Every Dog Every Day
5. relationship and connection
“My dog is always pulling on the lead” perhaps should be seen from the dog’s perspective: “why is this person pulling on my neck?”
Dog is not the enemy
Connection comes in different flavours
The number of dogs able to live together is relative to the environmental resources you have, your available quality time and dogs that are socially compatible. When this becomes overloaded everyone pays the price.
A relationship often begins on first contact or may take time to develop. My very first collie was not the pup I was set on choosing. I had a weekly conversation on the phone with the breeder and drove 5 hours to collect my “Sunshine”. I was intent on selecting the tri-colour pup from the litter. But despite all effort to invite him to play other people were of more interest. There was one nuisance pup permanently on my shoe laces. Womble.
Names are super important. It is often an indication of the role that dog will play in your life. Affectionate child or working partner? Different breeds will invite different names.
When “Mabel” was named, it was not a common name, and more akin to the generation of my father’s aunts. I was not tempted to live with an “Edna”. Her son was called Arnold and he spawned a whole generation of fake dogs affectionately referred to as Arnolds.
His brother I named Kent, which is an old Gordon name going back to the first registered generations. An indication of my pride in the Gordon heritage.
At one invitation event demonstrating Gordon talent, he was standing in a beautifully decked out marquee full with laden trestle tables of sandwiches, cakes and ginger beer. A true Garden Party. I was with Mabel across the tent and spied his mouth closing around a plate of cucumber sandwiches. Just at head height of course (who tied him up to that tent pole????). I screamed “KENT!” across the room. This stunned the audience into shocked silence, rolling their eyes trying to work out exactly what I had just said. Some hasty explanation that the word was K-E-N-T, his name.
I do not advise you use any word that in public could be construed to be anything similar. In class I have met a “Hooker”, a “Bucket”, a “Jiggy”, a “Prick”, (so named after his stand up ears) a “Beaver” and [cough] a “Clitter” (named after the “C” litter). I never know whether to explain to the person or not. Ignorance is bliss? I usually ask they spell that for me ……?
We all have affectionate names for our dogs that only our dogs or close family know, never to be spoken in public. These are our true names for our friends. Mabel was “Bumpie” and Kent was “Pudding”. We shy away from public shop windows of our deep affection for dogs, truly demonstrating that they are companions we adore and love.
I had two puppies come to class, with the “affectionate” name of “Piss and Widdle” (not that original, I met the characters “Widdle” and “Puke” in My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell. One of the only two books I ever enjoyed reading at school, the other being Ring of Bright Water). That was a warning bell that our success in training this owner was unlikely to progress far. The dogs were definitely the enemy. I believed they were built a permanent kennel in the garden, to solve all their issues.
Play says you feel safe and well
At lambing time I would tour the nursery fields in the evenings looking for the lamb that is not playing. Play is an indication of a healthy, well fed, secure youngster. The lamb that stands by its mother looking dull is not well – a signal that this lamb needs inspection.
If they do not feel safe and secure they will not play – the same with the pups. Lambs play at running from imaginary dragons. They zoom up and down the fields as a group magnetically drawing the other lambs to the races. One will gain the highest ground standing on a fallen tree trunk or outcrop of rocks and enjoy their reign as King of the Field. They are practising their life-skills, learning motor perception: how much spring is needed to land on that rock, at that height, that far away. Other proprioception skills: such as not letting the back legs run faster than the front legs; learning to brake without hitting your mother’s udder again; learning to leap.
I prefer to define play as: “it always makes me stop, watch and smile”. Whatever the species.
Play should be super absorbing whether playing alone or with siblings. When the play is interactive the pup is learning about you as well as their own skills. Puppies at about 4 weeks of age have quite obnoxious and aggressive-looking skills. These are raw responses without refinement.
Siblings will teach you co-operative play and make you learn how to refine that aggression, not to bite too hard, which bits are too soft for bites, which bits will knock the sibling off their feet. One upside down pup with another on top will pay a heavy price, so pups are learning fast how to avoid being turned over. These are skills for life.
The interactivity builds bonds between the siblings, teaches them excellent defense skills and refinement of aggression into challenging games. We have a similar series of mock play battles: fencing, tennis, boxing, judo, chess etc where skills within certain rules are integrated into strategies to win.
