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Canine Behavior/Dogs playing or fighting?


We've recently brought in an Australian Shepherd and she and my Beagle mix are at each other's throats all the time. The problem is that I'm not sure if it's play or aggression? It seems very violent sometimes with lots of teeth on each other, batting, one pinning the other (sometimes even with their mouth open around the other's neck!), rearing up on back legs and slap fighting can look very intense. However, neither dog seems to want to stop. If we try to separate them, they'll come to us and calm down but then go right back to it. It can last for an hour or more and they've been doing it several times/day. They'll keep going at it and then all of the sudden they'll stop, both drink some water, and start back up again. The aussie is larger and will sometimes pin the beagle by the neck for 15 or 30 seconds and it really makes me nervous! I had a video to attach but apparently you can only show photos. Am I overreacting or is this going to turn violent?


Thank you for your question. Often play can look quite intense and very much like a fight if you don't know what to watch for. Everything you described except for one thing sounds like it's probably play. Though without observing it, I can't be sure.

Probably play: No injuries are occurring, neither dog wants to stop, you can interrupt the activity fairly easily and they'll stop with each other get some love from you and then return to each other, mouth open at each other's necks (not actually biting with any force), suddenly stop to drink water together and then start up again...

My only concern: Aussie will pin the beagle by the neck for 15-30 seconds. Have you actually timed this? 15 seconds is a very long time in the middle of a dog interaction. If my dogs were playing (even playing well) and one pinned the other, I would interrupt it after probably 3-5 seconds to ensure it stays a game.

That they carry on for sometimes up to an hour and that they do this several times per day with no injuries does point more toward play. You don't share how they are with each other outside of these interactions: do they rest together, eat near each other without issue, engage with chew toys near each other without issue, get love and cuddles from their people without jealousy issues with each other? Do they ever spat in other circumstances? If they get along famously in every way, that also leans this toward play.

Of course, without actually seeing them, I can't tell you for certain that it is play, or if there are indicators that one dog is not enjoying the interaction as much, or if there are red flags that it could switch to a fight. Or if it is maybe not as much game as I'm thinking...

I would very much like to see the video. If you have a YouTube account, you can upload the video there and set it as "unlisted." This way, only those who have the link will be able to access it and it will never show up in any public searches. You can then reply to this conversation, making it private and provide me the link to the video. That way I can view it and then respond with specific comments about specific moments in the video. If you have no qualms about the video being public, then you can leave the settings for the video as public and you can keep this question in the public realm as well.

I look forward to your reply with a link to the video so that I can speak more specifically about your dogs and their interaction with each other.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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