Play between Dogs

Lots of interesting research is being done on dog behavior and one fascinating field of study is on play.

Play is thought to serve several functions. For dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes, play is important for the development of social skills, for the formation and maintenance of social bonds, to provide exercise and to teach hand-eye coordination. Play fighting and other play behaviors can provide practice for the real thing  (Bekoff & Pierce, 2009).

To solicit play, dogs frequently offer a “play bow” (a pose where the animal crouches down on the forepaws and sticks their hindquarters in the air) during play. Play bows are more likely to occur when two dogs are facing one another than when facing away from one another indicating that dogs are sensitive to whether the potential partner is paying attention. Dogs that are being ignored will try to get the attention of another dog by nipping, pawing, barking, nosing and bumping (Bradshaw J. , 2011). The “play-face”, an open mouth gesture, is also a signal to initiate play and to differentiate between play behavior and a serious attack.

Dogs may solicit play by pouncing on or ambushing another dog. “Pouncing’ is a fast and forward movement toward the other dog while “ambushing” is where the dog crouches, creeps forward in the crouch position and then pounces on the intended playmate (Kaufer, 2013). Gestures like the play bow signal that the inviting dog’s behavior is just meant in fun. The play bow preceding a quick approach and contact with another dog avoids the interaction leading to aggression and allows the other dog to agree to play with his or her own friendly gesture in response (Hare & Woods, 2013). Play signals also occur during play, for instance, after a pause in play.

Researchers have observed a sense of fairness when dogs play. For example, if a dog becomes too aggressive, assertive or tries to mate, the other dog may cock their head to one side and the play only resumes if the offending dog indicates an intention to play through a play bow or other play gesture (Bekoff, 2007),

Subtle behaviors ensure participants have a good time and that no one gets hurt. Infractions can lead to fights and, in the wild, coyotes who don’t play by the rules are ostracized from their pack.  Dogs will also avoid a dog who is playing too roughly or who bites.

To keep things even, dogs will “self-handicap” and play at the level of their play partner, taking the partner’s abilities and behavior into account. Dogs who do not follow the rules of play, for example, by barging in on others, are shunned by the dogs who are playing politely (Horowitz, 2009).

Play occurs in situations where the participants feel safe. For puppies of wild dogs, this is within the safety of the mother and the group of dogs they are a part of.  Dogs also do what has been refer_HAS5491red to as “laugh” during play. It is a form of panting which only happens when dogs are playing or wanting to play. At animal shelters when recordings of dogs laughing are played, there have been reductions of stress signals like barking and pacing in dogs staying at the shelter (Horowitz, 2009).

Sometimes conflict can arise out of play between dogs. Guardians can reduce the chances of any conflict between dogs by having them play in a neutral area, and avoid interactions between dogs who are mismatched in behavior and who do not adapt to each other.  Owners should intervene if one or more dogs’ level of arousal is too high or when one dog is overwhelmed by another dog or when one dog tries to prevent others from playing.  In addition,  food should not be in the play area (Kaufer, 2013).

5 Ways to Improve Loose-leash Walking!

Dogs generally pull on the leash because they walk faster than we do. We need to gently teach them to slow down when on leash. Here are some tips on teaching dogs to walk nicely on the leash:

  1. If the dog is being walked to the person’s left, place the leash handle around the handler’s right wrist and use the left hand to hold the leash at its midpoint. There should be a “J” shape from the dog’s collar in the leash.
  2. Begin walking the dog and when the dog looks up at the person, reward this with a treat from the left hand or hand closest to the dog (this prevents teaching the dog to cross in front of the person).
  3. If the dog starts to forge ahead, get the pup’s attention by patting your own hip or thigh to get the pup’s attention and gently changing directions (reward when the pup is in the correct place and leash is loose). If there isn’t room to change direction and the dog is pulling, simply stop and wait for the dog to return to the handler and then proceed and reward while the dog is walking on a loose leash next to you. The dog will soon understand that the walk only continues when the leash is slack.
  4. Often pups will grab the leash in their mouth. To redirect this I take toys or a tug toy with me to let them carry or I tie a toy to their collar for them to grab and hold instead of the leash.
  5. Use a humane no-pull harness (with a d-ring on the front) to walk the dog in when you are not actively training your dog). I like the Tellington Touch harness and the Freedom harness.

And here are a couple of “don’ts”:

  1. Don’t allow the dog to pull toward the other dog and then have a greet and play. This is a huge reward for pulling so don’t allow the pup to get into this habit- I put greetings on cue so the dog is clear.
  2. Avoid using a flexi-leash. These leashes actively reinforce pulling by rewarding the dog with more leash when they pull!

Travelling safely with your dog

Regularly I see dogs being transported loose in vehicles or in the backs of pick up trucks. Not only is this dangerous for dogs and drivers, but it is also against the law in our province.

Always use either a seatbelt harness or a secure crate when travelling with a dog. This keeps everyone safe from being distracted while driving and secures your pet in the event of an accident.

Inside your vehicle unrestrained or uncontained dogs are a hazard to themselves and to others. According to the BCSPCA website, a 50-pound pet, when traveling at speeds of 50 km/h, has the weight of approximately one ton.

In the event of a sudden stop, the dog can be seriously injured or seriously injure someone.

Train your dog to remain in the vehicle until given the cue word to exit (even once their seatbelt harness is undone). If you use a crate, attach an information sheet about your pet (address, vet information, contact for friend or family. List care information for your dog too like vaccinations, food also).

Don’t ever transport your dog in the bed of a truck without using a secured crate. I prefer the hard sided airline crates. In BC, Section 72 of the Motor Vehicle Act prohibits the transport of an unsecured pet in the back of a pick-up truck. Even restrained in the back of a truck with a leash, dogs can be hanged. They are also exposed to the elements risking hypothermia, heatstroke, eye and ear injury and they have no protection in case of an accident.

If you are injured, emergency personnel may be prevented from assisting you in a timely manner if the loose dog is now guarding you and your vehicle. A frightened dog may bolt from the scene.

Stay safe!