If you remember the first time you played a game of Monopoly you probably recall instances of confusion and having to recheck the rule sheet to make sure you were doing things right. (What happens at Free Parking again??)
But, as you figure out the rules, (usually after your first 5 hour game, when will it end??) you start having fun and you do not need to check the rule sheet anymore.
The same can be said for the dogs coming into our Enrichment program as they learn the Rules of Play. While we certainly encourage a fun, natural experience here are Doglando, we also need to ensure that the rules are being followed and that we are playing fair for all dogs.
Remember, play is practice! We want everyone to learn to play in a way that is appropriate with not just dogs their size, but with dogs of all sizes.
Here are a few of our Rules of Play.
Dyadic play – Dyadic is play between two dogs at a time. This means, you won’t see dogs playing in groups here at Doglando. When playing in a group of three or more dogs, subtle signals that dogs give as communication can be missed (by both the human coaches and the dogs). It also can create a ‘pack’ mentality where two dogs will team up on another dog and can start bullying that dog. Or take turns playing with the third dog which can exhaust the dog who never gets a break. Simply for safety, we discourage play between more than two dogs (by distracting or calling away the ‘extra’ dogs to do other things).
Wrestling – While some dogs like to throw their weight around and play games, there are rules that go along with that play. We want to ensure play is fair, so should one dog get atop another in play, they must relinquish that position within 3 seconds. For example, if two dogs are wrestling and they fall down, we don’t want the dog who lands on top to then use that position to grab the other dog’s neck/collar or hold them down.
Biting/Mouthing – Whatever you want to call it, we do not allow our dogs to use their mouths on each other. No grabbing collars, fur or skin permitted. This is a natural behavior, but we prefer to discourage it for safety reasons. Big dogs can get carried away and accidentally injure smaller dogs, or a dog grabbing another dog by the neck, even in play, can get his or her jaw stuck under the other dog’s collar.
Parallel Running – This can easily become a competition, leading to frustration and the slower dog attempting to nip, tackle or trip the passing dog.
Barking – When we consider what we know about barking, we find that being aware of our dogs’ environment can take the needless barking out of the picture. For instance, our property runs beside an apartment complex, and occasionally people will be passing by. If we are vigilant and see the people approaching we can call over the dogs we know will sound the alarm. If those alarm sounding dogs never go off, then no one else gets excited.
Breaks – Breaks are an extremely important part of play. We monitor our dogs continuously to ensure that they take breaks periodically and that the other dogs allow them to. We like tired dogs, but an exhausted dog is not what we want. If a dog is taking a break and another dog wants to play they should proposition the resting dog to play (with a play bow) and if the resting dog does not return the bow or join in play they should move away to find another play mate.
While it seems like we have a lot of rules, and ‘how could any dog have fun?’ with all these rules, once a dog learns what the rules are, the opportunities are wide open to them. Because they know the rules of mannerly behavior, they are not rude when meeting new dogs — they go from only having a few dogs they can play with (in the style they would have chosen initially) to being able to play with any dog they encounter in their life. We want dogs to be able to take the things they learn at Doglando, and use them out in the world. This is a part of how we try to enrich every dog’s life.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider what you think play is. Like most things, it is something that can vary from person to person, which is why we are often pressing people to find out ‘What does play look like?’. Because something that looks like play to one, could look like bullying to another. Body language, and subtle signals our dogs are giving each other during these interactions, can help us decide what is actually happening in any given interaction and helps to keep everyone safe and happy everyday.
What do you consider play?