Here’s a video of Self Handicapping that I took 3 years ago, when Will was a young pup and Lassie was the stronger of the two. It’s a lovely illustration of appropriate dog play, showing how the stronger dog self handicaps to avoid overwhelming the weaker player. Lassie, even now, is capable of pulling with a great deal of strength, but in this video she clearly damps down both the power of her pull and intensity used when she shakes her head. She moves more slowly and with less power than she would when playing with me.
There’s another piece to this video that I just love: when Lassie decides she is done playing she gives Willie a very clear signal that play time is over. (Not long after she looks at me when I say “Jim! Turn the TV down” in the background!). She gives a second (more obvious) signal when Willie doesn’t seem to get the message… did you see the first one?
I showed this at the seminar on Dog Play (Dog Play DVD) to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate play and followed it with a second video thatmakes me all gooey whenever I watch it. It was taken 2 years later, and shows the now grown up, and very strong Willie self handicapping while playing tug with Lassie, who at 14 is now the weaker one. I can’t tell you why, but it makes everyone who sees the comparison feel all oxytocin-y and big of heart.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: Or, rather, back at the office right before I drive away to pick up Willie from his FIVE AND A HALF HOUR root canal. I have been flipping out over here… five + hours under anesthesia? Oh lordy, be still my heart. (I know, I know, I am such a wuss. It’s pathetic. Talk about oxytocin! Is there such a thing as oxytocin poisoning?)
sweet K9 mom says
Wonderful video! She lays her head on his like a human might lay their hand on someone else to quiet them.
Was Will really ‘out’ for all five hours?
I will be seeing you in Davis! Yay!
Eric Goebelbecker says
What a great video!
I love how Willie goes and get his own toy in the end. What a smart boy! Was Lassie laying her head on Willie a cutoff signal? I’ve never seen that before.
Is it when Lassie puts her muzzle on Will’s head? She is playing so nicely. Our dog won’t play with other dogs, won’t even play with the cat, who very much wants to play with her. She does play ball and tug with her humans (not as much now that she’s older).
I get that Lassie’s muzzle-wrinkling signal to Will is appropriate, but do you and other trainers get worried remarks from owners when one dog lifts a lip or air-snaps another? As an owner of a rather cranky dog, I would be hard-pressed to tell what signals are appropriate when.
Hope Will came out of his dental work nicely. Five hours is a long time for a root canal– even for a human!
Jennifer Hamilton says
I’m curious whether the self-handicapping may be “puppy-caretaking or teaching” when Lassie’s doing it and “respect” when Will’s doing it now. What I mean by that is, do dogs self-handicap to keep the game “fair” or do dogs self-handicap for another relationship-based reason?
For example, our Doberman has always been stronger, faster, tougher (even as a puppy) than our adult Portuguese Water Dog with all of her many hip issues and surgeries. The Portuguese Water Dog, however, clearly controls the household…she has won the “mind game” or alpha position. Since bringing the Dobbie in as a puppy, the Dobbie has always self-handicapped. Initially, I thought the Dobbie was doing it to keep the game “fair” (possibly recognizing the physical limitations of the other dog), but over the years it seems as if the the self-handicapping, however, may be more due to the Portuguese Water Dog being the alpha or controlling dog in the relationship. In the Dobbie’s handicapping body language, there seems to be an element of not wanting to push the Portuguese Water Dog too far or be disrepectful (all my interpretation of course).
Dena Norton says
Trisha, I think that another term for your “oxytocin-poisoning” might be “love”. 😀
With a new Springer puppy (Pixie, 3 months old) and her 4-year-old brother (Ford, her actual, biological brother, as I went back to the same breeder) in the house, I am getting to see lots of self-handicapping behavior, as well as plenty of “That’s enough, back off” signals.
I can’t tell you how helpful your books, blog, and seminars are being to me! (I don’t like the construction of that sentence, but it’s what I mean.) I see Ford standing over Pixie and dangling a toy for her to grab. I’ve seen him drag her slowly across the floor on her back while they both held on to the toy. When she lost her grip and got up, he headed back to dangle the toy again. And just like with Lassie & Will, I’ve noticed how gently Ford tugs with Pixie. He’s perfectly willing to yank me right off my seat on the couch when we tug!
