October 18, 2008
“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 my dog training classes here in Ventura and Santa Barbara – especially when folks first start bringing their dogs to our dog socials.
Humans commonly assume when dogs “hump” or “mount” is automatically means it’s of a sexual nature. This isn’t always the case, and more often than not isn’t the case. These are just a few dog training tips on what dog-play really is.
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 “alert”, stalk, chase, “grab-shake-kill” – 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”…Note: if a dog is given attention when he or she “humps” then he or she is more likely to do that again in the future. Lets not forget Thorndike’s law of learning.
It’s important that dogs learn what acceptable dog 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 or she is playing the way you 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!!”
A great “test” is to restrain (gently) the one who is chasing or pinning and then look at the behavior of the one you think is being harassed. If the latter stops, looks at you as if he or she is saying “What’s up? Why’d you stop us from playing?” then that’s a great indicator that the play session was consensual. If on the other hand the harassee looks relieved, then it’s safe to bet that interrupting was a good idea. You’ll know to take steps in helping dogs develop good play skills.
Providing opportunities for our dogs to socialize and play is very important for their well being, and development as well-mannered canines – training classes and socials that practice reward-based, humane techniques can help provide them. You just want to keep an eye on the situation, making sure that play-time is safe and fun for everyone!