Dogs love to play (I know, duh!) In fact play is one of the most important elements of a dog’s life and behavioural development, because it teaches them respect in a pack mentality, how to interact with other dogs and provides mental stimulation. When you see dogs play together it can sometimes seem like they are fighting, the antics get so rough and tumble. So how do we mere mortals mimic that play at home?
I routinely ‘rough house’ with Rory. At least once a day I will get down on the floor with her and have an enthusiastic game without any toys or distractions — instead our focus is entirely upon each other, which is a wonderful way to strengthen our bond. (I find rough housing on an old yoga mat very helpful as it contains the play to a specific area so things don’t get too crazy and prevents Rory from sliding around on the floor and potentially hurting herself).
My version of ‘rough house’ consists of playfully batting at each other, pushing Rory around, allowing her to jump up at me and allowing her to mouth my forearms (mouthing is an action during play where a dog will seem to be ‘biting’ her opponent when in actual fact no pressure is exerted through the jaw). This might shock some of you and be perceived as encouraging aggressive or deviant behaviour, but in actual fact it is reinforcing a dog’s natural instinct to play as they would with their own kind.
I personally find rough house to be a wonderful way to reinforce training at the same time and go over the buzz words Rory already knows. For example, if Rory gets a little too boisterous or rough, I say, “Gentle” and she will stop mouthing and start licking instead. If I need a time-out, I say, “Wait” and she will lie down patiently until I’m ready to resume. When I say, “Enough” it means the game is over and she will stop jumping up (or should — occasionally she needs a second reminder). Similarly, the game of rough house only commences when I say “Are you ready?” meaning that she does not initiate, merely responds.
The physical contact of this type of play can be very empowering for a dog and their human and bring them even closer together in their domestic ‘pack.’ It is an intimate game, builds trust and establishes a mutual respect for one another.
Keep in mind
Of course, rough house is not for everyone. This type of play is not advised for any dog who does not have strong recall commands or for young children who might not be able to distinguish the difference between playful gusto and aggressiveness. If you have never rough-housed with a dog before, I would advise speaking to a vet or a certified trainer before attempting this activity to ensure everybody’s well being.
I’m curious. Do you ever rough-house with your dog? What have your experiences with this type of play been? I’d love to hear your stories!