Ah Youth! The Initiation of Play in Dogs

First, watch the video of Katie’s young Leo trying to get an older Mastiff, Herk, to play. (You’ll know who is who, trust me!)

Second, take a minute to wipe the tears from your eyes because you were laughing so hard.

Third, think about all the ways you’ve seen dogs try to initiate play with other dogs, from a standard and obvious play bow, to Leo’s method of smashing a toy into another dog’s head. I find the topic of how dogs convince other dogs to play an interesting one. How do dogs go about initiating play in others that are a tad reluctant? I’m especially interested in Leo’s use of a toy (tool?) to get Herk’s attention.

How common is it for a dog to use an object to elicit play from other dogs? Willie’s favorite method of play is “Let’s be race horses!” but he also loves to play Keep Away. He and an age-matched Aussie used to play Keep Away relentlessly. One dog would pick up a stick and run toward the other dog. It may be anthropomorphic, but I can find no other word to describe the behavior as “flaunting.” Once the other dog was engaged, the game began, best described as “Catch Me If You Can.” Willie was brilliant at seducing others to try to get the toy, and then turn his head at the last instant to prevent the dog from snatching the object out of his mouth. Of course, sometimes the other dog got the toy, and then it was Willie’s job to try to race up to him and get a hold of it. The owners and I watched carefully to be sure that neither dog got too aroused or snippy about the competition. Willie was relatively young when he played this game, mid to late adolescence, and he hasn’t had seen his play buddies in quite a while. I wonder if he would play the same way now that he is older? Perhaps when Willie recovers I can find out.

What about you? I would love to hear your experience with toys as an object of mutual play, but especially the use of a toy to initiate play from another dog. Does your dog use toys to initiate play with another dog? Do you see others do it, and with what success? Of course, most of us are used to our dogs bringing us toys to fling, throw or play tug with, but I suspect it is less common dog to dog. What do you think? (And, if you like debates on the same level of angels on pin heads… if a dog uses a toy to get another to play, is the toy then correctly classified as a tool?)

Alas, Leo’s method wasn’t successful yesterday, but today Herk was in the mood.  Here’s a photo of Katie’s Lily, Leo and Herk after a vigorous play session in the back yard.

Lily, Herk and Leo











back on the farm. I won’t know definitively until next Monday, but it looks to me like Willie is improving. Yeah! He appears to put equal weight on both hind legs when rising from a down, which he wasn’t before. Yeah again! We tweaked his management plan (even more crate time -sigh, rubber runners on all the hardwood floors, lots more training to do everything in slow motion), added some more exercises and began laser treatments in a nearby veterinary clinic. (Thanks to FB friends for helping me find laser therapy close to home!) Of course, his Physical Therapist reminds me every time I see her that just one leap/spurt/lunge forward can set him back to zero, so who knows how he’ll be tomorrow, but right now I’m focusing on HE’S BETTER! (Did I mention YEAH?!)

Besides Willie’s PT and management (for which I am forced to lie down on the floor with him every evening for at least an hour and rub his belly while watching television, poor me!) it feels crazy busy out in the country. Besides tons of gardening and pasture maintenance, Jim and I spent much of last weekend putting summer’s bounty into the freezer. And our mouths. We picked buckets and buckets of strawberries and sour cherries in the yards of generous neighbors and spent hours cleaning and preparing them for the freezer. Strawberries are like jewels to me, so beautiful and so yummy.  They keep me sane during the dark, monochrome winter.

strawberries 2013

Our CSA is providing us with turnips and chard and escarole and three kinds of lettuce and sweet, young onions and broccoli and and and… I can barely keep up. Made some home-made shortcake biscuits and we’ve been eating strawberry shortcake all week. Here’s what is left of a chard pie I made Tuesday night with the chard, spring onions and some lovely Parmesan cheese I bought last week. Yum.

chard pie

Thank heavens there is a lot to do in the garden, because otherwise my food consumption and time spent lying around with Willie would require an entirely new wardrobe. After truly hateful weather–so hot and humid I could barely put one foot in front of the other–we got a break and it’s lovely here again. Lovely that is, except for the mosquitoes, whose numbers are now approximately as high as the number of oxygen molecules in the air. I hope the weather is good, if not tolerable where you are.




  1. says

    A very few of our daycare dogs will go and seek out a rope
    toy or similar to bring back and shake at and taunt a dog they
    hadn’t been successful in engaging. It’s not that common in our
    groups though. Partly I suspect some dogs just abstain because they
    aren’t comfortable with object-competition games, and some just
    aren’t into tug or toy type games to begin with. But the ones who
    DO use toys to try to get another dog to play do it often. A few I
    also suspect do it as a way to inhibit their own mouths and grab a
    toy instead of barking or biting, so the play goes on longer than
    if they had turned off the other dog with one of those more
    obnoxious and intimidating behaviors. Our groups are really stable
    and the dogs know one another very well, and we tend to have 75% of
    the group over the age of 4 years, so maybe we’d see more dog-dog
    toy play in a younger group? It does seem to be the pups and a few
    of the “under 2″ crowd that do it most often.

  2. Laceyh says

    My Misty has never been much for toys; when younger, she
    did love retrieving, but she’s no longer interested. However, I
    definitely have seen her use a toy as a social tool. She’s very
    socially savvy. When one day she watched a little yapper who had
    “cornered” a large adolescent pup, Mr. Yap was vocally scolding the
    pup at great length, and the big guy was starting to get upset.
    Misty grabbed a tug toy and coaxed the big one away, though she
    definitely was otherwise uninterested in tugging.

  3. Lynn U. says

    The cutest play initiation I’ve seen was when we had a four
    month old puppy from my Aussie’s breeder staying with us for some
    extra socialization. The puppy was unsure for a couple of days as
    to what to make of my Aussie, Piper, who was desperate to play with
    the puppy, who was clearly not responding to her suggestions that
    they play Piper’s standard game of “let’s run around at top speed
    and crash into things.” Finally Piper figured out to drag her rope
    toy along the floor, luring the puppy in. It took a little
    experimenting before she realized that the puppy, once hooked,
    would go flying if subjected to the usual vigorous shake of the
    rope. But eventually Piper got the technique down, and could lure
    the puppy by dragging the rope, and then gently wiggle it to get
    the puppy to tug back. It was hysterical, and totally

  4. Kat says

    Finna is a fetch fanatic. Ranger couldn’t care less about
    fetching. While Finna and I play fetch Ranger sprawls out on his
    side and snoozes. Not long after Finna really began to love playing
    fetch–she had no idea how to play when she came to live with
    us–she stopped fetching the ball back to me and instead always
    took it to Ranger and dropped it on him. If it landed somewhere
    annoying to Ranger he would bat it away, otherwise he’d simply
    ignore it and I’d have to go collect the ball to throw again. I’ve
    always wondered if she was trying to get him to participate in the
    game she enjoyed. It’s hard to say really since he never
    participated beyond shoving the ball away. I do think him shoving
    the ball away taught her that balls will roll downhill inspiring
    her to invent the catch game where I stand at the bottom of a
    little slope and she crouches at the top. She rolls the ball to me
    and I toss it back for her to catch. As for the possibility of the
    toy being a tool, I’ve always understood a tool to be an object
    separate from self manipulated to achieve a desired end. Crossing a
    stream on a log isn’t tool use unless you put the log there for the
    purpose of crossing the stream at which point you’ve manipulated
    the log in order to achieve the goal of crossing the water without
    getting wet and the log is a tool. I have no idea how well my
    understanding of the term matches with the proper usage. So, given
    my understanding of the term, Leo was attempting to use the toy as
    a tool. Of course, previous discussions on your blog have already
    established that I’m willing to be more generous in my
    interpretations than lots of others. All paws crossed for Willie.
    I’m sitting here waiting for the vet to call back about Finna.
    Today she is mostly a three legged dog. My children are suggesting
    we just immobilize her right hind in a sling and see if that helps.
    I find the image of the right hind in a sling amusing. A spot of
    humor amid the worry.

