The Difference Between Playful Bites and Aggressive Behavior

The Difference Between Playful Bites and Aggressive BehaviorLike most animals, dogs can get frisky when interacting with other dogs, and sometimes it can be difficult for their owners to discern whether they’ve crossed the line into aggression. It is important to be able to differentiate play biting from aggressive biting, regardless of a dog’s age. Aggressive behavior is not as common in puppies as it is in adult dogs, but it certainly can happen, and aggressive behavior that is not quickly managed could lead to dog bites or other potentially dangerous situations. If you ever think that your dog is behaving in an aggressive manner with you, another human or animal, seek outside help and try to get your dog away from anyone else in the area.

If you’re a new dog owner, here’s how you can gauge whether your dog is behaving aggressively or is just having rowdy fun with his friends.


If your dog’s posture is loose, then it is more likely they are just mouthing (gently putting his or her mouth and teeth over another with no jaw pressure). Dogs in fierce mode have rigid, strained and tense physiques and facial expressions. A playful, laid-back dog will not display a tight expression or any signs of anxiety and seem at ease from head to toe.

Pain Levels

Bites themselves are normally pretty easy to read. Generally, play biting simply doesn’t hurt as much. Sharp, intensely painful bites indicate that the dog giving them probably feels aggressive. If a bite is strong enough to puncture skin or bruise, it’s not playful.

Fierce bites are normally much more abrupt than playful ones. For the well-being of everyone in your home, including your dog, never ignore signs of aggression.

Note that play biting is normal in young puppies. Newborn puppies nip their litter-mates to learn social skills through playtime, and use their mouths to navigate new objects. Mouthing sometimes continues into adulthood in canines who were never trained in bite inhibition or use of chew toys.

Body Language

Body language and vocalization assist in determining if a dog is feeling playful or aggressive. If a dog is growling and showing you his teeth, that is a clear sign that the dog won’t hesitate to aggressively bite.

It is also particularly helpful to observe the tail. If your dog’s tail is raised high and thrashing around in a rigid manner, then they may be feeling aggressive. If it’s near the ground and waving lightly they likely have peaceful and lighthearted intentions.

Aggressive dogs can be hard to read and extremely hazardous to deal with, so the expertise of a professional pet behaviorist may be needed. If you suspect aggression, speak to your veterinarian for recommendations of individuals in that field immediately. Isolate aggressive dogs far away from children and other pets. In the meantime, you don’t want to risk your dog biting or causing another injury without Canine Liability Insurance.

About FIDO

There are many reasons a dog may bite, and it’s not always 100% preventable. In addition to financially protecting dog owners from dog bite claims, our Canine Liability Policy also covers other injuries to people, including scratches and fall injuries caused by dogs and injuries to other animals. Please contact us today for more information at (407) 865-7477, ext. 101.

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