It can be hard to tell the difference between when dogs are fighting and when they are playing. Actually, when dogs play, they are just mimicking fighting and aggressive behaviours.
But, whenever they play, they make sure they don’t hurt the other dog. But how can you know that they are just having some fun, and how to tell when you should break them up?
When dogs play, they engage in what is known as self-handicapping behaviour. Basically, they make sure they put themselves in vulnerable positions intentionally, so that the other dog can have an edge. For example, when they play, they will voluntarily expose their bellies, which is something a dog would never do in a real fight.
But one of the most common signals is the play bow. The play bow is when one of the dogs faces the other, and crouches, with their forelimbs almost touching the ground, and their back in the air. Of course, their tail is often wagging. Their facial expression is also an excited one, displaying something called play face. This face kind of looks like an open-mouthed smile.
When dogs are fighting, they are clearly tenser and strung up. They get their teeth out, and their stance is more guarded. They would never expose vulnerable parts or give the other dog any comparative advantage. You can usually tell that something is wrong because of how much they bark, or even whimper. If you notice this kind of behaviour, then you should know that they aren’t just playing, and you should make sure you break them up.