  5. Jennifer says

    LOL! The video is hilarious!!! And I am oh-so-jealous of
    your CSA bounty. Our lettuce and herbs are good, but everything
    else is water-logged from the non-stop rain here in Ohio. Best
    wishes for more happy harvesting and joy that Willie is on the

  6. Sue says

    Oh, yes, a toy to bait the interest of the other dog and
    then play keep away. Milo, my first granddog, was a superior
    keep-away artist. He’d get a kong or ball and walk past my other
    granddog’s face nonchalantly and then play artful dodger with great
    success. He was 14 at his end, and he managed to elude Schauntz at
    a fairly sedate but purposeful slow trot.

  7. Alexandra says

    The funniest play solicitation I have ever seen was when my
    friend’s adolescent border collie once flung himself in a play bow
    in front of my middle-aged Lab who was playing it cool and
    proceeded to bark continuously for a good 30 seconds before my dog
    decided this was awesome and they would be race horses together. It
    looked for all the world like the younger dog was shouting “PLAY
    WITH ME! PLAY WITH ME! PLAAAAY WITH MEEEEE!!!!!” over and over at
    my dog. I guess you had to be there, but we laughed so hard we had
    tears running down our faces.

  8. says

    Our dogs do precisely the same thing as in the video when
    one wants to play and the other is sleepy/reluctant: rubs a toy on
    the tried dog’s neck and face and back, leaves it on top of the
    other dog, leaves it in front of the sleepy dog’s mouth and then
    snatches it again et.c. The Keep Away game you describe is popular
    too… and so is Judo. Judo: Dog 1 (Ridgeback X) plays “Keep Away”
    and teases Dog 2 (Heeler X) with a toy. Dog 2 repeatedly attacks
    Dog 1’s legs until she gets a clever pull so Dog 1 falls on her
    back on the floor. Then Dog 2 pulls in either the toy Dog 1 is
    holding on to or her tails or ears or necks and runs around her in
    a circle, spinning Dog 1 around on her back. Dog 1 can’t get up due
    to being “centrifuged” so she just tries to bite Dog 2 wherever she
    can… We were initially stopping it because we didn’t like Dog 1
    falling on her back, but she doesn’t seem to get hurt. Also, she is
    much stronger than Dog 2 & the dominant one of the pair, so
    Judo is Dog 2’s only chance of winning, and I presume Dog 1 can
    stop it if she wants too… And otherwise they play Stalk &
    Chase in the yard a lot.

  9. Barbara says

    Trish….my sister in Thunder Bay swears by Bounce sheets
    for keeping mosquitoes away. She said she tucks one down the front
    of her bra and when needed will swipe it over her arms and legs.
    You don’t even have to use a new sheet….used will do.

  10. Lori says

    Chuck, my lab, will pick up a toy that Teddy, my Cocker
    Spaniel dropped. Chuck then proceeds to go up to Teddy and push the
    toy into his face (Teddy does not play with other dogs). When that
    doesn’t work, still holding the toy, he stands with his head over
    Teddy and then both are still looking opposite directions. Then all
    it takes is for me to move just ever so slightly and Teddy suddenly
    starts chasing Chuck, barking up to his face, but not biting. I’m
    pretty sure Teddy isn’t having fun and wants Chuck to leave him
    alone, but Chuck loves it when Teddy does that and wants more!

  11. Gayle Hunter says

    My Eurasier Kestrel uses toys to initiate play frequently.
    When we had our series of foster puppies while she was under one
    year old, she would introduce all of them to toys by soliciting
    play with something fuzzy and squeaky (generally) in her mouth. At
    that age she wanted to play tug and I have to say she broke down a
    lot of ‘new puppy on the block walls’ with that strategy. Every one
    of them learned to play with toys and play with her, and some even
    copied her, plying her with toys when they wanted playtime. She
    does it less now with her younger sister Sora (it’s more ‘keep
    away’) but she does still bring me a toy to get play, when chewing
    on her sister’s leg doesn’t get the desired result. :)

  12. Kathy says

    I have a 10 year old female BC mix, Delilah, and a 4 year
    old BC, Frank. They never actually play with a toy together. Frank
    is afraid to even touch a toy that is within a foot of Delilah, she
    is definitely the alpha. However, both of them will try to initiate
    a game of chase or just a friendly wrestle by flaunting a toy.
    Frank will intentionally bounce toys toward Delilah to get her
    attention, even drop one on her head and she in turn will take the
    ball on a rope and stick it in Franks face with a friendly growl
    like come on grab it I dare you! Then go off off on a chase.
    Delilah never initiates play with a toy with me, she isn’t that
    interested in toys, unless Frank is.

  13. Emily says

    My almost 2 year old Catahoula mix loves getting other dogs
    to tug with her; she’s also good for a rousing game of Catch
    Me/Keep Away on either end (having the toy or trying to get the
    toy.) She goes to work with me at the shelter and helps socialize
    pups and adolescents, and one of the funniest things is watching
    her try to get a shy dog to latch on to the tug toy. She’ll dangle
    it and practically try to thrust it in the other dog’s mouth, while
    the other dog is (often) muzzle licking. You can almost see the
    cartoon bubbles–Puppy: “Oh, I couldn’t possibly…” Tinker: “Pull
    it! Really, I want you to pull!” It looks to me like it’s a style
    of play that requires three ingredients: both dogs like object
    play, neither dog guards and/but they are a smidge competitive.
    Usually when I see it, it’s definitely play but it does seem to
    have a sports-like competitive quality to it. And it does seem to
    be more engaging if the give-and-take is fairly equal: if one dog
    keeps the toy too long, the other dog often loses interest, and
    then the keeper loses interest. My (highly subjective and
    unsupported) impression is that Tinker will “let” puppies and
    younger dogs win the toy often enough to keep them playing, but
    that she really prefers dogs who give her a genuine run for her
    money and are equally skilled at the Take. I do wonder if it’s
    learned behavior–when Tinker was a pup, she had a lovely older
    dog/mentor that did the same kind of object play with her,
    obviously very fun and reinforcing. Could there be a developmental
    stage where they acquire that kind of play if they’re exposed to
    it? Is it something that arises in litter-mate “culture” and then
    gets reinforced (or not shut down) if the maturing pup has buddies
    that enjoy that play style and no frightening encounters with dogs
    that guard?

