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Nicole Wilde Seminar, Part 2: Dog Play - by Katie Hood

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!

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Nicole Wilde Seminar: Separation Anxiety

As previously mentioned, continuing to learn about dogs (health and behaviour) is really important to us. Both Katie and I are indeed dog nerds, but the information we accumulate is valuable, and we love to share it with you. Here's part one of Katie's entry regarding the recent Nicole Wilde seminar on separation anxiety hosted by Speaking of Dogs Rescue. Nicole Wilde was recently in Toronto for a two day seminar and I 
attended Day 2 with two topics: Separation Anxiety and Dog-Dog Play.
 Having had multiple dogs with separation anxiety myself, I was 
interested to hear if there were any new items to walk away with from a personal standpoint, as well as a professional one.

First off, it was a reminder of how isolating and difficult life with 
an SA dog can be. Standard protocol for working through SA is that the 
dog is never left alone longer than it can handle. That can mean a 
minimum of a month of arranging daycares, doggie babysitters, no 
nights out, etc... while working through a dog's state of stress/panic
 that they experience every time they are alone or leading up to the event 
of being left, and the destruction that can be an expression of those 
emotions. It's no wonder, when asked by Nicole, a majority of the 
trainers present agreed they'd prefer working with an aggressive dog 
over a separation anxiety dog; it's an emotionally charged situation 
with slow progress and some owners may not have the tools at their 
disposal to accomplish each step.

That said it is imperative to work with a professional in these 
situations and you must have a proper diagnosis – is your dog stressed
 whenever it's the only one in the house or when it's away from a 
certain person? Will your dog settle with other family members or 
friends?

The best way to get these answers is to know exactly what your dog is 
doing when left alone by recording them with a webcam or digital 
camera. Nicole busted some long held myths such as “true separation 
anxiety dogs don't eat when left alone” by showing video of a client's 
dog bouncing between a food toy and howling at the door.

Nicole's favourite tool for ongoing monitoring is Skype: set up a 
dummy account that you connect to your smart phone and using that fake
 account to call in to your computer at home and watch your dog. (You can
set your skype to auto-accept calls, or, if you're popular on Skype,
make another account that's just for this purpose).

The most common separation anxiety symptoms are destruction (there
 were many photos of shredded doors), vocalization, and house soiling. 
Nicole really drove home the importance of nutrition alongside
 management, confidence building, and calm/mentally stimulating 
exercise (ie: a hike with lots of sniffing, not a 10k run).

If you're an owner working through this, remember to make a list of 
your resources – people you can leave your dog with, places you can 
take your dog along with you, friends with dogs that you can have over 
for play dates, etc.

There was more information than I can sum up in a short blog post, but 
the last point I want to mention was the question of when a dog should
be medicated. If the dog is in danger of harming itself, is 
experiencing severe emotional distress or is in danger of losing its
 home over the issue, it may be time to discuss medication with an
experienced trainer and Veterinarian working together.

For your own metal well being, it may help to join an online discussion forum dedicated to SA. Sometimes it helps to have a support network of people who know exactly what you're going though.

In part two Katie will discuss Dog-Dog Play. 

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