My Puppies Play Really Rough. Is that OK?

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Many dogs really love rough-and-tumble play. But how do you know when your dog’s wrestling has gone too far?

In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we answer the question,

I recently got a 8wk pitbull & 10wk boxer. They play fight constantly, and sometimes it’s too aggressive for my liking. Should I be stopping this type of play?

– Sincerely, Alberta

PS – If you read this blog post and still need more help, don’t just submit another Ask a Behavior Consultant! We don’t answer repeat questions. Instead:

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Are My Puppies Playing Too Rough?

Luckily for Alberta, there’s actually a pretty easy way to tell if your dogs or puppies are playing too rough with each other:

  1. Observe the puppies to see if their play has nice back-and-forth. In general, if the puppies are taking turns chasing, tackling, and biting, the play is probably OK. If the play is a bit more one-sided, go to step 3.
  2. Watch the puppy’s body language. Do they seem loose and waggy, with huge play grins and bouncy movements? Or does one of them have wide eyes, pinned-back ears, or a tucked tail? How the dogs communicate with each other can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling.
  3. Pick up the bigger or more playful puppy (the one who does more chasing, tackling, etc).
  4. See what the less playful puppy does. Does she try to keep playing, or does she shake off and walk away? If she keeps trying to play with the puppy in your arms, then she’s saying that she enjoys the playtime. Let them have another go! If she welcomes the break from playtime with the other puppy, then it’s a sign the play was too rough for her.

How Do I Interrupt My Puppy’s Playtime?

It’s always good to teach your dogs to be able to listen to you even when they’re playing. When the puppies are little, you can just scoop them up. But what do you do when Alberta’s pit bull and boxer are over 50 pounds each?

Practice teaching your puppies hand targets (one at a time, in separate training sessions) and then build up their ability to listen to you using the “Can You Listen When…?” game!

Playing the “Can You Listen When…?” Game

Only start this came when your puppies are both already good at the hand targets we taught above. The game is described here.

The goal of this game is to teach your dog to gradually ignore more and more distracting situations. It should be fun and relaxing – not a test!

When your puppies are total pros at the “Can You Listen When…?” game, you’ll be able to start using hand targets to interrupt their playtime. Be sure to reward with lots of tasty treats when they get it right!

A Quick Note On Raising Puppies Together

Raising two puppies of the same age together is really tough. It’s incredibly important to teach the two puppies to be social with other people, dogs, surfaces, sounds, and more alone as well as together.

Teach the puppies to sleep in separate crates and in different rooms. Be sure to walk them, train them, and socialize them separately. I use this socialization checklist from Dr. Sophia Yin.

Aggression between puppies that are raised together is quite common as they hit social maturity. It’s kind of like sharing your house with your 30-year-old brother.

Being careful to lay the foundations right now will help you keep the peace as they get older!

14 thoughts on “My Puppies Play Really Rough. Is that OK?”

  1. Hi, I just got a 6 week old and 8 week old American Bulldog male and female. They play well together but rough and will growl and shake each other till one yelps. Is this normal play?

    • That is pretty normal. However, 6 weeks old is quite young to be leaving the parents and littermates – and raising sibling puppies like this is a huge challenge for many people! Make sure you check out other puppy resources here for help.

  2. So I live with my grandma and papa and recently my grandma buyed two puppies that are both 8 weeks puppies, she said she doesn’t want to use treats to train them, is there any other way to reward them for good behavior or train them commands. I’m not sure how to help her, plz respond

    • Hi Jenny, food is really the best motivator for most dogs and you will REALLY struggle if you refuse to use such a convenient way to reward behavior; that’s similar to trying to find someone to work a job that doesn’t pay with money.

  3. We just adopted two puppies, 10 and 12 weeks old. My 10 week old is growing fast and at 15 lbs while the 12 weeks old is a feisty 5 lb. They both seem to really love to play but my 10 week old doesn’t know her strength and can really do some damage if we don’t constantly intervene. This results in them not having much (if any) play time. It’s only been a few days since we got the smaller one but we want to encourage safe play. Any suggestions (we’ve tried distractions and separating until they’re calm but it’s so constant they’re basically always separated and will nip through the fencing)?

  4. My downstairs neighbors and i got puppies, now 11 weeks old, from the same litter 3 weeks ago. She is very concerned about littermate syndrome and rough play so now she doesn’t want them to interact at all. Is this an appropriate approach until they are old enough to socialize with other dogs? We share a yard where both dogs like to play.

    • Hi Kaitlyn! In my experience, simply letting the puppies play together a few times a week is absolutely not going to cause anything like littermate syndrome. That would be more likely if they were actually together 24/7. But of course, it will depend on what your neighbor feels comfortable with!

  5. We have 6 month old littermate German Shepard puppies. Although their play fighting has decreased, they are big enough we cannot have them together in the house at once as they enjoy play fighting and things can easily get broken (both over 65 lbs) What can we do to decrease this play fighting? It seems they are not interested in distraction with toys. We go on several mile hikes with them daily. What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Courtney – I have a few different ideas, like putting them in the yard when they want to roughhouse or puppy-proofing a room for their playtime. But without knowing a bit more about your specific situation, it’s hard to know if my ideas will work!

  6. I Have a 6 month old Aussie border collie mix and I just recently got a 8 week old pitty, my Aussie tends to herd the puppy and also during play lays right on top of her. What’s a good way to teach my Aussie to not play that way?

  7. Hey, my sister and I just got ourselves Malinois x Golden Retriever Mix Kintamani puppy each. They are almost 8 weeks old and both males. We sleep in different room, one sleepsin my sis room, and the other one sleeps with me. They are together 24 hours and only separated when I take a nap at afternoon and when we go to sleep every night. They like to play growl and bite with each other and it seems rough for me. They play with their lips raised, showing their teeth. But if I pick one up, the other one always try to play again. Is that normal and okay?

    • Hi Kai, it’s hard to say for sure without seeing video. But rough play with puppies that know each other is pretty typical! Teeth flashing is also often part of play. Right now I wouldn’t necessarily be worried, based on what you’ve described.


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