  14. Jen says

    The only dog I have really seen use a toy/tool in that
    fashion is my current husky x. She has done it since she was a
    puppy and is now four. She generally will choose a relatively low
    value toy, then proceed to smash the other dog in the face with it
    repeatedly until they either chase her or play ‘bitey-face’ or tug,
    she really isn’t picky which as long as they play. She will do this
    to me as well if my face is near her level. As she doesn’t stop,
    she almost invariably gets some kind of response, which of course
    has sustained the behaviour. The funniest (and most interesting)
    variant that I have seen from her was with her besty, an Aussie x
    named Maia. Maia was completely uninterested in the toy, so Nyx
    dropped it and got another toy. Still no re-action so she went and
    got a third toy. Nothing. Next she tried getting a stick and tried
    hitting Maia in the head with that. Still no reaction. Nyx finally
    went to where she had hidden a bone, grabbed it, brought it out and
    jammed Maia repeatedly in the face with it, finally getting the
    re-action that she hoped for. So neat to see her go progressively
    through a variety of items, in value rank, until she managed to
    coerce the behaviour that she wanted. They are so

  15. says

    We gave our dogs chew sticks. Almost innediately our Yorkie
    began to carry his stick in his mouth holding it so it looked like
    a cigarette. Then he’d walk slowly but seductively in front of our
    minature Schnauzer, who had already consumed her stick. After one
    or two passes Mattie (Schnauzer) couldn’t stand it any more and
    would make a lunge at Patches’ stick. Patches timing was almost
    always perfect. He’d turn his head just before Mattie could grab
    the ches stick. Then he’d run into the bedroom and hide under the
    bed where Mattie couldn’t go. Mattie would scold Patches but he
    wouldn’t come out and Mattie would get tired and go lay down in her
    crate. Then Patches would come out and start the seducing all over
    again. They’d play like this for an hour or more at a time. In my
    mind there’s no question Patches was using a tool to initiate

  16. Ann says

    What a great video! I have a female standard poodle that I
    co-own with a breeder. We also kept the pick of my dog’s first
    litter; that puppy turned four months old yesterday. The two of
    them initiate play with each other all the time and frequently use
    a toy as an allurement. Soft rope toys are good, but so are
    unstuffed animals. One will drag the prize in front of the other,
    apparently encouraging a game of tug. They each chase balls thrown
    for the other dog but I haven’t seen either of them bring a ball to
    the other when they want to play. Mostly, though, they engage in
    exuberant wrestling matches. Penny, the mother, is proving to be a
    great model/rival for training Juno, the puppy, and lately seems to
    be setting up games about which one can do the fastest sits and
    downs. Juno is proving to be a fantastic if unfair distraction for
    Penny’s longer down-stays. That is, I think it’s one thing to be
    bouncing around nearby and quite another to go and climb on Penny
    when she’s working on her stay!

  17. Frances says

    Interesting – I tried to get my two interested in playing
    tug or Keep Away together with a toy when they were young, but
    Poppy just didn’t get it. Either the toy was valuable, in which
    case she wanted it all to herself, or it wasn’t, in which case why
    bother?! Sophy does play with toys, and will ask me to play with
    her, but I am always the one to fetch the toy in the first place.
    Thinking about it, they don’t play together very much these days –
    they seem to be very happy to go for walks, watch me garden and
    laze about the house, but I discouraged any rough housing while
    Sophy was on crate rest, and the prohibition seems to have stuck
    … Must invent some new silly games for us to play in the very
    unexpected sunshine we are having in the UK! I hope Willy’s
    recovery continues, and any backward steps are tiny ones that are
    easily overcome. If he is anything like Sophy, the hours of belly
    rubbing may have to continue long after he is fit again – she sees
    no reason why special Kongs and hours of Ottosson games and Hunt
    the Treat should come to an end just because she is once more able
    to walk for miles with the other dogs…

  18. Kate says

    A friend’s year old springer is a master of using a toy to
    get my 4 year old border collie to chase her. We usually get
    together to train agility so there is always a favorite tug toy and
    she will grab it, make sure my guy sees she has it, then she takes
    off, with my border collie in persuit. If she can’t find one of his
    toys she flaunts sticks or pretty much anything else to try to get
    him interested. The game they play really is best described as
    “tag” except the springer is always “it”. I have had a couple of
    foster dogs that “steal” a favorite toy to try and get a resident
    dog to engage in play, usually using the keep away method. My older
    border collie would grab one of the younger ones toy, we never
    figured out what game he was trying to get going as the younger one
    would never have taken a toy from him, but it was obvious he was
    trying to instigate something good or bad we never figured

  19. Elisabeth says

    While my aussie is happily playing his own games with his
    frisbee, flipping it around on the ground and carrying it around,
    my BC mix will run up to him and initiate play by grabbing his
    frisbee leaving him no choice but to tug with her (his frisbee is
    very important to him.) When my BC mix (who likes to play rough)
    decides to initiate play by “attacking” him and he doesn’t have his
    frisbee, he will tumble with her for only a moment before he runs
    to grab the frisbee in what I assume is his attempt to give her a
    target for her mouth other than his neck. Every great once in a
    while the aussie will initiate the play by prancing in front of the
    BC mix with his frisbee.

  20. Katy says

    In her younger days, Claire would use a toy to play keep
    away with another dog. Generally she would pick a toy the other dog
    was interested in and use it to get the dog to chase her, since
    being chased was one of her favorite games. Now that she’s older,
    she uses toys as a means to get my younger dog, Yuki, to do
    something – for example, she’ll bring a tennis ball into the room
    to get him off the favorite chair so she can have the chair. Yuki
    frequently likes to have a ball in his mouth when playing with
    another dog but has no intention of using the ball in the play. We
    call it his binky.

  21. Kathy says

    First of all: YEAH! to Will’s apparent improvement! You ALL
    deserve a break from the injury and rehab cycle, something your
    whole family has been through repeatedly and nearly constantly for
    the last few years. Second: what is up with the mosquitoes? I’m
    going to try the Bounce sheets idea (thanks, Barbara)–by cutting
    holes for my eyes and taping them to the edges of a hoodie! Simple
    wiping is not going to work. Seriously, they haven’t been this bad
    for years. I feel like a caribou calf in Alaska as they try to
    crawl into any exposed orifice and bite my eyeballs. Third: Usually
    dog-to-dog play initiation around here consists of simple bitey
    face or playbow invitations to chase each other, but often Mico
    will pick up a de-stuffed soft toy (really just a scrap of fabric
    at this point) and growl ferociously while shoving it into Argus’s
    face until Argus grabs it and they play tug. Mico is definitely
    using the toy as a tool–if you define a tool as an object used to
    perform a task that could not be achieved without it.

  22. Shannon says

    My two English Shepherds will use toys to provoke play in
    each other, but only with each other. Neither will do it with any
    other dog. Sometimes it’s toy theft – “Ha ha – I stole your
    frisbee! Come and get me!” and sometimes it’s toy poking – ‘Hey!
    You! Come play with me!” Almost always, the toy is abandoned as
    soon as play starts. The dogs much prefer chasing and wrestling to
    playing tug with each other.

  23. Anne says

    Yes! My younger collie (stalled, it seems, in adolescent thugdom) uses a toy to tease my older collie, a staid 7-year-old, into a game of tug. At first, Kite will pick up a frisbee or ball and do several drive-by’s, waving the toy in front of Jib’s face. Jib will look the other way with a glint in his eye and a grin on his face. When Jib hasn’t risen to the bait, Kite will run up and dash away, getting closer and closer until he finally in desperation shoves the toy right next to Jib’s mouth. Jib will turn away from the toy and Kite will take turns shoving it first on one side of his muzzle, then the other. If Jib is lying down, then Kite will shove the toy into Jib’s neck and ears, play bowing. Kite will then give up, drop the toy and wander off. Suddenly Jib will come alive, grab the toy and run off with it. The game of Keep Away has finally begun!
    It’s been hilarious to watch this game evolve over time. The rules have changed slightly to morph this game into a fairly predictable, ritualized performance of both dog’s parts.

  24. julia hill says

    My Shelby is a rescue. I don’t know her past, but I can tell you that it probably wasn’t good. For the first two years I had her, she never picked up a toy. We would go to the dog park and she would watch other dogs playing with balls and frisbees, but she never showed any interest. She seemed not to understand the whole concept of toys and playing with them. She would instead intiate play by nipping at the other dogs heels (she is part Corgi, so I guess that make sense) or by mounting them. She would wait until a bigger dog laid down and then mount them. Generally, she would just irritate them however she could until they would chase her – she LOVES playing chase!

    After I adopted my second dog Loki two years ago, I would find balls and toys and things scattered throughout my house when I came home from work. I naturally assumed Loki was the one playing with them.

    Then one day at the dog park, after a particularily obstinate border collie refused to chase Shelby…SHE STOLE HIS BALL! But she still didn’t really get it – as soon as the other dog started chasing her, she dropped the ball and the dog stopped chasing her. She did this over and over again until the BC got snippy and we all went home for the day.

    Several years later and I now know that Shelby more likely than not is the one who pulls the toys out of the toy box while I am at work. She will drop them on Loki, or shove them in his face, to get him to play when she is bored. She never plays with a toy by herself (or with me) and she doesn’t chew on them like most dogs do – she uses them exclusively to get another dog’s attention. She has mastered the ball-steal & chase, but she is very particular – if the ball or toy is too dirty or gross, she will drop it. Sometimes she will pick it up again and sometimes not. You can almost see her weighing her disgust with the opportunity to get chased.

  25. Lori D. says

    This is a bit off topic but involves using a toy as a “tool” and amazed me BOTH times I witnessed it: 1st dog is chewing on a favorite bone. 2nd dog expresses interest in the bone but 1st dog isn’t done with it yet. 2nd dog goes to toy box and rummages around, comes out with one of only a couple toys 1st dog enjoys, stands near 1st dog teasingly dangling it in her face. 1st dog takes the bait and grabs the toy at which point 2nd dog drops lets go of her end of the toy and snatches up the bone she wanted all along! Psych!

  26. Rose C says

    My 2.5-yr old, 26 lbs Dani is my spunky, impulsive dog, often mostly interested only in bullying Ludy.
    Ludy is my 3-yr old, 18 lbs dog who is more subdued, lacks confidence, but always happy around dogs and loves play.

    Ludy is the one who initiates play between the two of them more often. Dani would be laying quietly when Ludy would pick up a squeaky toy and flag it on Dani’s face (in a very slow ‘head shake’ fashion) and make it squeak. Dani holds still for as long as 10-12 minutes (the type of stillness dog’s do before an attack), not growling, not showing teeth, head not moving, with eyes either following Ludy or straight ahead. Then Dani ‘attacks’ as Ludy runs away and gets chased and the ‘play’ always end with Ludy on her back and Dani pinning her down. Not ideal, I know. I’ve always wished they play better but they don’t. And I don’t think it is really ‘play’ on Dani’s end. But I know it is play initiation by Ludy.

    When Dani is looking out in the balcony and I want Ludy to join her, I say “Go get Dani. Go, Ludy go! Go, Ludy, go!” Ludy will always go back and get a toy first before going to Dani, doing the slow head shake move, and just keep shoving her head onto Dani’s chest or side.

    From time to time, Dani initiates play with Ludy with an excited play bow, or sometimes she also picks up a toy and teases Ludy to chase her.

    I’m not sure if there is additional use of the word ‘tool’ when used in the context of dog behavior studies but Merriam-Webster defines it as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task” so I’d say yes, a toy is classified as a tool when used by a dog to initiate another dog to play.

  27. says

    First of all Tricia, yay, Willi’s getting better! Give him squeezens from me and tail wags from Seamus.
    Anyway, none of my dogs have ever used toys to get other dogs to play with them.
    all of them have been bity-face or drive-by dogs. I watched Seamus try to entice an 8 week old puppy to play this past weekend. I could tell he knew she was very small and nervous because he ran by her and just snorted a little, not play-bowing or running into her. I think, once the pup is older they’ll have a wonderful time. Once he realized she had no interest in playing, he wandered off to sniff and chew on some grass.
    the dogs do enjoy keep away, but it’s always happened during the play session, not at the out-set. The game I think is the most funny is when two of the dogs have a big stick and they trot around the yard, just like a team of horses. I know they’re attempting to tug, but some how, it devolves into this game.
    Torpedo was my favorite dog to watch when instigating play from me. He’d grab a toy, poke it into my hand and grunt/growl/ bark to get me to play. It always made me laugh.

  28. Margaret McLaughlin says

    Most of the incitements to play I’ve seen over the years have been between my guide dog puppy in residence & whoever is/was the youngest of my own dogs. It’s depended a lot on the age spread how hard the puppy had to work to get the older dog to play–Nina & Rory are only 15 months apart in age & they are both always up for anything. With an older dog the puppy has had to work a lot harder, & I’ve seen similar things to the video. Mine being retrievers, tuggy is even more popular than chase-me. Since the school limits the toys I can have available I have even seen them play tuggy with nylabones. I’ve also seen the running in the yard both holding a stick–the same stick.
    Re tool use: Nina has the annoying habit of grabbing the other dogs by their collars & hauling them around. She NEVER grabs a dog’s neck if he/she is not wearing a collar. Is she using the collar as a tool?

  29. Jo B says

    I’ve got a 2 min video of my dogs playing a very Zen-like game of tug. At about 30 sec. the game almost stops, but Moose gives just the right tugs to keep Belle-de-vie engaged. Then when he drops his end a couple of times, she holds it where he can reach it, but feigns taking it out of reach. It’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game and keeping it going. My YouTube channel is JoYouDog and the video is “Belle-de-vie & Moose Play Zen-Like Tug.”

  30. Cris V. says

    I know you asked about toys initiating play, but I have a story about using a toy to look like play initiation and using the opportunity to steal a dog beg the other dog is lying on. We have two greyhounds, Eja and Luath. Eja was laying on the preferred dog bed. Luath started playing with a toy, he looked like he was having so much fun playing with the ever so wonderful toy. Eja got up to have fun too. As soon as he did, Luath stopped playing with the toy and took the opportunity to lay down on the preferred bed. Eja has turned the tables, though. They both like to do the greyhound “roo”. Eja will start rooing and get Luath involved. Luath’s involvement includes jumping up and racing over to start rooing. At which time then Eja will stop rooing and steal the bed Luath was just lying on. It’s wonderful watching canine behavior.

  31. JJ says

    Trisha: I’m curious if you think there is any jealousy going on between your two dogs because you have to give more or less attention to Willie than you normally would. Or do you take that into account as you go about your day so as to avoid feelings of jealousy to begin with? Or is it not really an issue?

    What prompted my curiosity is the comment about petting Willie on the floor for an hour. Sounds wonderful. But did you give another hour to the other one? (Sorry, her name is escaping me right now.) Or had two hands on two bellies at once?

    If I were in a similar position, I think this is something I would worry about or feel guilty about. But I’m just curious. No need to reply if you are too busy. :-)

  32. JJ says

    My dog did not do any object play when I first got him at three years old.