But I’ve also watched Ford lip-lift at Pixie when she tried to take his chew-antler away. Now I often see them lying on the floor sharing one, each chewing on an end, while the other antler lies on the floor nearby, completely ignored by both dogs. Talk about oxytocin!
Four years ago, I watched Ford as a puppy with our older Springer, Izzee (now deceased), but missed most of the subtle details of their interactions. Thanks for helping to open my eyes further.
Dena Norton says
And lots of vibes for Will and his tooth. Five-hour root canal? They’d have to knock me out for that, too!
The signal is indeed when Lassie goes still (that is the most relevant cue to me) and lays her head onto Will. I love sweet K9’s comment comparing it to a hand softly placed on the arm of another person… I didn’t think of that comparison and I really like it.
The question about when a tooth display (or any other signal that could lead to trouble) is appropriate or not is a really good one. (I sense a blog topic coming!) In brief, at least at this moment, I’d say that my reaction depends on what happens after the warning display. If a dog does what Lassie does and uses a tooth display to warn off a puppy, after she’s already communicated that she doesn’t want to play anymore, I would consider that appropriate social behavior IF she stopped there and didn’t do much of anything else. I knew that was what Lassie would do, and never for a moment considered intervening in any way. If, however, I had a dog who tooth displayed, then growled and then might snap or attack in that same context, I’d think differently about it. I guess the primary question is: is the dog using good emotional and social control and truly communicating, or is it threatening to hurt or bully another? For example, Willie is much less benevolent and secure than Lassie, and if he showed his teeth to another dog in that context I would predict that he might follow up on it with a behavior that was inappropriate in its intensity. If Will had shown his teeth in that context I probably would have said, in a quiet, but disappointed voice “Will? What was that?” and done some conditioning work to teach a different response.
Jennifer’s question is also an interesting one. Is a dog always ‘self-handicapping’ to keep the game going, or inhibiting him or herself to avoid a reaction from another dog? I see no reason why both or either couldn’t be going on, separately or simultaneously. When Willie self-handicaps with Lassie he is definitely not deferring to her (he routinely takes her stuffed Kong away from her if he is done w/ his), he is damping down his ability. But I can easily imagine a situation in which a dog is extra cautious about not ‘setting off’ a status conscious dog, or even a dog who is known to have trouble managing its own arousal levels. I can’t help but
go back to an analogy with people! Surely both happen often in different contexts.
Very interesting! At the animal shelter where I volunteer we have been carefully putting dogs together for play. Very supervised of course! There is one dog on the shy side who displayed teeth and cowered away from two other friendly dogs. We didn’t give him a chance to do more because we have to be careful not to push a dog like that too far, plus even some friendly ones seem to take that as an invitation to get nasty. We thought of putting him with a dog that’s just as shy after doing some parallel walking and see if he has the same reaction. Very supervised of course!
Here’s hoping Willie’s home and having an easy recovery! Yowza, that was a long procedure.
Since we have a new sheltie puppy, I’m enjoying watching my Terv boys “self-handicap” as they gently play with him. Watching those big males trot daintily around the yard at puppy speed, then lay down to play “tiny bite face” on his level does make one all gooey.
On a side note, the Terv rolling in the snow on the cover of Behavioral Processes is my Quazar.
I am a wuss too and I happily admit it! Every time I have to have surgery on one of my fur babies, I stay at the Vet’s office the entire day. I just had a 3.5 lb. Chihuahua spayed and I had planned to go do some shopping while she was at the Vets. Nope…couldn’t do it. Just could not leave! My Vet is so wonderful. She let me hold Tawny instead of sticking her in a cage in back. Tawny stayed much calmer in my arms. After surgery, I held her wrapped in a baby blanket while she woke up.
Loved the video of Will and Lassie. Yes, I did catch Lassie putting her head on Will. What do you think Lassie would have done next if Will had not read her clear signal the second time (the bared teeth)and persisted in playing the tug game? I love how Will did not get pushy but calmly went and got his own toy. Wonderful!
re: “Is a dog always
I’m glad you have posted this video because something has been bothering me ever since I first saw it on the For Love of A Dog video. (I think it was that one.) Throughout the video you talk about studying facial expressions and body language as one way to understand emotions a dog might be feeling. Then, when you show the Lassie-Will_Puppy-Tug video, you say that Lassie had “no emotion” behind her tooth display.
