Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and
those that suffer from aggression problems.

Camilla about to be "attacked" by my dog, Ajej.

Camilla about to be “attacked” by my dog, Ajej.


Play Fighting With Your Dog

The pit bull ran alone on the beach and stopped when she saw a large piece of
driftwood that she could hide behind. As soon as the man got close she leapt
out, charging toward him and jumping up at the last minute. She growled
fiercely, her mouth wide open, and as she lunged, her teeth clamped down on
his arm.

But did she bite?

No, of course not. A dog who learns bite inhibition will not break the skin.

I know this because I wrestle with my dog almost every day. She puts her teeth
on my bare flesh frequently but would never bite me.

Some dogs like treats and some like to play ball, but this search-and-rescue
dog likes to wrestle as a reward for doing his job.

Some dogs like treats and some like to play ball, but this search-and-rescue
dog likes to wrestle as a reward for doing his job.

cc-by www.flickr.com skywide 2618782039

Does Playing Rough and Wrestling With Your Dog Lead to Aggression?

In one of her books, animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell tells about a case
with a large Lab that was in the habit of biting its owner. The dog wrestled
each evening with the male owner, a man who weighs over 200 pounds, but during
the day was with the small female owner and would bite her when she would not
play rough. Dr. McConnell recommended that the male owner stop wrestling with
the dog.

But is not wrestling with a dog the solution? Not too many years ago, many
trainers claimed you shouldn’t play tug of war with your dog since that game
was said to be one of the causes of aggression. Tug of war is not the cause of
aggression. Tug of war is one of those games that can be used to burn off
excess energy and make a dog less aggressive. Now those who recommended no
wrestling state “play tug of war instead.”

Teaching a Dog Bite Inhibition

Wrestling will not lead to aggression, but dogs who are going to wrestle with
their owners do need to learn bite inhibition. If you teach your dog bite
inhibition, your dog may bite if something bad happens to her, but when she
does it is not going to cause as much damage as the bite of a dog who does not
know how to control herself.

Teaching bite inhibition has nothing to do with a dog’s breed. I have worked
with many dog breeds, and have yet to come across a dog that was not able to
learn to control himself. It does not matter if the dog is small, large, or
even giant.

Wrestling with my dog.

Wrestling with my dog.


When Is It Okay to Play-Wrestle With My Dog?

Your dog needs to learn when it is okay to wrestle and when it is not. It is
okay when you say it is! It is never okay for the dog to start the wrestling

There are some trainers out there who say “never allow your dog to wrestle,
since he may end up being aggressive and wrestling with an elderly person or a
small child.” This is wrong.

A dog can be taught to understand when he is given the signal to wrestle. I
grunt and do a “Frankenstein walk” with my arms held out so that my dog will
know it is okay to start wrestling. She also knows it is okay to wrestle with
one of the neighbor girls, but would never even try to jump up on kids she is
not allowed to play with.

So can you wrestle with your dog? Of course you can. All it takes is a little
training time. Your dog is worth the effort.

Scroll to Continue

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: I cannot get my dog to puppy class. Is it very bad to miss the
socialization window for dogs, 12 to 16 weeks?

Answer: It is called the sensitive socialization period because if you
miss it there is no way to make it up. After your dog reaches 16 weeks (more
or less) he reaches a “behavioral wall” and he cannot deal with new things
outside of that wall. So yes, it is bad to miss this period. If you cannot
take your dog to puppy class, make sure that he meets other dogs outside of
class, and make sure that you take him for walks so that he is not afraid of
new things.


Leslie on April 09, 2019:

It is a nightly ritual for our 10 lb female mutt. She gets on the bed and
waits for either me or my hubby to start the wrestling match. It only lasts
for a few minutes and she contently goes to sleep. She never bites just opens
her mouth and huffs and puffs.

Kelsey on July 26, 2018:

I play fight with my dog all the time. I always start it but my dog would
never ever play fight with anyone but me. We’ve even tested it, he mouths my
hand but when me and mum swap he’ll start licking her hand. If I say ‘enough
now’ he’ll instantly stop mouthing me and go get me a ball. He’s not a violent
dog. The only thing I would say is when he meets new people and he gets too
excited he might mouth at that hand but that’s simply stopped by saying

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 04,

Perhaps. I read recently that Switzerland is discontinuing its mandatory
classes for new dog owners. The owners that had taken the classes did not
treat their dogs any differently than those who did not take classes.

jtrader on October 04, 2016:

Perhaps it would help if more people did classes before getting a dog.

Max on March 30, 2016:

I used to have a boxer and always wrestled with him since he was very small.
When he was tiny any time he but harder than i liked i would say ow, grab his
cheeks an pinch them into his teeth a bit to let him know that hurts, then
stop a bit and keep playing after some time. He learned very quickly how hard
was too hard. By the time he was full grown i could wrestle with him as rough
as i wanted, even picking him up and giving him a bit of a toss. He also
understood that Im the only one he can wrestle with, i think mostly because of
the body language i would use to tell him i wanna wrestle. When it was time to
stop i would just stand up and he might mouth me once or twice but i wouldnt
respond by playing. Usually id just pat him on the head.