    At one point (after months of me trying everything I could think of to get Duke to play with me), something clicked and Duke became tug obsessed. He LOVED it. When we went to the dog park, Duke would take the rope from my hand, run over to the nearest dog (or human, but he definitely approached dogs too), and kept trying to shove the rope at them.

    Since my Great Dane towers over other dogs, the rope would sort of slap the other dog on the side of the head while my dog bobbed his head up and down above the other dog’s head. I felt bad if my dog was drooling too…

    Sometimes this would get the other dog to play. But using vague memory, I would guess that this strategy worked less than a third of the time. I would guess that there are many reasons Duke’s play ploy did not work, but I firmly believe that one of the reasons that came into “play” quite often was that the other dog was simply intimidated by my dog’s size – not necessarily because the other dog was not interested in tug.

    It is interesting to me that Duke still plays tug now and again – and still with other dogs – but he’s not as into it as he was when he was younger.

  33. Rose C says


    I got curious re Emily’s question and what you know or think about it.

    Could there be a developmental stage where they acquire that kind of play if they’re exposed to it? Is it something that arises in litter-mate “culture” and then gets reinforced (or not shut down) if the maturing pup has buddies that enjoy that play style and no frightening encounters with dogs that guard?

  34. Rose C says

    Okay, I think I’m taking back what I said that a toy is considered a ‘tool’ when used by a dog to initiate or solicit play from another dog. (And yes, I’m changing my answer too as to whether the chicken or the egg came first . . . ).

    Having thought about its definition, a tool is a device that aids in accomplishing a task, sounds rather straightforward, and quite objective. I think maybe ‘lure’ is a better word to use, that a dog uses the toy as a ‘lure’ to get a response from the other dog. It sounds more subjective, like it requires more art and creativity to get the intended result.

  35. LisaW says

    Our two dogs used to play together all the time. Keep away, tug, wrestling, and a rousing and fast game of chase and wrestle outside. One is 30lbs and one is 50lbs, so there were a few tumbles. I would throw the ball for one and the other would have a ball in her mouth and do loops around the one chasing the ball. For the most part, they played fast and hard.

    Then Olive’s injury prevented her from playing — either with me or with our other dog. I couldn’t figure out how to gentrify their playing. Over the year + of rehab, I noticed Olive becoming more snarky to Phoebe and guarding more resources. Some of this we’ve managed to reduce, and a few months ago, they started to play with each other inside (no outside play), and I brought out a few toys. I did notice Olive being more aroused when playing tug with Phoebe and there were a few snarks.

    Then Olive had a relapse, so back into the closet went the toys and no play again. She’s better now, and we play with her a few times a day, but the play with Phoebe hasn’t returned, and they don’t seem to be as comfortable with each other as they used to. I’m wondering how to reintroduce toys and play so that it becomes a positive experience again and not escalate to guarding. I wonder if since there is no give and take and working things out between them through play or chase or wrestle, does everything become a valued resource because there are fewer resources than there used to be? I don’t want toys or play to become something to argue over, and I’m not sure how to bring out the toy box without starting something.

    I’m trying to use toys as a tool to see if they can become more comfortable with each other again. I just don’t want to use a maul if a hammer will do.

  36. says

    My two regularly use toys to get the other dog to play. Our first dog, a collie/lab/spaniel mix is just two. Ever since she was a puppy she would bring up toys to us to get us to play with her.
    When we got Bodie, a similar mix who might be around one, he is a rescue so we aren’t totally sure, he wasn’t interested in toys at all. He is now very interested and will bring toys up to her to try and get her to play. When she is in the mood she will regularly “flaunt” a toy in his face to get him to chase her. Often even dropping a ball just out of his reach before they both take off.

  37. Trisha says

    Regarding object play and developmental periods: I’ve never seen any research on it, but I can tell you that I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of dogs from neglected/sterile backgrounds who had no interest in object play. None at all. It seems as though dogs have no concept of object play if they spend 1 to 1.5 years on a tie out or small crate and have no opportunity to play with any kind of object as they mature. Some eventually can become interested in them, but in my experience you have to teach them (stuff with food first to get attention, etc.) I did clicker training on one dog who grew up in a crate to teach it to put a toy it her mouth. In 30 minutes we had her picking it up and carrying a step or two. So it can be done, but I do wonder if there is a developmental window that closes (without training) related to object play. Object play is, after all, extremely rare in most adult mammals.

  38. Laura says

    Our dog Lucy isn’t much for toys but she does have one she loves which looks like an octopus with four legs so we called it Quadrapus. Anyhow, she has a best friend called Taz and they play like maniacs together. Taz is a wee bit older so sometimes he wants to sit around for a bit. When he does this Lucy will try and get him up and playing again by the usual means, but if he doesn’t respond, she gets the Quadrapus and wiggles it on his head. He can’t resist and away they run, each trying to grab the toy.

  39. Kat says

    Trisha, I can attest to your observations. Finna came from an animal hording situation and had no concept of object play. I’d roll a ball past her and the chase instinct would kick in and she’d follow the ball then stand over it confused when it stopped. Fortunately she’s a very oral dog who likes to put things in her mouth–thankfully she has really good bite inhibition since mouthing my hand and Ranger’s paws were frequently employed when she was really stressed. When she tried mouthing the ball she got lots of positive reinforcement and from there it was fairly easy to teach a retrieve. If she hadn’t already been inclined to put things in her mouth it would have been much much harder to teach her to play ball.

    And JJ, your story about Duke and the size disparity reminded me of the one and only time Finna tried to engage the cat The Great Catsby in object play. She loves to play tug in the house and to solicit a game she will bring the rope and shake it enticingly. 50lb Finna grabbed her 1.5″ diameter rope with knots at each end and tried to shake it enticingly for 12lb Catsby. All she really managed was to smack the cat lightly in the face with the knot two or three times at which point he hissed at her and vanished upstairs. Finna and Catsby play together a lot. Some of my favorites to watch are games I call hug and kiss where Catsby hides behind a box and Finna looks over at him whereupon Catsby puts his paws around her neck and she lick the top of his head causing him to let go and disappear again. They also play a game I call Where’s Catsby where he goes in and out of the futon frame appearing in different places and waiting for her to notice him. I’m less enamored of the game where she tries to bite his paws before he can scratch her tongue that game gets redirected. I’m sure with their history of playing together Finna thought playing tug with the cat would be fun. She looked very surprised to receive such a negative reaction. She’s never tried to solicit object play from him again. I’m pretty sure she’s learning that humans will play with toys with her but animals won’t. It would be interesting to see how she’d react if another dog solicited object play with her. Of course as reactive as she is at the best of times she’s unlikely to ever have that experience.

  40. KathK says

    Leonardo the 8 month old Borzoi frequently uses the ‘toy on the head’ method to try to engage 5 year old Keilana (Irish Wolfhound). He will also try a range of toys to see if she is in the mood for something particular (everyone has favourites)! Not uncommon to find her head and shoulders surrounded (and draped) with 4 or 5 toys. Then there is the toy we call “The Howler”. Leonardo gets this one out when he wants to have a sing-along as the pitch of the squeak will always start Keilana howling. Once she is singing, he abandons the toy to join in and we get the chorus for a few minutes. Leonardo never just plays with The Howler this is for singing only!