I replayed that scene in slow motion again and again and again. I froze it in several spots. Then, I studied her face and compared it against all the lessons we had learned in the video. From what I could tell, Lassie’s expression looked to me (and I’m by no means an expert!!!!!) like she was pissed off. It looked to me like more than just a tooth display. If we use facial expressions to determine a dogs inner emotions, then how can you say that Lassie had no emotion at that moment? I’m not saying she was raging mad, but couldn’t she have been annoyed and was showing it?
I’m thinking about earlier in the video when you are talking about grief. I can’t remember the exact point, but it was something like: You can’t have it both ways. Either a dog’s behavior indicates grief or they aren’t experiencing it. (That wasn’t the exact point, but maybe you will remember what I’m talking about.)
When I frown at someone, I’m usually doing so because there is a matching inner emotion – even if it is not hot/big. I would think it would be somewhat psychotic to show a very angry face and truly have no emotion behind it.
This is just one of those things that has stuck with me. I can’t reconcile the lessons of the early part of the video with the point about Lassie’s interaction with Will.
None of which is to say that I didn’t LOVE that video clip. Will is amazingly adorable — especially when he goes after the second toy. Got to love him.
This summer at my outdoor day camp I had a long talk with a huge-for-his-age seven year old. The younger (five-year-old) kids loved to wrestle with him, but he frequently overpowered them so vastly that they would nearly get hurt. I told him that it was fine for him to win, but he needed to step down the intensity to avoid hurting the younger children. It reminds me of Lassie in this video: it’s fine to win every time, because we all know you are the stronger/more grown-up dog, but keep it safe. It’s also interesting to watch the kids, mostly six to seven year olds, read each others cues about what’s fun and what hurts-all non-verbal. If it gets to the verbal stage, then that kid is considered by the others to be not as fun to wrestle with because he/she doesn’t understand the rules. How do they learn the rules? Is it similar to dogs? Also, a kids who stops the wrestling game every time he/she is getting slightly overpowered is considered by the other kids no fun to wrestle with. Is this phenomenon present in dogs? My dog Dottie gets angry every time Gustav begins to win the game and growls and lift-lips to end it. Is she the dog that says “stop” every time she’s losing? Dogs and kids-is there anything more fascinating?
I loved this video! In response to JJ’s comment about Lassie’s expression can I venture a guess that you were referring to her body language when you said she isn’t showing emotion? Even though she curls her lip at Will to me she still shows quite relaxed body language which to me is kinda a “back off you little twerp” in an affectionate big sister/little brother kind of way as compared to a “let go of my lunch” playground bully/young kid kind of way.
My three year old huge black lab is very deferential to my 13.5 year old yellow girl in pretty much everything. They actually get along magnificently and I count my blessings for that. What I find interesting is that he is also very defensive/protective of her to other dogs. Seems to me if she is the leader around the house he would think she could handle things herself ??
I have to add that I have signed up for your sessions is Sept 2010 in Seattle. Hoping to make a lovely girls weekend of it down from Vancouver BC and am very much looking forward to it!
That brought tears to my eyes! Soooo sweet! I’ve never seen something so absolutely heart warming as that when it comes to teaching a puppy, that’ll do.
I thought the lead up with Lassie was actually very obvious in such a subtle a variety of manners, posture ever so slightly going from loosey goosey to still, then waiting to see some sort of “Is there anyone home…Will?”..giving him chance after chance for things to sink in.
To me I thought…Oh Oh…. Will you’re pushing your luck…a number of times before Will got the hint. I think she was brilliant and so patient!
I just don’t know Will enough or Lassie for that matter to know if Will either was so lost in how much fun he was having to notice Lassie at the other end of the toy or that he was testing his playmate to see how far Lassie would go to make her point.
I wonder if it’s all relative to watching the relationship develop, and getting to know the signals of your own dogs as the days, and years go by.
So many outside factors affect behaviour, what fascinating blog post! An Academy award for Lassie’s performance!
This was great for me to see right now as I hope this is what happens with my 9 month old when I bring home the new corgi puppy next month when she is just 9 weeks old. It has been one of my biggest concerns as Rudy LOVES to play and run but at first there will be no way the baby can play that hard. Do you think Rudy is too young to understand this type of play action?