Play comes in many forms. Sibling play is often about learning harsh lessons. Play with older family members of the canine variety will include games where the adults indulge the youngsters in behaviours that as adults they most certainly would not allow. Pretty much the same as our world, where your siblings seemed to introduce you to the very vilest elements of human nature and your grandparents to the most pleasant.
Merrick, the Gordon is 4 years old here, and playing the tolerant adult to a 5 month old Zip. Her ears have shortened considerably since Zip arrived.
Play is about connection
My adults that played as youngsters continue to play right thought their lives although with less vigour.
Playing with our dogs is a combination of learning about each other and deepening our bond. When the pups play with us they discover our skin is ridiculously vulnerable.
This is a lifeskill.
To avoid this becoming a play-breaker distract the very young, 8-12 weeks old pups, with another toy or something else that is appealing. Once they are of an age to control themselves and can respond to a gentle “no, not a good idea”, then require them to teach themselves to stop this careless biting and reward that control with options for more exciting games.
The ability to give something up to get something better is a growing-up skill, developing over many, many months. We do not expect a toddler to understand not to touch things that may be dangerous until they have the ability to recognise what is dangerous and move away from it. It is called growing up.
Through playing with our pup we begin building a history of Fun With Person and Toy. Most pups will respond to frantic, dancing movement with a limited chase. During this chasing of movement they are learning the motor skills of watching, pouncing and biting.
It is triggered by movement.
Do not expect them to chase a toy thrown over their head until this phase is well developed, they sim- ply do not have the co-ordination. Hold the pup, move the toy to attract their attention, toss it forwards a small distance and if they are focussed let them chase it.
This is learning kill-skills. We are teaching our puppy how to kill prey: Guinea Pigs, Rabbits, Chinchillas and any other pets you may share your house with.
Chase is to kill, bite and gut
We may like to label it “toy” and “play” but chasing is killing, biting is killing and pulling the stuffing out of a toy is gutting. Yummy.
Our pups are wired to do this and it would be depriving them of their development process to deny it. But at the same time we use a play arena to teach them their skills for life:
Co-ordination: eye to mouth, eye to paws, judgement of distance for stepping over, jumping over, jumping up.
Gymnastic fitness: rolling over and getting up, diving under, racing round.
Social interactions and limitations: where to bite, when to not bite, getting enthusiastic, calming down, being affectionate, being massaged, groomed, boundaries of space and etiquette.
Controlled arousal: play, stalk, wait, stop play, get play.
Run, fetch, give. Watch, wait, go.
Good skill development is needed for:
Getting in and out of the car, running under the coffee table, going up and down stairs.
All dog-sports, massage, grooming and treatment, living as a group.
Wait for the rabbit to move away from the den before you run in.
Stalk the bird close enough to pounce.
Through play we increase the level of difficulty of their skills, we teach them the existence of boundaries and we give them an outlet for their energy. Teaching a young animal, with formal structure or spontaneously, is a process that develops more understanding and connection.
We discover what they like and what they excel at, we shape them to be the dogs we want to share our lives with.
Play partners need to be compatible. There are certain breeds that enjoy specific types of play. Boxers use their front paws as weapons, some herding breeds use body slams and others use cheek to cheek running. When these breeds try to play interactively it can often end in tears because they cannot adapt these innate skills.
Equally if you like to roll-and-wrestle with your dog do not choose a terrier or collie, you will get hurt, choose the big body slamming breeds and take out medical insurance. If you like to play throw-n-go ball games, choose the retrievers.
Do not expect your dog to understand your game without teaching them the boundaries and making sure there is fun in the game for them.
When I lived in urban-land and would get home from a very late shift it was unsafe to take the dogs to the park or walk the streets. We would play hide and seek in the house. I would put the dogs in the kitchen half shut the door, go hide and call them. If they anticipated there would be much drama and disappointment, a return to the kitchen and then the thundering round the house checking out my favourite hiding places.
Set up search-and-find games for toys or food or raw bones. Look for new places to visit that gives the dogs new sensations and pleasure – charging through long grass, running on sand or playing in shallow water.
In both our species a game represents quality time together, where nothing else takes priority and we have exclusive focus. Games, or being together, can also come in less energetic packages, where sitting quietly in the same space enjoying the moment is part of our relationship.
Dogs are very good at “being”. It is our privilege to let them teach us this skill.
Connect and Share
sounds like a biscuit …….
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Every dog belongs to people who have passion, experience, knowledge.
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