  41. Clare says

    Interesting! I have never paid attention to the toy-play-initiation thing properly before. We have a pair where the older dog, who is almost always very reluctant to play, is also very, very resource protective. If the younger dog feels like playing she will grab a bone and stand in front of him wagging her tail (and her whole back half) and growling very loudly (what we understand to be mostly, but not always exclusively, play-growls). I always figured it happened because the dog she wants to play is resource-protective. She knows that showing him that she has food will likely provoke him into chasing her (and not in a playful way!). I had thought of the bones still as FOOD, not TOY.

  42. Angela says

    My dog’s breeder posted this video of a recent litter of BC puppies playing with an older (10 yo) male.
    My favorite part (other than the wiggly puppy tails) is when the adult fetches his toy, then brings it back and tosses it to the puppies, as if to say “now you do it, puppies!”
    This looks like another example of using a toy to entice play.
    Also – this video of cute puppies is good for your soul.

    Sorry to hear about Willy – I hope things continue to improve with him.

  43. Jane says

    I would have said my dogs only use objects (usually stuffed toys) as objects of taunting, in keep-away games, until five minutes ago. However, my 10 yr old cattle dog just picked up a very small stuffed squirrel, went over to her 8 yr old son who was lying on the carpet, and pushed the toy into his back. They began a several minute wrestling match, where the toy was used almost exclusively in a way I would call a metasignal, specifically: “I want to play, son, and I know our play almost always stops prematurely because I bite too often and too hard and scare you. But look! I have handicapped myself with this soft toy jammed into my mouth! Everything which follows now will definitely be play because you will not be bitten!”

    The play indeed lasted much longer than usual, with her son remaining relaxed throughout. Mom kept the squirrel in her mouth the whole time, and rather than taunting him with it, just pushed it into him repeatedly and ran it up and down his body like a dishrag. She was using her head in every way she usually would when wrestling, just no teeth. And he only made a couple of weak swipes at the squirrel itself–it clearly was not the object of play, but rather, I think, a tool (that word!) that made play possible.

  44. Jane says

    Oh–and I should say I really don’t think this is the first time these two have ever done this. I think that you, Trish, just made me see their object play in a different way.

  45. Rose C says

    Thanks for sharing that video, Angela. Gave me my dose of oxytocin and really made my Sunday morning. Found myself bobbing my head left and right to the music too. LOVE IT!

    I think this is one of those dogs who are really good playing with (and teaching?) puppies. I mean he is not just playing but was really into playing with them. I think he is a good dog too as I see him always look at the person with the camera, maybe it’s just the camera but maybe he was waiting for directions for the next move too.

    When I see interactions like these (dog-dog, human-dog), it makes me want to go inside their little head and find out for myself what are they really thinking.

  46. liz says

    Of the “angels on pin heads” variety:

    I somehow feel absolutely cruel and heartless in saying that I didn’t see the BC adult in Angela’s video trying to actively engage the pups. I love, love, love the video, but my take was basically that the adult was trying to reciprocate play with human and that the puppies were along for the ride.

    I think it could be a easily misunderstood scenario…since the puppies were everywhere, it would’ve been impossible for the toy to land in a direction away from them. The direction of the adult’s gaze also could be on the pups, but I suspect it’s on the toy instead, where again, the puppies are in a type of swarm-mode where ever the action is.

    So with the lack of play signals sent directly to the pups by the adult, and the general lack of intensity/attention from the adult to the pups as compared to the toy itself and the human, I interpret the toy-tossing as being intended for the human. My guess is that as the human handler pauses, the adult BC anticipates another throw. When a throw doesn’t immediately follow, the adult BC either repeatedly picks up and flings the toy to prompt a human toss, or says the dog equivalent of “Hey, would you look at all these puppies. Although I’d rather just fetch my toy, I can help keep them occupied… run… anxious back-and-forth movement… no big deal, although I’d rather just fetch again…” (Anthropomorphizing poorly to save time.)
    I do think the adult is great with the pups in terms of patience, tolerance and subtle communication of doggie “goals” and “mission.” But overall it struck me as a ritualized game between the adult BC and human where adorable, eager, and delightful puppies happened to be present.

    Eeeps, too much time spent analyzing so I must shortchange the importance of the wonderful solicitation from Leo, the great news about Willie’s healing, and the joy that it was to read all the descriptions and watch the videos… but thanks to all!

  47. Rose C says

    Wow, liz, your observation sent me back watching the video and you could be right. I saw exactly what you were saying. It did look like it was between the human and the adult dog after all, and the puppies were all just in for the run. I did notice the dog looking at the human often but didn’t occur to me that the play was between the two of them. I guess because our topic here is play initiation with other dogs and my mind immediately told me to watch the play between the dogs. (I guess this is why we have to make note of what we actually observe, not what we think we will see happening). Wow, liz, you are good. I was wondering what the human was motioning for when I saw his hand wave on the side a few times, now I see that he was probably coaching the dog to pick up the toy. And everytime the dog throws the toy, he looks at the human. If anything, he tries to swerve away from the pups as they get in the way (0:28, 1:18, 1:44, 2:04).

    Still love the vid, Angela. I guess ‘dog and puppy oxytocin’ got the better of me, as they always do anyways.

  48. triangle says

    I have cats who do a very strange version of initiating ‘play’, except I’ve never understood the point of the ‘game.’ They have a cardboard scratching pad that is much loved and used. The female will very deliberately wait until the male is nearby, then run to the scratch pad and go to town. The noise of her claws attracts the male…she waits for him to get very close, then slowly saunters off, sits to the side, and watches him use it. ?? No idea what that’s about, but it’s very obvious she’s doing it on purpose.

    Otherwise the pair don’t interact much…the male is a (somewhat) reformed feral with zero bite inhibition, so every time they do bump into each other he goes straight for the throat, she bolts, and he wanders in a circle for ten minutes crying pathetically because his playmate left. She also knows full well he’s blind, and will sit juuuust out of reach watching him search with a feline smirk.

    I really wish we got to see if young Leo succeeded in his attempts!! It’s fascinating how clearly dogs (and cats) can communicate…but it’s equally fascinating how the signals vary from animal to animal, and how differently they can be received.

  49. JJ says

    Kat: Thanks for sharing the story about your dog and cat. I got a real kick out of it.

  50. Kathryn says

    I have a socially challenged German Shepherd who frequently comes on way to strong when inviting play, and who can be reactive. When visiting a family with two goldens, she quickly worked out a friendly, but not very playful, relationship with the very senior male (who basically ignored her), and then focused on trying to get Carter, the younger female, to play with her–attempts that were mostly met with growls and were therefore curtailed by the humans who were monitoring the introduction. Not to be deterred, the next morning, down at the dock, my dog observed how Carter like to jump off the dock after tennis balls. My dog grabbed a free tennis ball when Carter was climbing the stairs back up to the dock. As soon as she saw that Carter was watching, she ran to the end of the dock and dropped the ball into the water for Carter to fetch. To prevent conflicts, we made sure there was a good supply of free tennis balls, but otherwise they played together this way for close to a half an hour without conflict and with needing anyone to calm things down. It was amazing to see my dog figure out how to play together with Carter, without the physicality that Carter didn’t like, by using a toy.

