I’m a little behind today, because yet again I stayed up too late watching the Olympics. Addicting, aren’t they? And I’m not even that interested in sports… I was the girl who stood in right field in enforced elementary school softball games saying “Please don’t hit the ball to me, please don’t hit the ball to me.” But I can’t resist the drama of watching other people turning purposeless games into lifetime commitments and prime time excitement for the rest of us.
How fitting that today our new booklet about playing with our dogs just arrived from the printer. I co-wrote it with Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Karen London, and there is nothing like writing about how to play (and how not to play) with your dog to get you thinking about WHY we play with our dogs, HOW we play and all the ways that play can enhance our relationship with dogs and at the same time, cause terrible trouble. I hesitate to bring up the play booklet now, it seems a bit self serving, but this has been such a big part of my life for so many months that it’s hard not to write about it.
Here’s what seems crazy: as vitally important as it feels to encourage people to use play more to train their dog, I think one of my favorite parts of the book is the section on how NOT to play with your dog. That seems so negative, and yet, I’ve seen so many problems created by inappropriate play. It’s so easy for members of two different species to confuse one another. For example, research shows that one way people try to get their dog to play is to pat the ground–which in my experience is a great way to lie down when asked, because it seems to effective at getting them to do so!. Lots of people push their dogs away with their hands when the dogs jump up, and yet to dogs, the people are telling the dog they want to play.
Most importantly, twenty years of working with serious problems in dogs has shown me how often people aren’t aware that their dog is becoming overly aroused during play. Being out of emotional control is a problem in our species too (“I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”)–you’d think we’d know to watch for it in dogs. Ironically, while over arousal is a potential problem in play, you can use play to teach your dog to calm down on cue using play.
The possible best, and the potential worst of our interactions with dogs–that’s play in a nut shell. And now, although I really think I should write more, I just can’t resist going home to go play with my dogs…
Will and I playing one of his favorite games.
He has even taught me how to toss things with a small degree of accuracy. Will wonders never cease?