Behaviors Reflect Emotions and Feelings
How can you tell that dogs are feeling safe and playful? It is not possible to perfectly predict or interpret emotions and feelings based on watching behaviors. However, by educating our eyes and ears about what safe play looks like, we will more likely make the right decision whether to let the dogs keep playing or to intervene.
Green Dog behaviors, ones most compatible for daycare and dog parks, can be easier to correctly interpret if they are on the positive end of the safe, playful and confident continuum. As the behaviors move the other direction toward those of Yellow and Red Dogs, sometimes we must wait for the next move or action to know if a dog is still in Green mode.
Similarly, play behaviors can be safe in one play style or at one level of intensity and then in the next moment, not. For example, chasing can be safe until the play turns into the purposeful predatory chase of one dog or mindless crashing into other dogs, people and obstacles.
Fortunately, there is accepted agreement among professionals about what behaviors depict a happy, playful and safe mindset. If you see those behaviors, or hear associated sounds, you can generally be assured that the dogs are enjoying the encounter.
What Do Green Dog Behaviors Sound Like?
What do you want to hear when dogs play? Beyond panting...
Because vocal sounds are signals to the play partner, as well as signs of a dog’s emotional and behavioral state and intent, look at their effect on the other dog. If the other dog looks comfortable, relaxed and starts to play, then probably the vocalizations are in the Green Dog category. All is well. Play on.
What Do Green Dog Behaviors Look Like?
Playful Green Dogs are emotionally secure and relaxed. Their behavior is loose, rhythmic, and flexible.
Look for wide amplitude tail wags, relaxed ears and body. The mouth may be open, lips loose and tongue hanging . Eyes are softly focused and wide with no intensity.The fur is flat with no hackling up along the topline. The body is balanced, neither tipped too far forward or backwards.
How the dogs play is also important. In lieu of the human direct approach handshake and verbal, “Hello,” a parallel or perpendicular approach, or curious circling and sniffing of genitals, anus, ears, and mouth is good canine greeting behavior.
If it is an active play style, the dogs take turns swapping roles, at being on top or bottom, or being chasee and chaser. There is cooperation and effective communication among the play partners. Green Dogs take frequent rest and distraction breaks which serve to manage their emotional states. Green Dogs are alert to the play and can simultaneously heed the owner’s directions.
In the next column we’ll look at play behaviors that need close regulation. These behaviors can be signs of fear, arousal or aggression. The faster you can read them, the more likely you can get the play back on track.