excessively. His tail will be stiff and either all the way up or tucked between the legs.

Signs your dog is being standoffish.

When your dog is being standoffish it means that he is intimidated but he would rather stand his ground than run. This can be an issue if both dogs are standoffish. Standoffish dogs have learned at some point that if he makes himself look tall and growl or snap the intimidating thing/dog/person will back off. However, if they don’t a dog fight will ensue.

If that were to happen simply grab your dog for the back legs and wheelbarrow him away from the other dog. If you have help have someone do that with the other dog as well. This is the safest way to seperate two fighting dogs. You are less likely to get bit.

Standoffish dogs will show much the same signs as the insecure dog except instead of trying to get away he will literally walk around the intimidating thing/person/dog almost like he is sizing them up. He may attempt to put his head on the back of a dogs neck. This is a sign of dominance and if the other dog is standoffish as well this won’t end well. If your dog is showing signs of being standoffish to another dog simply redirect their attention and remove your dog from that situation.

What should I do if I need to intervene?

Depending on the situation there are a number of things you can do if you feel the need to intervene.

If your dog is scaring another dog simply pull your dog away from the scared dog. Ask your dog to sit-stay or down-stay and wait for the scared dog to approach you. This is good for teaching over-exuberant dogs how to be more gentle and learn boundaries while at the same time the scared dog is learning to explore out of his comfort zone. If the scared dog instigates play then you can go ahead and let them play. However, watch and pull your dog away if the other dogs gets scared again.

Never pick up a scared dog in a social setting unless they are actually hurt. The reason for this is because dogs take their cues from us. If a dog scares them and your immediate reaction is to scoop up your dog and hide him away from the other dog you are reinforcing the idea that the other dog is scary. If the scary dog is removed but the scared dog is left to figure things out on his own he will learn that “oh, that dog isn’t that scary!”. You always want to remove the over-exhuberant dog in the situation. Then it is a learning situation for both dogs.

If your dog is being standoffish you will want to intervene before a fight breaks out. Watch for the dog looking tall and walking around the other dog. Remove that dog and simply give him a time out to calm down. You do not want to wait til your dogs head is over the other dogs head. Sometimes something as simple as that can instigate a fight.


When monitoring off-leash play between dogs watch both dogs and intervene if one of the dogs looks scared or standoffish. Remove the over-exuberant dog from the scared dog or remove the standoffish dog from the situation. Give them a time out and let them try again. With the over-exuberant dog have them do a sit or down stay and let the shy dog come to him. For the standoffish dog wait til he has calmed down before allowing him to try again. If he immediatly becomes standoffish just by going near the other dog simply end the play session and give him a break from that dog for awhile.

Do you have some tips about off-leash play? Leave them for us in the comments below!

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