Watching a variety of different dogs play is one of the biggest benefits. Dogs really know how to party, and the joy they get from play can be contagious.

Mini-breaks and Time-outs

It’s possible to draw broad generalizations about breeds – retrievers tend to like to mouth wrestle and end up with their heads literally soaked, bully breeds tend to slam dance, some herding breeds like to play tag — however the “tagging” better be gentle — but as I’ve said before, these are broad generalizations and are not always true.

Know your dog, and know your dog’s friends

Symmetry and Handicapping Patricia McConnell talks about self-handicapping frequently on her blog and in her talks. It’s an important part of play.

Some dogs take offense, even in the middle of a play session, to a bitten ear or a jumped-upon face. The question is, how do they react? A warning and/or disengaging from play is just fine. Retaliation is usually not. In a safe environment dogs always have the option to end play by stopping and, if nexessary, leaving the area.

This means (at least) two things must be true: the area is big enough for a dog to be able to leave the area of play and the participants are in control to take the hint when a dog wants a break.

So What’s Actually Acceptable?

One of the more interesting parts of my apprenticeship was watching how different trainers handled playgroups in both puppy classes and with adult dogs. Some were very hands on and quick to enforce a break in the action. Other tending to go with the flow and tried to engineer things more by strategically picking playgroups.

I came away a bit of a laissez faire attitude, and the fact that I have had to deal with small groups and then ideal facilities (until very recently) have forced me to improvise. I want to see regular breaks in the action. I don’t like to see too many high-speed chases, dogs up on their hind legs, and dogs that seem overwhelmed or afraid need to be helped by pairing them up with appropriate playmates. But attempts to support one dog or another or to enforce specific rules of play are not my thing.

Categories: Health