How To Tell If A Dog Is Angry Or Playing 8+ Signs

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Some people avoid certain dog breeds after hearing some scary stories about them attacking their owners seemingly out of nowhere; others get traumatized of dogs when they “surprise” them with a bite.

No matter the reason why you’re in this post, it’s important for everyone in all walks of life to learn how to read the signs that a dog is angry or playing.

By Mila Bander.

Professional writer and researcher just as in love with dogs as the next girl. Has fostered/babysitted dogs for neighbors and loved every second of it.

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Dogs do warn when they’re angry, and we should be thankful for that.

After you read this post, you will be able to tell other people: “That dog that bit you, probably warned you before biting”.

And let’s be honest; it will feel so good to be the knowledgeable one in the conversation.

Enjoy the read!

Signs That a Dog is Just Playing

First, let’s learn how to understand the signs that a dog is simply playing (romping) and not angry, attacking or fighting.

You will find a few signs that a dog is just playing below.

Open Mouthed “Bites”

A very clear sign that dogs are playing is that they will “bite” with their mouths open.

It’s a weak, loose “bite”, with no force. These “bites” are not intended to hurt at all; they’re friendly.

Bigger dogs, or adult dogs, will use this technique while playing to avoid hurting puppies or smaller animals. Or you!

Friendly Growl x Angry Growl

There are different types of dog growling.

When dogs are playing, they might growl, but these growls don’t sound aggressive and also come with friendly sounds, friendly barks, tongue flopping out, and relaxed body language.

When dogs are fighting and angry at each other, their growls will most likely be deeper and lower pitched. They will sound weird. They might also bark in pain if they’re biting each other.

What is Romping?

Sometimes, two dog friends will play as if they’re fighting.

Especially if they’re big dogs, this can look aggressive, but if you observe the signs, you will clearly notice they are just playing.

This is called ‘romping’ and it’s a very healthy behavior for dogs and cats, and yes, even human children!

Romping involves playing roughly and energetically.

This helps puppies learn how to interact and befriend other dogs, and when they’re grown up, they still bond with friends by playing/romping.

Signs of Romping, NOT Fighting

There are signs that two dogs are just playing (romping) and not fighting.

  • Dogs who are just playing will take turns chasing each other, as if they’re playing tag. 
  • They will also jump, and have an overall relaxed expression on their faces.
  • They might bite, but it will be an open-mouthed bite, with no force.
  • They may roll on their backs and give the other dog the upper hand sometimes.

This is healthy canine play.

In the video below, you will be able to observe the signs of dogs romping: they’re playing physically, but just having fun, and not fighting.

The video is from funnyplox channel.

Signs That a Dog is Angry

Below, you will find signs that a dog is angry, ready to attack or already fighting, and NOT playing (or romping).

Tense Body and Rigidness

You can notice dogs are angry when they look tense. Their body language isn’t as relaxed and their movements aren’t as loose.

They focus all of their attention in… well, being angry.

And their body language shows.

Direct Stare

I used to think that when dogs were about to attack, they made a fuss: barking, being loud and so on.

But when a dog is really ready to attack, they go tense, and they stare.

Dogs give a few warning signs when they’re angry, and the direct stare is one of the clearest ones.

They will stare with a serious, tense expression.

If a dog is still, and directly staring at another dog, or a person, and the staring is accompanied by other signs (such as tense muscles), then chances are they are getting ready to attack.

The Muzzle Punch

A muzzle punch is when a dog bumps someone (or another dog) with their noses.

A dog touching someone with their nose can be friendly (and it’s called a ‘nose poke’), but a ‘muzzle punch’, as the name implies, means the dog is warning you they aren’t very happy.

It’s vital to take body language into consideration.

If the muzzle punch is accompanied by:

  • the dog showing their teeth,
  • growling,
  • tense body and facial muscles
  • or showing the whites of their eyes…

….then it’s probably a warning sign they need space immediately, or they might bite.

Side Eye

The “side eye”, also known as the “whale eye”, is a way that dogs look, usually at humans, when they’re not feeling very pleased.

They look kind of to the side, but at you.

Sort of like humans also do when they’re mad at someone.

The “side eye” is a warning sign that the dog might be just on the verge of showing aggressive behavior.

Snarling, Showing their Teeth and Twitching

Dogs will snarl and show their teeth when they’re angry, and this is a very clear sign that they’re not playing.

When they’re ready to attack (if they think that’s needed), they usually also tense up their bodies, and twitch muscles on their faces, especially on their mouths.

This is a warning sign. It’s your chance to calmly leave the situation without showing your back (and if you have a jetpack, that would be perfect).

More Signs of Fighting, NOT Romping

If you see two dogs looking tense, staring into each other, walking slowly, gnarling, and twitching muscles (especially the muscles on their mouth), they may be about to fight.

If two dogs are getting into physical contact, and they’re not taking turns, not being bouncy, biting in very rapid moves, and sounding weird (usually barks along with a high pitch sound), as if they’re in pain or scared… well, chances are they are fighting and can get hurt.

This isn’t healthy at all and must be stopped as soon as possible in a way that’s safe for the dogs and for you.

Photo by Sebastian.