Part 2 of Nicole's day was entitled “Dissecting the Dynamics of Dog-Dog Play”. My time dog walking with Christine at oh my dog!, nerding out with other canine professionals, as well as my years of working with dogs, prepared me for this part of the seminar. I was happy to find I already possessed much of the knowledge covered and also had a few beliefs confirmed. Nicole showed lots of video of different kinds of play in a dog park ranging from happy play with lots of loose body language, to completely petrified dogs whose owners insisted they should “enjoy” the dog park experience when it was clear the only thing the dog would enjoy was leaving.
Starting right at the beginning we were reminded why it's important for dogs to play – to establish social bonds, practice social skills, teach bite inhibition, and how far they can push other dogs. Nicole recommended introducing a puppy to a well tempered older dog, preferably female from her experience.
Referencing a study by Dr. Ward, play preferences in dogs was discussed. Dr. Ward videotaped puppies playing and found that the partners they preferred to play with in youth carried on as they aged. They also found that there is a same sex play preference early on, females tend to initiate with other females more often, and male puppies are more likely to handicap themselves in play to encourage the other pup to play with them.
The well known play bow was discussed and outside of being an invitation to play, it was also likened to be a doggie version of a 'lol!' Some dogs will perform a behaviour that could be taken as a threat but will follow it up with a play bow to say 'just kidding'.
Returning to the work of Dr. Ward, healthy play was discussed. It's common to believe that play should be 50/50, for example one dog shouldn't be on the bottom all the time. But in Dr. Ward's study they found in paired play the 50/50 rule did not apply. Nicole talked about different play styles, that a more hesitant/shy dog may not have the desire to be on top during play or that some dogs don't like to chase other dogs but love to be chased. Instead ensure play is healthy by noting friendly body language, that there is some give and take in the play, frequent pauses (don't let the dogs play non-stop and then whip themselves in to a frenzy), and respect for communication. If one dog tries to take a pause in play and the other continues to try to instigate, it may be time for both to have a break or end the play session. What should you watch for in play with your dog to prevent issues? Increased speed, fewer pauses, vertical play increasing instead of horizontal play, rough play increasing, low pitch vocalizations.
A round up of good facts/reminders:
- Socially awkward dogs are opportunistic (have you ever watched a dog trying to mount a dog who's mounting another dog? Awkward.)
- Keep play safe by having done solid attention work with your dog (eye contact!) and good recall.
- Monitor your dog in the park. Don't bring a newspaper or your phone and sit 20 feet away with your back to them.
- The most dangerous factor in dog-dog play is humans! Don't put your dog in a vulnerable position
If you missed Katie's write up of Part One regarding Separation Anxiety, here it is!