Understanding Doggie Play

July 18, 2012 at 4:36 am 2 comments

I came across a brilliantly written blog post today – Have you heard the one about climate change and dog training?

I like this bit about “balanced dog training” -

What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.  What I’m suggesting is that according to the experts in this field, we are many years of work and mountains of evidence beyond having to balance our training philosophies because the real scientists have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field.

Which led me to another blog post by the same author where she analyzes the way her two dogs play.

we humans manage to anthropomorphize dogs in some of the most absurd and inappropriate ways, and yet don’t give them any credit as a species for possessing the same capacity for advanced social engagement that we do.

This blog post had a link to an very enlightening article in The Bark magazine: Is Your Dog’s Rough Play Appropriate? by Camille Ward & Barbara Smuts.

Coincidentally,  I am attending Nicole Wilde’s seminar on Dog-Dog Play this Sunday. I enrolled for two reasons: (1) I want to be more educated for Boogie’s sake so I understand what’s happening when he plays with another dog (2) I see this as research for my dog drawings.

Boogie rarely has the opportunity to play with another dog. We don’t have fences around here so it’s not safe to let him off-leash to run around with the neighbors’ dogs. Boogie sees his favorite play buddies – Rosie and Popeye- maybe 3 times a year because they live so far away.

A video from our last play date:

Here are some clippings from Is Your Dog’s Rough Play Appropriate? Some of this info is new to me and I find it fascinating:

Our research shows that for many dogs, play fighting is the primary method used to negotiate new relationships and develop lasting friendships. Although play is fun, it also offers serious opportunities to communicate with another dog. In this sense, play is a kind of language. Thus, when we regularly break up what we consider “inappropriate” play, are we doing our dogs a service, or confusing them by constantly butting into their private conversations? Most importantly, how can we tell the difference?

are traditional “no-no’s” like neck biting, rearing up, body-slamming and repeated pinning by one dog ever okay when two dogs are playing? It all depends on the individual dogs and the kind of relationship they have with one another.

This is very interesting -

…play does not necessarily have to be fair or balanced in order for two dogs to want to play with one another. Years ago, scientists proposed a 50/50 rule: for two individuals to engage in play, they must take turns being in the more assertive role. Scientists thought that if one individual was too rough or forceful (e.g., pinning her partner much more often than she was being pinned), the other dog would not want to play. Until our research, this proposition was never empirically tested.

There is an example of a “close canine friendship founded on unorthodox play”:

To this day, their play remains asymmetrical; Sage repeatedly brings down Sam with neck bites and continues to bite Sam’s neck once he is down. Sam wriggles on the ground and flails at Sage with his legs while Sage, growling loudly, keeps biting Sam’s neck. More than once, bystanders have thought the dogs were fighting for real, but Sage’s neck bites never harm Sam, and Sam never stops smiling, even when he’s down. Sometimes, when Sage is done playing but Sam is not, he’ll approach Sage and offer his neck, as though saying, “Here’s my neck; go ahead and pin me.” This move always succeeds; it’s an offer Sage cannot resist.

I am reminded of a little white fluffy girlfriend that Boogie used to play with (who no longer lives on our street). I used to worry that he was pinning her down and chewing on her neck too much. Well, there is so much misinformation about dogs being “dominant” that at the time I interpreted so much NORMAL dog communication as expressions of dominance. I have learned so much since then! Another common belief is that humping = dominance,  when humping is also pretty normal dog behavior associated with anxiety, arousal or social goofiness.

Boogie was off-leash in this very old video…

The article also draws attention to growls and snarly faces…

Play growls have different acoustical properties than growls given as threats, and when researchers played the growls back, dogs distinguished between play growls and growls given in agonistic (i.e., conflicting) contexts. If dogs can distinguish between types of growls in the absence of contextual cues (such as another playing dog), surely they know when a play partner’s growl is just pretend.

…dogs can exhibit nasty faces voluntarily, just as we do when we are only pretending to be mean.

…our studies have shown that dogs are very good at figuring out which dogs they want to play with and how to play well with their friends. Presumably, dogs are better than humans at speaking and understanding dog language. Perhaps it is time to humble ourselves and listen to them.

Also – Elisabeth Weiss: From The Dog’s Point of View 

I am looking forward to the Dog-Dog Play seminar on Sunday.

I will be bringing a sketch pad :)

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Entry filed under: Articles, links, Play, Reads, Social stuff. Tags: .

A visit from cousin Q I don’t want to jinx anything, but…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pamela Webster (@S_Wagging)  |  July 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I also enjoyed reading the “Climate Change” and “Rough Play” articles you cited. They were both thought-provoking.

    The volunteer at the SPCA puppy play time I took Honey to had good advice about rough play. I was worried that Honey was getting too beaten up on. But the volunteer told me to call Honey away and then see if she goes back after the dog who was playing so roughly with her. Every time I let her go, she went back to the same dog.

    So I’ve learned to watch what Honey’s body language tells me about rough play with another dog. If she’s sick of it, she’ll walk away or hide behind me.

    Of course, it’s really important to have play take place where dogs can act on their choices.

    BTW, I loved seeing the Boogie videos. It was great to see him having so much fun.

    Can’t wait to see and read what you get out of the Nicole Wilde seminar.

    Reply
  • 2. Helix Fairweather  |  July 19, 2012 at 7:06 am

    I can’t wait to see what drawings you come up with out of this new adventure, Lili!

    Reply

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