Using Play to Treat Aggression

The last great talk in the Play Symposium at APDT was a wonderful presentation by Karen B. London. She begin with the belief that play is under-utilized as a reinforcement and tool to treat aggression-related problems in dogs. Several types of behavioral problems were listed as being amendable to using play, including over-arousal, frustration-related aggression, the fear of strangers and reactivity to other dogs. Dr. London reminded us that play is so useful because it 1) is a high energy exercise that can motivate dogs and channel their energy in positive ways, 2) play is a skill if you think about it, and it can be used to teach incompatible behavior (go get your ball instead of barking at the stranger) and also can be used to help dogs learn emotional control, 3) an increased amount Read More

Play Between People and Dogs

Two more posts about play from presentations at APDT: this one about play between people and dogs, and a post coming on Friday regarding Karen London's presentation on using play to treat aggression-related behavior problems. I spoke in the afternoon about play between people and dogs. It's a rich topic, with many nuances and complexities, and I only I had 45 minutes to address it, so I focused primarily on two issues: the importance of clear signals and the importance of pausing to allow emotional arousal to keep from overwhelmed our dogs. CLEAR SIGNALS: Play bows in dogs are truly unique; there is no other species that I could find that had quite as clear a signal that means "Hey! I want to play, and everything I do next is meant playfully!" (Also see my post on Oct 21st.) In relation Read More

Play Between Domestic Dogs

Pia Silvani's, Director of Behavior and Training at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey, gave a talk at APDT that focused on play between adult dogs, and it was a fantastic presentation. The best part of the talk was her videos of dogs playing--both appropriately and inappropriately. My absolute favorite was a video of two Tervurens meeting, greeting and eventually playing together beautifully. It was a like watching two strangers meet each other, and end up dancing as if they were on Dancing with the Stars. Several things stood out in the video that are, I think, important aspects of healthy dog play. First of all, the dogs were able to meet each other one on one, without other dogs around. So often it seems that dogs get introduced into a 'pack' and are overwhelmed by 3 Read More

Play and the “50/50″ Rule

Camille Ward and  Barbara Smuts gave a fascinating talk at the APDT Play Symposium on "Play and the Development of Social Relationships in Litters of Domestic Dogs." Their research (and that of their colleague, Erika Bauer) has focused on play in the domestic dog. They discussed two issues related to play in both puppies and adult dogs: 50/50 Rule: Years ago a scientist hypothesized that, for play fighting to work, the participants would have to switch roles about 50 % of the time. In other words, related to dogs, half the time one pup  should be on top in the "assertive position," and the other pup should be on top the rest of the time. As Camille explained to us, this speculation, as often happens in science and other fields, slowly turned into "fact" (without the benefit of any actual Read More

Play and Self Handicapping

Apologies for not writing sooner, but I've just come out of one of those "work tunnels" that we all experience from time to time.  What a joy to have come up for air and work Willie on sheep, rub Lassie's creamy soft belly and go on a bike ride with Jim. But, there's so much to tell you about the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Conference last week in Kentucky.  I was only able to attend for two days, because I had to get back to give another speech on Sunday. I know I missed some great talks the last days at APDT, but I want to tell you about some of the great information that was presented at the Symposium on Play on Thursday. An entire day was devoted to the topic of play, and it was a joy to be able to go into a topic in depth. (Truth in Lending: I'm not objective about this at all. Read More