Friday, May 7, 2010

Initiating Play

I've often mentioned how Theo got a bit mixed up in the play department.  He rarely plays with other dogs, but he will always play with me.  As if I'm a dog!  I say I don't know how it happened, but that's a lie.  I totally know how it happened.  I initiated play with him!  I gave him the doggy signals that I wanted to play.  It's all about speaking the doggy language! 

If you are interested in a hearty giggle, check out how I inadvertently taught Theo to consider me his favorite playmate.

First, you gotta get down on your dog's level.  That's right, get down on the floor.  On all fours.   Oh, you thought this was a PG post?  It's not too late to close the browser.  I'm baring my soul here in this post.  I can pretty much guarantee you're going to think I'm a total freak by the end of this post.  If you didn't know I was a freak already.

Anyway, first off, you dog's gotta be in a playful mood.  Obviously.  So, you're on the floor, on all fours, facing your dog.  Keep your head lowered a bit.  Look your dog straight in the eye.  If your dog will look you straight in the eye, that is.  Theo always is so comfortable with eye contact.  So you're on level with your dog, facing your dog, and you have your dog's attention.  If your dog is anything like Theo, he's just waiting for the signal. 

What's the signal?  Well for me and Theo, it's a simple bob of the head.  I look him square in the face, eyes bright with challenge, and bob my head forward a bit.  Kind of like imitating a pigeon.  Seriously.  It helps if no one else is in the room to laugh at you.  Heh.  But when Theo wants to play, this simple signal is all he needs to rush forward and start to play.

He growls a bit and usually starts by putting his chin over my shoulder, but if he's really into it, he'll jump on my shoulder and bite my hair if its tied back, or mouth my ears a bit.  And he'll generally prod and poke his nose in my face in a challenge.

Ever had a corgi jump on your head?  It brings a huge smile to my face every time, no matter what mood I'm in.

Sometimes this spawns into him wanting me to chase him, so he'll back off and challenge me back, or sometimes he'll lose interest with my face and go after my hands.  That means he wants to play rougher.  He knows my head is delicate, so he is always very gentle and just play bites, but my hands can take more teething.  Or, in other words, I have trained him that he is allowed to play with my hands a little more rough.  Though thankfully I never had to train him to be gentle with my face, besides his puppy bite inhibition.  Man, I don't miss him biting my nose with those sharp puppy teeth!

When he gets too rough with my hands, I stop playing, say ouch, just like with bite inhibition, and then tell him gentle, and let him have my hand back, as long as he continues to play nice.  Theo usually looks at me abashed, and then saunters over to my hand, and does this really light teething thing as if he's trying to say "Look mom, I can do it gentle, like you said."

If I keep my posture tall and my head up, Theo feels extra challenged, and being a chicken, will usually back off (and want to do that chasing thing I mentioned).  If I lay low to the ground, it's more submissive and Theo will usually respond by pouncing on me. It's fun to read his body language and speak dog for a bit.  Also, shaking my head and looking away seems to be a submissive move too.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine was over.  She kind of inadvertently initiated play with him, and he got all excited and ready to pounce on her head.  Then she turned back to her seat and resumed talking with us, and Theo was all let down!  She had just wanted his attention.  It was funny.

Word of warning!

I trust Theo implicitly with his teeth near my face.  Even though he growls and sounds tough, I know he would never really bite me.  When I tell him he's playing too rough, he listens.  Do not attempt this with your dog if your dog might bite your face off.  Obviously, that would be a bit of a bad idea. Some dogs just play more like this: