Ah Youth! The Initiation of Play in Dogs

strawberries 2013

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 Read More

How Do You Play with Your Dog?

fence posts snow 2-2013

Surely our mutual love of play is one of the reasons that dogs and people get along so well. As Karen London and I write in Play Together, Stay Together, "Play is powerful stuff. It influences so many things, including development, motivation, emotions, physiology, communication and behavior. Wow! That's an impressive list." After years working as Applied Behaviorists, it was clear to Karen and I that play has the power to strengthen one's relationship with a dog, or alternatively, to destroy it. You can use play to teach self control and good manners, or to inadvertently teach a lack of frustration tolerance and a lot of rude behavior that ends up getting a dog into trouble. You can use play to allow a dog to release tension, to learn a behavior incompatible with a problematic one, or Read More

Safe Off Leash?

tootsie runs around corner 1-13

Last weekend Jim, Willie, Tootsie and I stayed in a lovely log cabin owned by friends in the woods in eastern Wisconsin. I mention that because for the first time in her nine years of life, Tootsie got to run off leash in an unfenced area off the farm. Wooo Hooo! Some people might not understand what a huge step that was for a little puppy mill dog, but I'm guessing that many of you get it completely. I was over the moon with happiness that I could unsnap the lead, and trust that she would stop when told, come when called, and as importantly, get to sniff and explore with more freedom than she's ever had in her nine years of life. The decision I made got me thinking about the issue in general: When IS it safe to let a dog off leash? What do you need to know to evaluate the risk and Read More

Play Bows as Meta-Communication

snow early winter 2012

We all know the signs of imminent danger between two dogs right? Immobile stiff bodies, direct eye contact, round eyes. Except when dogs are playing and then the exact same postures and expressions are nothing but pauses between frolics. That is a perfect example of what's called meta-communication, or communication about communication. Here's a video of Willie and his new friend, Leo--the new pup of Katie Martz here at the office--illustrating meta-communication as well as any two dogs could. I look forward to your comments about it. First, some background: Yesterday they met for the first time, and it went beautifully. Katie stood 40 feet from the door with Leo as I let Willie out and asked him "Where's the Dog?" We played tug when he looked at Leo and then back at me. After 2 Read More

What’s Happening Here? Here is the Answer!

tucker and lily (1)

On Friday I asked you what you thought was going on here, at least as best one could tell from a still photograph. I'm the first to agree it's hard to say much from one brief moment in time, but it's a great exercise nonetheless. It helps us all focus our attention and generate hypothesis about what might happen next. It would be perfectly reasonable to suggest several different scenarios... Here's the story in this case: These two dogs are great friends and play together often. The yellow dog is a 4 yr old GR/Husky cross, Tucker, who has a tendency to nip faces when he plays. The white dog in the red coat is Lily, a 2.5 yr old spayed female Dogo Argentino, owned by Katie MartzĀ  here at McC Publishing. Lily was responding to what appeared to be an inappropriate play action from Read More