I have a new boxer now and going through the same process and just in the past
few days she went from trying to bit hard or tug at fingers, to mouthing hands
and arms without putting enough pressure to cause pain (even with her needle
like puppy teeth)

I dont see any reason why you shouldnt wrestle with a dog as long as they
understand when and when not to play rough.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on October 26, 2014:

We finally gave up on keeping our Chihuahua out of our bed at night, and as a
goodnight gesture, she gently bites my hand for a few minutes and then drifts
off to sleep. It’s has become ritual that both of us love. She does not do
this with my wife.

Cynthia on October 26, 2014:

I’m a 130 lb woman & I wrestle with my 90 lb Great Dane/Pitbull mix almost
every day. She bitesme, but very softly (would never break skin) & knows that
when I say “sit” that the game is over. I can’t say wrestling is right for
every dog, but it’s pretty fun for us!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on May 23, 2013:

People who argue against wrestling with dogs are usually those who belong to
the school of though that believes in wolf / dog domination theory. They also
advise letting the dog lead you on a walk.

I let my dog lead me all the time. He leads and all I have to do is to let him
know which way to go if he is indecisive or heads in a wrong direction. Many
times, I ask him to pull me, especially under knee deep snow conditions or
when I am tired and we have to climb an ascent.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 23, 2013:

That seems like a long time but at least it wasn’t IVDD,which often does not
do better no matter how hard you try. Good to hear he is now doing better!!!

Mary Craig from New York on May 23, 2013:

My MinPin didn’t have IVDD, it turned out to be an infection in his spinal
fluid. He’s been on medication for a year…actually took the last pill last

Bob Bamberg on May 21, 2013:

I think it is. When talking with someone with a new dog and small kids, I’ll
tell them I know a vet who says that, but in reality it happens all the time.
I’m sure vets and pediatricians have some horror stories to tell, but as a
percentage of teeth/skin contact episodes, they’re probably pretty low. It’s
good CYA rhetoric, though.

I’d guess that normal cautions would suffice. With a puppy or a rescue, you
make sure the dog understands the rules of human/dog play.

If the dog just doesn’t get it, then you just don’t roughhouse with him. But
if he’s good with roughhousing, I should think it’s a play that he would very
much identify with and enjoy.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 21, 2013:

I´ve read that “never, ever” comment before, and I think it is unrealistic.
All it takes is a little education and training.

Does this sound like another case of MAAN?

Bob Bamberg on May 21, 2013:

Had a hard time getting beyond the visual of a grunting DrMark1961 doing the
Frankenstein walk. lol!! There’s still time to edit the hub and add the video.
Bet it would go viral.

There’s a vet who does a call-in show in RI who is fond of saying, “A dog’s
teeth should never, ever touch human skin.” He usually uses it in the context
of training a puppy or when adopting a dog. Maybe a bit extreme.

No statistics, but I think it’s a safe bet that most dog owners roughhouse or
wrestle with their dogs without ever having taught bite inhibition.

When dogs (and cats, too for that matter) play with each other, it often looks
pretty violent, yet they never draw blood. Is it realistic to think that dogs
are simply able to discriminate between play and real aggression, whatever
species they’re engaged with?

Another valuable hub…voted up, useful and interesting.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 20, 2013:

Hi Suhail this is so short because I just wrote it as a reply to a “do not
wrestle with your dog’ suggestion. I had to go out and take a picture of my
dog “attacking” my arm, and it was cloudy so it is kind of dark.

I don’t think your dog would like the heat here, but I would sure enjoy
wrestling with him!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 20, 2013:

Hey Kashmir56 thanks for reading and commenting! I always enjoy your reading
list (the articles you share) and appreciate your participation.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on May 20, 2013:

I don’t wrestle with my 110 pound Kuvasz, but I am close to doing it. I play
quite a rough form of tug of war with his two favorite tough toys. Of course,
he understands the limitations and has bite control.

In real life wrestling situation, I don’t think anyone stands a chance against
him lol.

Great hub! Short, sweet and confirming my belief 🙂

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on May 20, 2013:

Great informative and interesting article with useful information on wrestling
with your dog, how to do it right and why it is good to do it with your dog.
When my dog was alive she would always love to wrestle with me and never once
bit me . Well done !

Vote up and more !!!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 19, 2013:

Thats really great that your Chihuahua is into wrestling! I used to try to
play like that with my Maltese, and he would look at me like “Are you
serious?Give me some space here!”

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on May 19, 2013:

I’ve always play-wrestled with my dogs. It’s a fun communication that they
understand, and we always ended it with mutual displays of affection (like the
girl in the video).

Even my tiny Chihuahua loves to play fight, although she just attacks my hand.
Her tiny little growls just crack us up!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 19, 2013:

I have this great visual now of wretling with a MinPin! Does he still have
problems with IVDD?

Dogs are so funny. My dog loves to wrestle but could care less about balls and
doesn’t like tug of war. Oh well!

Mary Craig from New York on May 19, 2013:

This is very informational Dr. Mark. There is so much controversy about tug of
war and wrestling with dogs it is hard to know what is right. Everything
you’ve said makes sense. Obviously I don’t wrestle with my MiPn, but I do play
tug of war with him. He has put his mouth around my hand or arm many times but
never bites down…I didn’t specifically teach him bite inhibition but did go
through “no bite” training.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.