There are some big misconceptions, things humans don’t seem to understand about us dogs. I wrote about misconception number one: dominance. There is another big one: fighting.
Let me tell you about something that happened on the beach, lately. I was playing with another dog – a dog looking a bit like me, being ultrafast. We ran like hell, chasing each other. We had great fun. Her human had just told M that her dog was scared of practically anything, but I did not recognize that. She was a bit nervous, yes, but not scared. Anyway, we played rough. That is how I like it: bumping into each other, chasing each other, sometimes biting each other in the legs to invite the other dog to run even faster.
So we were racing on the beach, me chasing the other dog and biting in her hind legs to tease her. She did not like that, stopped, turned around and snapped at me. This happens sometimes. I don’t mind, it is only a clear signal that my motivation technique is not appreciated. In that case I stop, we pause for a while and usually we start our play all over again. But this time the human of this so-called scared dog got very hysterical. She shouted ‘oh no, they are fighting, I don’t want this! Go away!’. So M called me and we went on together.
I thought this very strange. The human obviously did not understand the difference between playing and fighting. I admit I was a bit rough on her dog, but we weren’t fighting. When we walked about a hundred meters she released her dog and it came running towards me to resume our play. But M did not feel like an argument with this hysterical human, so she told me to get along with her and I said goodbye to the dog.
Maybe one of the reasons why humans can’t see the difference between playing and fighting, is that we dogs often play rough. We sometimes bark and even growl, we show our teeth. This is because playing is also a way of testing how strong we are, compared to each other. We do this with our humans, too! What do you think we are doing when we are playing a pulling game with you? We like the fun, but we are also testing if you are still strong. It is all in the game for us.
So this is playing, something very different from fighting. When are dogs fighting? I can tell you this: seldom. I mean really fighting, with the purpose to seriously hurt the other dog, not the barking and growling and biting-in-the-fur stuff that is playing rough. We hardly ever really fight because the risks are very high. When we city dogs get hurt in a fight we are taken to the vet, but when you are a stray dog, you could die. No dog will take such a risk if it is not really worth it.
For a real fight the stake must be very high. Such a stake could be a territory a dog defends. Or a pretty willing female, in that case a male dog will fight with another strong male dog who wants the same female. All the other things, like food, are not worth a real fight. If you look carefully how dogs behave in this situation, you will see a lot of snarling and growling and sometimes even an attack, but the dogs usually back off quickly. No one gets seriously hurt. We are pretty fast in determining which one of us is stronger and the strongest one gets the food.
Humans are not very good at really noticing what is going on, so I’ll help you out a bit here. How to tell the difference between playing rough and fighting? This is something Nicoline, my personal trainer, tells the humans she trains. She says that as long as dogs make a lot of noise, they are not really fighting. If they start snapping and showing teeth without making a noise, than the going gets though. When this happens with the group of dogs she walks with, she intervenes – she is a tough cookie, did I tell you that? She is brave. I would never intervene in a dog fight, I would just run. Which is a very sensible reaction, by the way.
Sorry for this long blog, it takes a lot of words to explain something that is not difficult to see for us dogs, but apparently it is for humans. I hope you will understand it now. A little test, to make sure you get it. Look at this picture. Is this fighting?
Maybe it is a hard question to answer, because it is a picture and you cannot hear the noise. This is me with my German Shepherd friend Sem. And no, it is not fighting (we made a lot of noise). Me and Sem like to measure forces when we meet each other. As you can see, we show our teeth, although in this picture Sem is not paying much attention to me anymore, because another dog was approaching. Sem is not very well mannered, he doesn’t know how to behave with a lady like me. Ha! I’ll show him next time I meet him.