To play or not to play?

To play or not to play?


Dog parks can be a fun place for dogs to play and socialise, but they are also an uncontrolled environment full of uncertainty. Our job as humans is to bring control into the uncontrolled. Click on the link to see dog off leash areas for each Council area in Melbourne and Victoria.

As kids, we’ve all had that friend that we would get into rowels with when we were hangry, intolerant or being greedy. Thankfully, a wise adult was always there just in time to help regulate emotions as we were unable to do it ourselves. Did you know, an adult dog has the psychological age of a 3 year old human child. So in this respect, dogs also need wise owners to help with deescalation.

Dogs love to play – some play rough, some more submissively and then there’s everything in between! Some play styles can be explained by breed. For example Kelpies love to herd, bark and chase. You’ll often see the friendly Great Dane with no spatial awareness galloping up to other dogs without using their brakes. Then there are cute fluffy Cavoodles who enjoy standing on their back legs, playing like they’re cuddling. But on top of breed, there is also individual personality!

When dogs greet or initiate play, communication is everything! It can make or break a new friendship, so it needs supervision.


  1. Learn your dog’s body language:
    Where is their tail when they’re scared? What eyes do they make when they’re annoyed? Click on the link to see if you can recognise the body language happening in your dog.
  2. Observe other dogs’ body language:
    Even though your dog may appear happy, this doesn’t mean it is always the right match. Is the other dog’s tail tucked between their legs? Are their hackles up? Are their eyes widened or seeking assurance from their owner?

So when should you watch body language? Always!


  1. Which woof is which?
    Dogs communicate different messages with different barks – to let each other know they’re frustrated, having fun or need space. When sounds start merging, getting louder or intensifying, its canine-code for “I’m getting annoyed now” – a clear indication that a human response is needed.

A few suggestions include:

  1. Play-breaks – the canine version of a time out away from other dogs. Just like with children; a tired toddler is grumpy and likely to throw a tantrum.
  2. Distractions – ball throwers, sticks or if the park has agility equipment, do some dog agility training or work on dog obedience skills (during all this, whip out your dog clicker along with treats and reward your dog’s desirable behaviours!)
  3. Move – to a different area of the park. Ever noticed that dog play intensifies when humans stand still and have their knees smashed in to by playing dogs?

Once you start to watch out for more of the subtle changes in your dog and if you need assistance in knowing that you’re doing the right thing, Emilia is a qualified dog behaviorist. She can help with more specific responses to set your dog up for success!


Written by Jacqui Domanski 08/07/20




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