Ever wonder if dogs are playing or fighting? This video from Dog Knowledge spells it out with great footage and sensible suggestions–especially regarding CONSENT.
If two dogs are wrestling and one is aways on the top, is the one on the bottom laughing it up or begging for mercy? Do a consent test. Remove the top dog (call or lure her away) and see if the other runs right back for more, or makes a hasty getaway. What about a game of chase? It’s only a game if it’s fun for both the chaser AND the chased. Some dogs seem to feel bullied or hunted when chased; others relish it. How to tell? Give the chaser a quick timeout. Does the other dog make a beeline to safety, or act like you’re the bad guy for messing up the game?
Calling a dog out of play can be a challenge, so it requires a lot of practice and high value rewards (meatballs, hot dogs, etc.–just be sure to avoid fights over food!) An alternative is to have the dogs on harnesses and have them drag a long lightweight lead or rope so you can snag it and slow them down. Be sure to attach it to the harness, not the collar, to prevent excessive pressure on the neck.
And remember: mature, well-matched play partners regulate themselves by taking short breaks and switching between vigorous and lower intensity activities. Puppies (under 6 months) and adolescent dogs (6 months to ~2 years) may need our help to keep the lid on things. Regular interruptions (a minute or two) will restore calm and keep arousal in check.