Hope Will is back to smiling!!
It was neat to see this last week and then this weekend have my sister’s kids over at my apartment. I have a very strong two year old mix breed (Border Collie/Pittie?), who is very sweet with them but has spent the last year learning how to play with kids. She doesn’t jump on them anymore, and now brings her toys out to play with them.
Just before they left, my seven year old niece found the tug toy and Beskow, my dog, got all excited and came over to play. I kept an eye on it, but she knows the rules of tug, and so I decided to let it go and see how it went. After seeing this video, it was so cool to see and be able to recognize that Beskow was self-handicapping to let the game continue! She could have easily ripped that toy out of my niece’s little hands, but instead, kept the game going, by giving a little slack when she had to and really relaxing on the shaking. What a special connection to see! Obviously, they will still require a lot of supervision, but it gave me a big confidence boost about having Beskow around the kids, that she can recognize that they need the little extra care!
Thanks so much for sharing this video :).
Do all Alliant Energy truck drivers carry dog treats? Mine came yesterday to check the meter and when MeiSi came to help him, he threw her a treat. She was not really deterred (and didn’t want to eat it) until I got there to tell her that he is our friend.
Enjoyed the video. MeiSi is more gentle with me if I don’t have shoes on when we play a similar game.
Awwww. That was really sweet.
My female Daisy likes to play rough. She likes to wrestle and make a lot of noise and play bitey face. She’ll flash teeth and snarl & with dogs that play the same way, it’s all part of the game. I notice there is always a lot of pausing and play bowing in these games – it seems to me they’re always checking in as if to say ‘this is still just a game, right?’
I adopted a 6yo male dog last spring and he does not like this style of play at all. In fact, I’m not sure he understands play as a whole but he’s trying a bit in the last few weeks. Mostly they just end up play bowing to each other, freezing, making little lunges with their noses and then laying down. I have noticed Daisy has really toned down her vocalizations and she’s trying hard to hold back to not overwhelm him.
As an aside – someone recently recommended the book Wolf in the Parlor by Jon Franklin. Anyone read it? Recommend or not? I’m SO short on time & there are so many books in my TBR pile that I need a bunch of strong recommendations before I’ll commit to a book LOL.
Dena Norton says
My Springer, Ford, did a nice job of self-handicapping while playing fetch with a friend’s 2-year-old daughter. She could only toss the ball about 2 feet in front of her, but Ford went after it with great joy, and brought it back, tail wagging and eyes alight, over and over again. The little girl was clearly delighted!
I wish I had video of our old dog who was a 90lb rotti mix playing with our new kitten – who at the time was the size of Krieger’s muzzle! It was an excellent example of self-handicapping as he would lie flat on his side and just move his head around while the kitten ‘attacked’ his nose. (No claws/biting involved, very clearly play.)
It did take him a while when he was a puppy to figure out how to regulate his behavior appropriately for his size, but once he figured it out it did seem to stick.
(My current dog, Pirate, does something similar in his interactions with adults vs. children. With adults he can sometimes still get too over-happy and bouncy and he’s big enough that if he bounces into your legs, you know about it. With children, even though he’s showing every sign of being as happy if not happier, he’s MUCH calmer and more controlled about how he moves.)
Samantha Doyle says
Love this video! We have a 13month old male Siberian husky named Charlie and an eleven week old female German Shepard named Leela. Most of the time Charlie self-handicaps, but maybe 10% of the time he gets overly excited and plays too hard. He also often wants to play longer than Leela! Leading to him following her around, while she signals that play time is too much for her. This can lead to Leela retaliating in frustration, which Charlie clearly enjoys- he wanted to get her engaged. While this is all benign now, I worry that it will frustrate Leela. Possibly making her aggressive when she is older? I try to keep an eye on them and when catch the play before it escalates. I will bring in another toy or do a treat training session with both of them. However, sometimes I am too late and I separate them into their crates. Telling them to “take a break”. This is not done like a punishment and when they settle down, they also receive treats in the crate.
Am I on the right path or missing something? They do really enjoy each other, Charlie is just a bit of a young brute who has other impulse control and frustration problems with people that we are also working on. (This is a whole other issue, but I also think, as many things are, that it may be related)
Teaching young dogs to settle down when they get overly or exhaustingly excited is a great plan. Keep it up!