2006-11-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

...by Joanne Anderson

Female Husky mix Female Husky mix Proper canine play is an important part of dog diplomacy. Just as kids require playground rules, our dogs need guidance and limits when they romp together. Knowing about different dog play styles helps owners monitor fun in the yard or the dog park before it gets out of hand. Noting play style is important also when assessing compatibility before adding a second dog to the family.

Play is the puppy's raison d'etre. Young dogs thrive on frolic. For older dogs, healthy play can enhance their quality of life. Under ideal conditions, play burns excess energy, provides mental stimulation, and teaches puppies canine communication and bite inhibition skills.

We recognize the start of safe play when dogs slap the ground and bow. They look happy, actually smiling. Their antics appear balanced and parallel with role reversals. Each dog takes turns initiating the game. The best players self-interrupt- their arousal is followed by small breaks. If not, the human refs have to step in to diffuse the escalating excitement before it gets out of control.

At the seminar at Southampton Shelter last week, Sue Sternberg, shelter dog expert, warned: "Too much continuous play can be bad. It can become dog aggressive". It's important to step in and enforce time-outs. Dogs need to stop, respond to their human, and remember there is a good reward for complying. They shouldn't get so carried away by the ruckus that they forget that you, the leader, are the most fun.

Male Shepherd/Akita Male Shepherd/Akita Sternberg describes 4 different canine play styles. Dogs get along well with similar style companions. Some opposing styles can mesh, while others seem to clash. Some dogs seem to individualize a combined play mode. Keep in mind that at a dog park, pooches of all play styles meet each other, so humans need to put away the cell phone and keep a watchful eye.

Sternberg's categories are: 1) the rough-housers with lots of highly physical contact- body slamming, pushing hard into each others spacethe canine linebackers; 2) the chase or be chased- The dogs who love to play tag or when sprinting, show off, out running everyone; 3) the mouth wrestlers- They spend their time biting in the air and on the ground, face fighting noisily but not hurting; 4) the scared and be scared- They freeze, poke and dart in and out. Partner pups are thrilled by the mutual sudden explosions of fun.

Sternberg says that dogs of all the styles can mix and match except for the rough housers. They need to find (and stay exclusively with) each other. Chasers, mouth wrestlers, and the scary ones may be too shocked by the blunt force and brutal blows of the rough housers. These bulldozer maneuvers may be misinterpreted as aggression. The other dog can become frightened or defensive, and a real fight starts.

Most of my Afghans have been chasers in their breed's patented "you'll never catch me" way. They'd take turns running lightning laps. One male was slower than his brother so they interspersed spurts with silly mouth wrestling. Everyone got along fine. When 2 greyhounds and my female Afghan zoomed, things got a bit out of hand because the male ex-racer kept his mouth open to grab, She has lots of coat to catch. We compromised by letting the Afghan run the warm up laps and then watch inside from the window.

Synchronized running was the name of the game when my foster German shorthaired Pointer came for play dates. Jezzy the plotting Pointer knew the mathematics of the track and would take short cuts to dart in to cut the silly Afghan off at the pass. They also merged hunting styles during their "down time" squirrel stalks. Unfortunately, the combined skills of a sighthound and a sporting dog can be deadly to unsuspecting gray intruders. When the doggy guests are low to the ground, like my cousin's Corgi and Basset, the Beauty Queen uses them as living hurdles. They just stare at Ms. Steeplechase in amazement.

All kidding aside, there is so much more to canine compatibility and introductions than outlined here in this brief description of play. Whenever 2 dogs meet for the first time, the intro should be on leash. They should come nose to nose on neutral ground (if possible), and under the supervision of someone who is adept at reading canine body language.

Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset has some playful pets just looking for someone to love. "Kelly "#860 is a mature sweetie- a gold and cream Shepherd mix. "Bob" #919 is a good natured, but big boy tabby. See more shelter selection photos, including kittens, on Petfinder.

Dogs: "Joltin' Joe"#893- a lighter colored version of "Kelly"; "Dee Dee" #1010- a Pointer mix; "Gypsy" #709- a Shepherd/Rottie; "Pebbles" #1093- a Lhasa/Wheaten mix.

Cats: "Creamcicle"- #859- the king of pumpkin colored polydactyls; "Teddie"- #799- a declawed orange chunky cat.

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