Dog Tips

Playing Like a Dog

April 17, 2020

Playing Like a Dog

I dangle the string in front of the puppy and move it around in a circle. The tendency for most people would be to move the stick rapidly, working the puppy up into a lather of excitement. Instead, I maneuver the stick slowly, stopping it and starting it. This way, I stimulate both the play and the prey drives in the puppy.

The faster she plays, the more physical energy she drains. The slower she plays, the more mental energy she drains and the more she is challenged, since prey drive involves more concentration.

This is a good game to play while allowing your puppy to drag a short leash. In this way, the leash and the duck—as well as you who controls the game—don’t come to symbolize overexcitement and chaos. Instead, the entire exercise represents challenge and focus, bringing out the puppy’s animal-dog nature.

In playing games like this that engage the animal-dog in your puppy, you can also begin to observe the breed related traits that the play or prey drive bring out.

When they were three and four months of age, I started playing this game regularly with Angel, the miniature schnauzer, and Mr. President, the English bulldog. There was very little difference in how they played as dogs. Both of them stalked the toy like a dog and chased the toy like a dog.

The breed in them, however, showed itself at the moment they captured the toy. Angel would stalk with his perfect show-dog posture, then muster up the energy to pounce on the duck. After wrestling with it a little, he’d gently let it go and direct his attention elsewhere.

Mr. President was calmer than Angel during the stalking phase, but once he got hold of the duck, he would continue to maul it unless I stepped in immediately to make him let go. This is where I have to make sure he plays like a dog, not a bulldog. If he gets into a bulldog state, his play will have no limits. He will actually try to “kill” the toy. It’s much more difficult to remove the toy when a powerful breed’s behavior escalates to that level.

If Mr. President—even as a four-month-old puppy—were to get fully into his bulldog state, even food wouldn’t distract him from tearing apart the toy. As long as the puppy’s play stays in the “animal-dog” zone, you can always use the nose to distract him.

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