If you’ve ever seen more than one dog interacting (you’d be surprised how many people keep their dogs separate!) you’ll know that they love a bit of rough and tumble play.
It can look (and sound!) quite aggressive; but it isn’t. If you were to see the very same play behaviour from a group of pups, you’d think it was adorable. But there’s something about the gangly awkwardness of grown up dogs, that makes people automatically jump to conclusions about how vicious it all is.
If you take a step back and just watch – there’s two or three dogs – wrestling, running, jumping, mouthing… Sometimes it goes too far. Sometimes, just sometimes, there will be an accident. But these situations are so rare, it’s worth reflecting on quite how remarkable this play is.
I’m watching three dogs playing now. Three boys, all with tails and ears up, standing up straight, bumping into each other, playfully putting their heads over each other’s backs and bouncing around. And now, they’ve stopped. Blue has been distracted by a cat, Jack is rolling around on his back on the grass, and Buddy is sunbathing.
Other dogs are milling around relaxing.
None of them felt like they were being dominated by another dog; they were just having fun.
And when you think about how accurate a dog has to be when they are playing – claws and paws flashing everywhere and their teeth mouthing at the other dogs – you realise quite how much they enjoy playing. It only takes a misjudgement for a bit of play to go too far… but it very rarely does.
And when an accident does occur, because the dogs are all in a good mood and having fun, it’s usually shrugged off by a grumble or some minor ‘handbags’.
Allowing dogs the freedom to play and interact makes such a difference in their lives. That space and time to be a dog, and interact with other dogs gives them life experience in doggy behaviour and reactions.
And this rough and tumble doesn’t just stop with the dogs playing; we can get involved too. But we have to understand that if we’re entering the arena of doggy play, the dogs will treat us like fellow dogs. So if you don’t want to get scratched accidentally or mouthed in play, don’t do it!
It’s another one of those situations where if we’re joining a doggy game, we need to understand that we’re joining them. It would be grossly unfair to barge in and then expect the dog to make all the compromises. If you were to join a rugby team expecting to play football, then you’ve got to expect to play rugby.
Same with this; if you’re joining doggy games – expect to be treated like a fellow dog.