Saturday, August 22, 2009

Games Dogs Play

One of the most fun things about having dogs is that they love to play.

Even on their own, dogs play inventive games. Ed, who provides Lily Beth's doggie day-stay, told us about a game the dogs had made up on their own one day this spring. All the dogs would dig a big pit in Ed's yard, and then one dog would get in it. The other dogs would jump over the pit and as they did the dog inside would jump out and try to bite them. They played this over and over. Ed says the game is called "Dog in the Hole."

But dogs like to play with people, too, and the process of figuring out what the game is—something fun for both players—is a collaborative one. Our dog tries one action, sees how we respond, and then reinforces that response positively or negatively by continuing to play or walking away. We do the same, and together we shape each other's behavior into patterns that come to have recognizable rules and variations. The play is fun, but I think the cross-species communication that goes on in developing and elaborating the game is the best part of all.

Ben and Lily Beth have come up with something we call "The Game," which is a combination of fetch and keep-away. When Ben gets home from work, LB greets him at the door with one of her stuffed toys in her mouth. They go out to the front yard and Lily Beth gives Ben the toy, he throws it for her, and then he chases her around the yard to try to get it back. Sometimes Ben gets tired of it first, sometimes LB does, but it's become one of those routines that demarcate the transition between work and home, and I think they both look forward to it.

I have finally figured out how to use the video setting on our digital camera. The intent of the video below was to capture this routine for posterity, but, alas, we're having a heat wave and neither Ben nor LB was at the top of their Game.

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