With some pairs of dogs, play looks like pure fun, like children tussling and chasing. Others simulate real fights — adding growls, barks, noisy tooth-clacking and restrained bites — after signaling to each other that it’s just for fun. Below, Barney and a herding dog of some kind share fearsome play-snarls at the Shirlington dog park in Arlington, Va.
By his fifth month, Barney and Winston (below), a lighter blond labradoodle, were playing in Shirlington with wild eyes and new adult teeth flashing.
Though they literally go for each other’s throats, they play-fight for half an hour or more without shedding blood or yelping in pain — and eagerly resume after a rest or interruption.
Annie, a golden retriever from Chevy Chase (above), was Barney’s first make-out playmate and remains a pal at the D.C. dog park just east of Friendship Heights. By the end of their first tryst, they were exhausted, making fierce faces while reclining in the gravel.
Barney also likes to suck face with Zorro (below), a spaniel with a similar temperament who sees him almost daily on the softball field used by dogs in early morning.
Size of no consequence
If two dogs like the same style of play, differences in size don’t matter. (The bigger ones may tend to win, but that’s not the point.) When Barney was a small four-month-old puppy, he romped at length with a much bigger briard (below) at the busy, eclectic Dupont Circle dog park at 17th & S streets.
At the same park, he also frisked with a much smaller exotic toy dog (below).
What it takes to play
The fun often begins with a play bow or other frisky invitation — a pledge that what follows will not be a real fight. On Barney’s first play date when he was almost two months old, Gary and Elizabeth’s Lily initiates play with a bow (below), and Barney reciprocates soon after. (More of their play here.)
A puppy doesn’t even need a partner. When Barney comes across a well-chewed piece of rawhide buried in the snow (below), he instantly shifts to play mode with a play bow and a delighted leap.
When it gets scary
Since Barney was a small puppy of four months (above), he has avoided sleek, aggressive runners. He’s more likely to play with gentler breeds. Below, four furry, goofy doodles spontaneously assemble a Teddy Bears’ Picnic at the big Shirlington dog park (almost adjacent to PBS NewsHour‘s studio).
Even among frequent playmates (below), he doesn’t join a pack, as when Castle and Josie, a brown Airedale and a Brittany, mob Ananda, a big gentle Newfoundland. Barney stands clear, watching from a distance.
But by May 2014, Barney could also play the underdog without fleeing, as when he was set upon by a pair of noisy beagles and two kibitzers (below) at the Dupont Circle dog park.