Well, I’ve edited and compressed 31 separate videos for my 2 talks at APDT. Whew. They aren’t perfect, but some of them are truly instructive and a few are just plain fun. It’s been like being in a tunnel for the last 4 days working on these things, and still… I continue to be fascinated by all the issues related to play between people and other animals. One of the the things I’ll be talking about at APDT is how often dogs intersperse PAUSING with active motor patterns. As I watched videos of dogs playing I was impressed by how many times dog would use some typically exaggerated motor activity, whether it was a bite or a hip slam, and then stop and either stand still, or stay still in a play bow position. If you think about it, play bows not only provide information to the receiver that what happens next is “just in fun,” they also give the participants a ‘time out’ to manage their emotions.
I suspect this is one of the problems that people run into when they are playing with dogs. People don’t tend to pause as often during play, and often end up over arousing their dog. The dog spirals up, loses emotional control and ends up biting too hard or cycling into aggression. I’m going to suggest in my talk that dog training classes should include a section on play, including the importance of teaching both people and dogs a “pause” that is on cue for both of them.
I’m also going to talk about play signals… how individuals of both species tell one another that they want to play. It turns out that signals are relatively species specific. Here are 2 photos illustrating typical “I want to play” signals from a person and a dog:
Here is Jasper telling his human he’d like to play, using the stereotypical play bow of wolves and dogs.
Here is primate Sara doing the classic “play face” of a primate! Primate usually communicate play with their faces, while dogs use a full body posture…
How do you tell your dog you want to play?
And here’s a photo from fall at the farm. It is heartbreakingly beautiful right now.. I have to admit I am loathe to leave the dogs, the farm and the fall colors. But I know that once I arrive at APDT I’ll be caught up in the joy of intellectual stimulation and seeing good friends and colleagues. Come up and say hi if you’re there!
I usually ask my dog to play with me by saying “Where’s your ball? Go get your ball!” since she’s SO INTO ball play. Similarly, my dog will ask to play by nosing her ball over to me.
However, when I lie down on the floor every night to do my stretches, she inevitably comes running over when I do the stretch that looks like a play bow. Once I realized that, I began inviting her to play with me by either getting down on my hands and knees or by simply crouching into a bow type position. Then she plays in an entirely different way- she makes a funny little growls and then rolls on her back, where she snaps her teeth while I sit and look at her like she’s crazy. She really goes nuts if I rub her belly and/or growl back.
Until you asked the question I didn’t realize I had a technique for initiating play.
My voice in a higher pitch than normal always gets his attention. I found I ask a lot of questions with the pitch going up even further at the end of the question. Like..”Do you want to play ball?” It’s said in a higher pitch and faster than I normally speak, and the last syllable is always highest pitch. He responds with his play signals, and we’re off.
We have another play time ritual. Once I’ve asked the question and he’s indicated he’s willing and available for play. We have a moment of silence, looking at each other when suddenly… one of us takes off running in the opposite direction and the other chases.
I don’t last long as chaser or chasee so somewhere one of us picks up a ball laying around and we have a game of fetch-with him fetching.
I have a therapy dog who works many hours a week so I think it is very important to spend at least as much time playing as working.
I have noticed that my dog ‘talks’ (sort of a grunt like noise) a lot during play. This vocalization is similar to the one my husband makes (sort of a grunt like noise) when he is inviting the dog to play.
Frequently, the dog lays in middle of floor on his back and ‘talks’, to which, my husband responds by getting down on the floor and playing with him. This occurs almost every evening.
How’s that for a play signal? I’m certain that our dog probably tried traditional ‘doggie’ play invites, but had to change his signals to something we humans would recognize as an invite for fun. I bet he working on signal for ‘grill me some steak.’
Dena Norton says
My English Springer Spaniel, Ford, throws toys at me in order to initiate a game of fetch. One of our personal rituals is a game we play while I’m finishing getting dressed for work in the morning. As I’m setting down on the living room couch to put on my socks and shoes, I’ll ask, “Do you want to fetch my socks?” I then throw my balled-up socks for him to go get. After he returns them to me, I put them on. If he wants to play more fetch, I tell him to “Go find a toy.” We then play fetch with the toy while I put on my boots or shoes.
If the dogs are looking at me like they might want to play, I stretch out one or both hands and pat them on the ottoman once or twice. Then they run and get a toy, sometimes with a play bow first and some barking. We also have what I call our fake growl that started with Westly and the other two dogs picked it up. (Westly was a demo dog at your seminar in Las Cruces NM in 2004). Either me or the dog can initiate the fake growl. It is a little higher pitched than a real growl and is a little “looser” sound (kind of a sing-song: ahhhahhhahh). It includes slowly shaking the head side to side. The dog then gets a toy and comes up to me doing the slow head shake and the fake growl. Westly also includes a funny side to side step. Usually when one dog starts the other 2 join in and I’m playing tug and fetch with all 3 taking turns. The fake growling continues intermittently. It never becomes real growling.
Ellen Siemens says
Very much enjoyed the play symposium this weekend. Thank you!
I am a trainee-in-training with Tender Loving Canines, Assistance Dogs. I live in a small studio apartment, and I like to keep the floor space clear of toys. Toys are kept in a low drawer in my kitchen. When I have one of our dogs at my home, I first “bow” (one of our dog greeting cues) toward the dog, and in a happy voice use our cue command “look” and “tug” to ask the dog open the toy drawer. I then allow the dog to choose a favorite play toy from within, but just one. Not understanding I was doing so, I almost begin the play session with a “pause,” because the dog is then cued to “push” with his nose to close the drawer. I THINK I’LL ADD THE “PRIMATE FACE” HERE when the “push” is completed. I love the polite nature of this whole ritual. At the end of play, the ritual is reversed in putting the toy away. If the dog opens the drawer and attempts to get another toy, I say “how pretty. thank you very much,” and cue to “drop” it back into the drawer and “push” to close the drawer. That session of play is then finished.
I saw we all go to Ellen’s house and watch her dogs open and shut the toy drawer! Ellen… you could travel around the country, sort of the Play Nanny, and teach dogs all over the map to pick up after themselves. I have to admit, I haven’t begun to train my dogs to be so polite or neat. They can go “get your toy” easily enough, but then, I’m the one who ends up putting them back into the toy basket. This kind of training sounds essential for an assistance dog, so it makes sense that you do it. It’s admirable too. Here’s a Primate Play Face right back at you, with thanks for all you do.
I love how so many of your comments mention that it took awhile to be aware of what your play signal was… so much of what we do is unconscious or unintentional isn’t it? Lots of you mentioned signals that are innately relevant to dogs… higher voice, start stop, picking up a toy. They train us pretty well, don’t they?! (And hey, we should take credit for being good learners!)