Play is the best way to learn. By definition play is something enjoyable that you participate in willingly. Never assume that your dog can learn everything from you, they can’t. Much of their learning takes place through interacting with their environment. If you restrict your dogs ability to do this they will develop social deficits and will be harder to train. If you allow your dog lots of opportunities to play and interact with their environment, they will learn. The more varied experiences you can expose your dog to in their first three years the more intelligent they will become. This is a neurological fact.
Dogs that are able to engage freely with other dogs usually develop wonderfully advanced social skills. They learn how to read other dogs, and learn how to control the force of their bite. Dogs primarily play with their mouths and can teach each other an awful lot about the ‘rules’ of mock combat. If one dog bites another too hard the play is stopped, you will notice this in lots of play between young dogs and puppies.
A dog that has many opportunities to interact with other dogs freely, is also releasing pressure during this time. Often dogs that are restricted, either by always being on lead, or never being able to interact with other dogs, develop behaviour that is often described as ‘hyperactive’ or ‘full on’. It is understandable if they are not able to socialise, the frustration will build up, making them unmanageable when you do finally allow them to interact with other dogs.
If you want to develop your dogs attention span for training, allowing them to play before, after and during your training session will go a long way to teaching them obedience skills. This is particularly important for young dogs and puppies. Take frequent breaks in training to release some of the pressure build up and your dog will be much more open to learning from you.
Puppy school, while beneficial, is not enough if you want your dog to have great social skills. It would be like expecting a child just out of kinder to sit through a fine dining five course meal, and make thoughtful conversation. We don’t expect it of our children, so we should not expect it of our dogs. The good news is that it does not take your dog as long to learn social graces as it does humans. Continue your dogs socialisation for their first three years, and you will end up with a well rounded adult dog for the next ten.
I have created two videos of Ben’s life so far, please click on the links below to have a look. I have done this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the videos show just how many places, people, and dogs Ben has been exposed to in his first several months. This is something I continue to do consciously in order to maintain socialisation. Sure, I could walk around the streets of home, and we would come across the odd dog, but this wouldn’t help Ben develop. So, I drive Ben to many different places, and meet up with dogs of all breeds. It takes time, but it is an investment in the future of Ben’s temperament and training.
Secondly, the videos show great examples of play between dogs. This play includes play with toys and mouthing play, you will notice that Ben sometimes spends time on the bottom, with another dog over the top of him, and other times he is the one on top. The rule of positive play is; do the dogs change their behaviour? If one dog becomes focused on one behaviour during play, then it can cause problems. You will notice that in each of these clips none of the dogs are ‘fixed’ in one position, movement is fluid, and relaxed.
Thirdly, I guess a little self indulgence at showing off how beautiful Ben is doesn’t hurt. So, enjoy the videos, and take notice of the body language displayed. I’m sure it will make you smile, and I hope it helps you understand your dog better.