I notice while teaching classes that my students benefit from a lesson in what play should, and should not look like. As an ongoing project, I will try to collect some additional video of play, but I have started here with a video of normal play between 2 familiar dogs.
Play involves willing participants who work together to keep the game going. Play often involves wrestling, inhibited biting (mouthing), charge and retreat, posturing, staccato movements, rhythmic movements, parallel movements, repeated invitations to play like touching, play bowing or running with an item. Additional normal play behaviors include growling, barking, chasing, poking, etc. Generally play partners experiment to see what works best for them. During normal play, if there is a size or strength differential, you should notice the stronger dog “handicapping” himself, allowing the game to continue without overpowering, overwhelming or frightening a play partner.
Watch this video of Lucy and Rye. At first, you might feel like one is “attacking” the other, or being “mean.” However, if you watch closely you will see that at any time either dog could disengage and they wait for one another, invite one another repeatedly to play and agree on games they both enjoy. What you do NOT see is yelping, uninhibited biting, one dog leaving with the toy, serious competition over the toy, hiding, cowering, lip licking or other conflict type behaviors.
Trouble with the embedded video? Watch it here instead.
Play is a mutual endeavor. Watching for signals that stop play like prolonged hiding, snapping and retreating while taking cover, cowering, uninhibited biting, yelping or anything that sounds serious will help you guide appropriate play with your own dogs.