Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dog Play Behavior: Are they fighting or playing?

"What is dog play all about?" This is one of those comments I hear from various folks...and often get questions about. Both in and out of the studio classroom - especially when folks first start bringing their dogs to our dog socials at my studio - The Inquisitive Canine here in Ventura.
Humans commonly assume that dogs that "hump" or "mount" just want to have sex with them, or that the dog is attracted to them etc... Ugh... really? Do you really think you're that charming, and that maybe all of the spoiling has lead your dog to want to return the favor in a way they think you might like? Come on... here's a quickie lesson on dogs humping and dog play:

Dog play is practicing of "the four F's" - meaning, if they had to survive out in the wild so they could pass on their genes - surviving, hunting for food, creating more of themselves in order to pass on their genetics (cause that's what it's all about, right) - survival of the fittest so you can pass along your DNA... This is the list of the four F's:
  • "Fight" - dog play can get really rough - think two young human male children playing and wrestling about - With dogs it's: I mouth you (practice biting but inhibited bites in play), you mouth me, I pin you, you pin me etc...
  • "Flight" - I chase you, you chase me
  • "Feed" - meaning all the steps of the predatory sequence, including the "grab-shake-kill" - chasing, stalking etc...
  • "Fun!" (fornicating etc...) - I mount you, you mount me... Unless both dogs (one male one female) are actually intending to breed in order to make more of themselves, then the whole humping action is just play! That's why you see males humping males, females humping females, females on males, dogs on humans etc...and humping in positions that are not related at all to actually "doing the deed"...
It's important that dogs learn what proper dog socialization play is, and what is appropriate - that is what dog social time is for!!! Yes, we can give the dog a "time out" if we don't like something... but dogs (really important for puppies especially) are learning about what play is - and doggy DNA is telling them to "hump" - most likely trying to get the other "animal" to play... If humans don't like it, the best thing to do is completely walk away and ignore the dog completely, but throw a party and play like crazy when he is playing the way they want... Older, well socialized dogs, who have great play skills can help "guide" younger pups...the older one will "tell him" (growl or a snap) to knock it off if he or she has gone 
too far...

*A BIG note of importance: DOG PLAY SHOULD BE: RECIPROCAL and CONSENSUAL! Sure, for some dogs they'd rather be the chasee vs the chaser. How to tell? Look at the one being chased - are they running off and trying to hide the entire time? Cowering under things? Trying to find their guardian? Or are they egging the chaser on? "Come on! Chase me!!" 

As for consensual: look at this picture of Freddie (the one mounting) and Jazz (the one in the red harness). Jazz's face is relaxed, focused on something else at the moment, doesn't appear to care. If it weren't consensual, Jazz would have turned around and growled or snapped "Knock it off!!!" 

Providing opportunities for our dogs to socialize and play is very important for their well being, and development as well-mannered canines - dog training classes and dog socials can help provide them. You just want to keep an eye on the situation, making sure that play-time is safe and fun. 

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