  51. liz says

    I think that part of the reason dogs are so much fun because they always keep us guessing. Re: the video of the BC, it’d be great to have a comparison without puppies present to get a better idea of how he typically plays. If I mentally photoshop out the puppies, he plays just like my Nala (who has taught me that if she flings a ball within ten feet of me, then I’m supposed to go pick it up and toss it for her… lest she resort to self-entertaining and ‘fetching’ by herself till she flings it closer to me). But anyway, thanks Rose, for taking another look and for the kind words.

    One of the points of tool use and dog play that I keep revisiting is if a toy isn’t considered a tool when it’s used to successfully initiate play, then what would we consider it? A social offering or gift? An existing part of the environment, like an object a dog may hide behind then pounce when playing chase/wrestle?

    Does the classification of what the toy is depend on the outcome of the interaction?
    If Herk (bless him) had just grabbed the toy from Leo without playing of any sort, was that a gift from Leo? Would the toy then become a tool for Herk, who in successfully taking possession, stopped further play if Leo walked away?
    Apologies if there are too many questions. and note to self: back away from the pin head;)

  52. LisaH says

    I would say that my 3 year old female will use a toy to entice the 6 year old male to chase her. He has a toy in his mouth the majority of his waking hours and she will take it from him then run, gleefully is the only possible description, with her tail and head high, looking back at him. If he follows, rather worriedly, she keeps going. If he stops pursuit and comes to stare at me for help instead, she lies down w/ the toy, with all the air burst from her bubble. She loses interest in the toy, he sneaks it back, and they are on again.

  53. Frances says

    I’ve been thinking about toys as tools – do we consider children to be using “tools” when they play with a toy? Or if they bring you a pretend cup of tea to involve you in the game?

  54. Nic1 says

    @Frances – that’s a fascinating question. Children’s toys can consist of all manner of pretend adult ‘tools’. Toy cars; Toy vacuum cleaners; toy shops; toy stoves etc. But, although children pretend and play with these things, I guess they are actually rehearsing adult roles and therefore role playing using these objects? as tools?

    Other games, such as ball games, board games etc. are more sport related and have a set of rules for children to learn and relies on them learning about self control etc.

    With dogs, it seems much more complicated somehow? Balls and tugs are alternate prey objects I guess. Tug is a way of dogs co-operating together perhaps? It would definitely seem that there are examples of toys also being used as play initiators or tools- Leo’s weapon of choice to bash Herk to get his attention whilst he was asleep; Kathryn’s fascinating example of her GSD using a tennis ball as a lure to initiate play with Carter. It would seem that he knew Carter loved balls and used this to his advantage?

  55. says

    My English Springer Spaniels, 4-year-old Pixie and her older half-brother, 8-year-old Ford, play with toys together all the time. Ford started instigating play with Pixie by dangling toys at her the day we brought her home at 10 weeks old. Ford also tries to instigate play with the humans in the household by dropping toys on us, like when I’m lying on my back on the floor doing my physical therapy exercises. Pixie, on the other hand, ONLY plays with toys with Ford. She still won’t play tug or fetch with me, or with any other human. She does play with toys by herself, but seems to think it’s too “uppity” to take a toy that a human is holding on to.

  56. Frances says

    Or are dogs playing “let’s pretend” too? Let’s pretend this toy is a real live rabbit and chase it, let’s pretend it is a rat and shake it, let’s pretend it is a wildebeest and tug it to bits! Or even let’s pretend this toy is a puppy, and take care of it. I can remember as a small child imbuing my toys with personalities, feelings and emotions that still resonate for me now – I found it very difficult to box them up and put them away when clearing the house, and had to sit them comfortably to do so! I think the idea of dogs having some of that imagination may be even more fascinating than the idea of them using tools.

  57. Nic1 says

    @Frances – it seems sensible to hypothesise that because they play fight with other dogs, so why would they not extend that to other predatory behaviour too around toys? I too remember being very emotionally attached to a couple of teddy bears I had. My partner STILL has his threadbare ‘Little Ted’ next to the bed! (Don’t tell him I told you all)! I’ve heard my colleague mention that when her intact dog was feeling ‘broody’ (as she called it) she would take all her plush toys into her bed and curl up with them too. Is it just redirection? Or is it play/imagination?

    I’ve noticed that my terrier mix dog has changed her play style in the last six months towards her plush toys. Previously, she would simply kill them all and disect them. Now she mostly carries them around, may nibble the fur a little but mostly curls up with them. What is that about?!

    Can anyone enlighten us?

  58. Rose C says

    Frances, I’m not sure if dogs have it in them to play ‘let’s pretend’. In my opinion, their actions when playing with a toy is more an expression of their natural motor patterns (plus or minus reinforcements received from the environment). As Nic1 said, toys are possibly alternate prey objects: they eye it, chase, retrieve, bite, shake, or shred it. A terrier chasing a squirrel is displaying the chase sequence the same way as when a herding dog chases moving cars. I’m don’t think they go through the same process of thinking and planning and having different intentions as humans do. (And isn’t this why we just love them? :) )

  59. Kat says

    @Frances, what a fascinating idea. I seem to remember reading somewhere that play is practicing adult behaviors. When a child cuddles a doll and rocks it that is a parenting behavior the child might use as an adult. Running and chasing, playing tag are rehearsing what in the Western world are largely unused predatory behaviors.

    We all agree that toy chasing and destruction are predatory behaviors that the dog is practicing/rehearsing/playing with an inanimate object so is it really that big a stretch to think that they might practice other behaviors with their toys? Mothering behavior for example?

    I’ve always wondered why every one of Finna’s soft toys has been killed in a matter of seconds, disemboweled and shredded, except for one. Her hedgehog is immune from her destructive tendencies and is frequently found tucked carefully into the back of her crate. She usually has ropes, balls and chews scattered around in her crate but hedgehog is always in a corner or along a wall never just in the crate somewhere. Is she practicing/playing at mothering with the hedgehog? I don’t know but it’s very interesting to consider.

    The observed behavior is that she treats that toy differently than other soft toys and differently than other toys in general. The reason for the observed behavior is, of course, speculation but the hypothesis that she values this toy more, possibly as a surrogate puppy does fit the observed behavior.

  60. Bianca Arlette Schmid says

    My dog Amaya mainly uses her playbow to initiate play while her BFF Cooper usually steals a ball and then runs off, drops it and barks and waits for other dogs to join him. It is hilarious to watch him getting increasingly impatient and picking up the ball, carrying it back and forth a few meters and always repeating the same idea but the other dogs so often ignore him because “why would I run to you if there is another dog right here who I can have a wrestle with”. I find it amusing but also interesting that Cooper will not abandon his tactic despite it not bringing any success – more often than not. It takes him a long while before abandoning his lure and rejoin the rest of the pack du jour.

  61. Frances says

    Good point, Rose – although my dogs are very clear about the difference between real (edible) prey and toys – which quite possibly explains their limited interest in toys! A live mouse amongst the plant pots will keep them riveted for hours; a toy mouse, with all the added value of human attention and interaction, may be good for five or ten minutes play. They know perfectly well that one is “real” and one is “not real”, and yet are prepared to indulge in “pretending”…

  62. Shana R says

    My 18 month Tibetan Mastiff bitch uses a combination of toys shoved in the other dogs faces and a sneaky flying ninja move which usually involves some kind of punch to the face followed by latching onto their throats. Ultimately it seems to work by annoying the other dogs into playing wrestle or chase games. If outside she will use sticks to taunt the dogs into playing chase. If all else fails, some form of stomping and yipping is her last resort. My 6 year old deaf Great Dane bitch rarely initiates play with my other dogs, but when she’s feeling spunky she gets a bone and starts tossing it around on her own until one of the others decides to play with the toy and her. My 3 year old Tibetan Mastiff dog rarely has to initiate play now since the hyper puppy is usually throwing herself at him for playtime, but when he does want to play he almost always starts with a play bow. If its a small dog or a little puppy, he makes himself small to play with them. Both Tibetans are intact and the Dane is spayed.

