Ever sit and watch two dogs just play and mouth each other for hours on end? Isn’t it amazing how they can just let the world go by totally engrossed in play? Envious? You should be. And you should be partaking!
We all know that playtime for dogs is crucial when it comes to developing social skills, bite inhibition, physical development and a way to
blow off the stress of living in a man’s world where he can’t wander and hunt and fulfill his prey drive. Check out this video of some awesome play between Chuck and Violet. It’s a great example of how a large male dog can still get a great sparring session in while being extremely gentle with his puppy playmate.
On the flip side, meaning those of us just watching in envy at our pups playing as we try to hit work deadlines, keep family commitments and all the other stuff we tell ourselves we “should” do, we need to realize the importance of play in the human world. Unfortunately we adults feel a sense of guilt when it comes to doing something for the mere joy of it. According to Mike Sisson, author of the Primal Blueprint and Mike’s Daily Apple blog, “When we embrace play, we claim a better quality of life for ourselves. We decrease stress. We connect better with those around us. We get out more and get more out of what we do. We find more fun and maybe even meaning.”
And who better to get out and play with? Why your dog of course!! Since canines and humans have a need to be cooperative and social within their own species and both use play for the same reasons why not play together? And I mean, rough and tumble, chase and be chased, tug of war, a little nibbling (from the dog but you can nibble too I guess) is all a great way to both get exercise but also a way for you to communicate to your dog in a way that comes natural to them and a reason for your dog to look to you for pleasure, fun and relief of stress (instead of the neighbors cat or your shoes or couch). Now I don’t mean let your dog beat you up. Trust me, Chuck is a big boy and most would not want to tangle with him but when he needs a little pacifying or is in a fun, silly mood he can come over and chew on my hand for 30 min at a time and growl and
snarl but I never feel any uncomfortable pressure because he knows that the game will end if he hurts me and chewing on my hand is his favorite game. Ever notice how when dogs play they get riled up, someone bites a little too hard, a yip or screech is let out and all stops and they will pause for a breather and then go back to playing? This is a way for them to communicate that they play is too rough and it needs to be brought
down a notch if the play is to continue. You can do the same thing to communicate too much “expression” from your dog while playing. Get them going with a good game of tug or “catch-me-if-you-can” around the yard. At any time you feel your dog is getting a bit over enthusiastic simply say “OW!!!!” and stop and turn your back, take a breather for 30 seconds and continue play. Never punish your dog for playing. You will
only create a mental distance between you and them. They will understand how to play within your terms by simply ending the game when it gets too rough. Also, let them win tug of war most of the time and praise them when they parade around the yard with their victory “prey”. This helps to build a dog’s confidence which is a huge issue these days of “Be the Pack Leader” and “You must dominate your dog”.
Getting your dog to play with you is the first step in connecting in a method used by Kevin Behan called Natural Dog Training. The essence of this method is that in the end of the training, the dog will always look to you as the access to relieve his prey instinct and energy. That means when they see a cat run by them they will look to you to allow them to chase or for you to fulfill their heightend prey arousal by playimg a quick game of fetvh or tug of war. This method is used to train hunting dogs, police and military dogs and search and rescue dogs and in my opinion is the most positive and humane way to train a dog. You can check out Kevin’s site here to learn more about this method. More on that later…
So step away from your tv or computer or work project and head outside, run around with your dog like a crazy person and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of connecting with your canine. Don’t be surprised if you let out a howl….