Thursday, May 17, 2012


Dogs have different ways of playing and interacting with each other. Stereotypically, you could say that sporting breeds and retrievers have fun-loving, physical rowdy play styles or that the Terrier breed(s) vary in so many ways that you need to evaluate each breed for suitability in playing with other dogs. Though it can be easy to generalize a dog's play style by breed, what is most important is the dog's ability to adjust their play style to meet the needs of another dog. This can be key in determining how successful he or she might be in playing with other dogs.

For example, say we have a puppy named Fido. Fido is a rowdy, happy and confident five-month old Labrador Retriever puppy. Fido enjoys playing with other dogs by slamming into them at high speed, and wrestling (all normal puppy play behavior!) So how does daycare teach Fido to adjust his play style?

Let's say that in daycare today Fido decided to try to play with an adolescent dog named Spot. Spot is a one-year old mix breed dog who has been coming to daycare for six months and still very much loves to wrestle and body slam his friends. When Fido solicits play from Spot by play bowing, off they go! Both take turns wrestling and pinning each other on the floor playfully. Their play styles are very balanced, wiggly and well-matched. Fido has learned that Spot likes to play the same way as he does so Fido does not have to change his behavior to do so.

But Fido now decides he wants to play with another adult dog named Bowser. Bowser, a four-year old German Shepherd, has been coming to daycare for three years. Bowser loves the company of other dogs but would rather bounce around, run, or tug than have physical body contact with other dogs. Fido tries to get Bowser to play, by bowing, like he did with Spot, but it doesn’t work this time. Fido then decides to try barking in Bowser's face which not only doesn’t work because Bowser has turned in the opposite direction of Fido, but also involves the daycare attendant redirecting the puppy away from the adult dog so the barking stops. Fido has now learned that play bowing and barking doesn’t get this adult dog's attention. Fido's final try is to pick up a tug toy and show it to Bowser in a wiggly and excited manner. Bowser picks up the other end of the toy and off they go tugging and playing successfully for the next few minutes.

What’s the moral of the story?

Fido learned that in order to get what he wants, (play), he has to adjust his style based on the dog he plays with. Through consistent practice or by coming to daycare on a regular basis, Fido can take these experiences and apply them to any real world interactions with dogs he may encounter.

For good measure here is a video of what well-balanced play looks like. Both dogs have a physical, rough style of playing. They also both take turns being on the bottom and on top. And their bodies themselves, offer exaggerated movement with a loose and wiggly posture.

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