  63. Chanti says

    Hi Patrica,

    I follow your blog for a long time now but never responded before. I’m from the Netherlands and I find it difficult to write in English. But I really like your books and your blog.

    I have two border collies and when the youngest wants to play with the oldest she uses a toy too. She just throws it in the air. When my other border collie gets it, she tries to take it back again (or sometimes she just bites him in his legs). She knows that my other border collie can’t resist a moving toy so she always succeeds in getting him to play. I will try to make a video of it sometime. With my new little rescue dog she tried the same strategy, she even threw a toy on his head. But he doesn’t care about playing with a toy with another dog, so now she just starts to run and then they play chasing and wrestling games.

    I’m so sorry to hear about the problems with Willie but luckily you see improvement now. I have a border collie too that had a couple of injuries and I have to be very careful with him. I know how difficult it is to keep a border collie calm. Good luck with Willie!

  64. JJ says

    Chanti: Your written English is perfect!

    I love hearing about dog experiences from around the world. Thanks for sharing.

  65. Robin Jackson says

    I’m so glad to hear Willie is improving!

    When Dilly (border collie/Great Dane cross) was very young, up to about 5 months, Tulip (border collie who is 5 years older than Dilly) would play with him using a long plush snake. They would each hold one end of it and run up and down the yard together. They didn’t play tug with it, just both grabbed an end and ran.

    Dilly would sometimes initiate this by dragging the long snake up to Tulip and enticing her to grab the other end.

    Once he got to be about the same size as her, though, she stopped playing. They both continued to play independently with squeaky plush toys.


    At about 6 months, he invented a new routine all by himself. She has a typical border collie bossiness, and more than once he would get in trouble because he would be playing near her, she would grumble, and he would get blamed.

    So he started very intentionally going and getting a small plush toy and holding it in his mouth if, say, he wanted to get on the same couch she was on, or even on the dog bed next to hers.

    He would sometimes chew the toy so you could hear it squeak, but just as often just hold it.

    It seemed a very clear message, although I’m not sure whether it was to her or to the humans in the household, that he was not engaging in any kind of hostile behavior, he just wanted to be in the same general area she was.

    By this time he was about 50 pounds and she was around 25.

    Now he is 8 years old and 75 pounds and she is 13 and he still does this. If she’s lying on the big mat in the living room and he wants to lie there, too, he will first go and get a plushie toy to hold.

    He doesn’t give her the toy or even engage in with it much himself. He just holds it until her huffiness passes and they can both go to sleep.

    It’s a very odd appeasement behavior, but that absolutely seems to be what it is. And yes, it’s pretty funny to see!


    BTW, she absolutely loves to play with plushie toys, but will not do so if he’s in the same room. At all. We have to take her in a separate room and shut the door. I think this is just a factor of his being a big clumsy goofball and her being a third his size and very precise in both work and play. He can’t play by her rules, so she prefers not to play with him at all.


    And with a nod back to the recent conversation about wolfdogs, I know many here are familiar with the Eotvos University studies on wolf and dog pups, but did you know one of the primary conclusions was that dogs use humans as tools and wolves do not? That is, dogs will see many problems as having a social solution (how do I get my human to get that for me?) while wolves see it as a physical one (how do I get up THERE?).


    I sometimes suspect that Dilly intentionally starts play with a nearby person in order to cause that person to get Tulip to engage as well, rather than engaging her directly. This does result in some parallel play situations that he seems to find very satisfying. But I may be reading too much into that.

  66. JJ says

    Robin Jackson, re: “I sometimes suspect that Dilly intentionally starts play with a nearby person in order to cause that person to get Tulip to engage as well, rather than engaging her directly. ”

    Yes! I totally believe that about my dog too. For years, my dog has taken his tug rope to a human at a dog park. That human often grabs it and then tries to entice their dog to get it. When the other dog grabs the rope, my dog happily plays tug with the other dog until the other dog drops it. Then, more often than not, my dog takes the rope back to the human, who once again gets their own dog involved.

    I find it hard to believe that my dog is doing anything other than trying to get the human to get the dog to play. If my dog only wanted to play with the human, my dog would have dropped the rope when the rope was passed off to the other dog. My dog drops the rope all the time when playing tug with a dog who is no fun (read: doesn’t tug hard enough).

    FYI: I enjoyed reading your stories.

  67. Daniel says

    Our dog Georgie does some interesting things with objects to illicit play from our Lab, Tahlee. Georgie is a new addition who spent most of his days tethered outside while his owners were at work. He was under socialized and taken from his mother at 7 weeks old to a home with no other animals.
    With all of that in his background he is still very eager to play, rougher than Tahlee likes, but in general they are learning to play well together.
    An interesting behavior Georgie will do with a ball, stick or tug toy is to circle around Tahlee when Tahlee is laying down and slowly drag the object around Tahlee, sometimes dragging the stick,tug toy, or his mouth with a ball in it along Tahlee’s body stopping at Tahlee’s mouth to try to entice him to grab it. If Tahlee does not show interest sometimes Georgie will then back up and do a play bow, still holding the object. If Tahlee does not show interest then he will toss the object at Tahlee. If Tahlee grabs it then Georgie will leap in and the play session is on! A few times I have seen Tahlee grab the tug toy and allow Georgie to drag him along the ground.
    The object is usually forgotten after a quick tug game for rougher games. If Tahlee just lays there after the final attempt (the toss) then Georgie will slowly walk away with a sigh…

    Google Glass would be a great tool for capturing this kind of thing on video, I never have my camera on hand when this play interaction is happening and suspect it may quickly change and never happen in the future. Both dogs are late adolescents.

  68. Vicky says

    My first two border collies, Cooper and Jem, invented a game with a frisbee. I tossed the frisbee which Cooper would chase after. When the frisbee was tossed, Jem would run part-way and crouch down. As soon as Cooper caught the frisbee, Jem would run to meet him, take the frisbee and bring it back to me. It was like a relay race and was a hoot to watch. People who happened to see us in the park would always stop to watch. Cooper and Jem are long gone, but I have never forgotten the fun we had with that game and the joy and intensity with which they played it.

  69. Amy says

    I have a 13 wk old female golden who’s litter mate lives across the street. They play together everyday. The past few days, their play has become more aggressive to the point of us separating them. Both are females. Is this a case of too much togetherness?

  70. Ali says

    I know this is an older entry, but I just had to comment, after watching my gorgeous wee 14mth terrier Woody playing with an equally young Pyrenean Mountain Dog (Great Pyrenees) in the park today. She was massive compared to Woody and it was wonderful watching their play. She was definitely self-handicapping and initiated play by bopping him on the head with her giant paw. The only problem was when she rolled ON him a few times, but she allowed Woody to check-in with me when he needed time out. It’s a shame I can’t post a photo, she’s a stunning dog and as soon as I saw her I thought “Tulip!” This is not a breed I have ever had the pleasure of meeting before but I was very impressed.

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