Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Perhaps I’ve written about lessons from our dogs before, but, hey; my blog is free so if I did, here we go again. But I think it will be different even if it’s a former subject. After all, I write these from scratch every day, and I’m a different person than I was yesterday, so my perspective will always be different.
Today, though, I’ve been thinking of dogs at play. Have you ever really watched dogs play? It’s a beautiful ritual, one that I used to mimic with my puppy when I had one. Well, she passed on after many years, but she’ll always be a puppy in my heart.
If you’re observant, it’s actually an easy thing to play along. Animal behaviorists pointed out, many years after I noticed it, that there is a special dance, a communication that occurs between dogs at play. People often wonder what dogs would say if they could speak, but they can speak, just not with words.
When two dogs meet, and if one of them wants to play, there are a few distinct components to the communications between dogs at play. The first is introductions. Yes, there is a specific behavior as dogs introduce themselves to each other, and yes, it includes sniffing. I’m thinking that is more about territorial issues. When dogs walk along and leave pee-mail for each other, we all know these are unique scents. Anyways, yes, dogs identify each other through unique smells, which is also a huge part, I’m sure, on how they identify us as individuals. Yes, further research suggests that dogs do read their humans’ face, both for identification purposes as well as to ascertain mood, but we all know that scent is a huge part of it as well.
I forget the exact order, but I think that next comes the bow. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but in a sign of respect for one another, they lean back with their front paws extended in an obvious bowing motion. This, animal behaviorists say, is a sign of respect and friendship. Next, the request to play. This is more like a dance, bouncing back and forth on their front paws, and a promise that the roughhousing is just in fun.
Once engaged in play, sometimes it gets a little bit out of hand and one dog might get a little bit too rough on the other. This results in a yelp, a pause in the play, and an apology from the perpetrator who then requests to resume. On the other hand, if one dog does not want to play, they simply get up and move, walking to another place away from the annoying dog. If their behavior doesn’t really bother them, they just kind of ignore them.
Compare this with human behavior and you have my thesis for this post. I think about how people behave when they are annoyed, and how much we could learn from dogs. Humans have a habit of becoming unreasonably angered. How much easier would it be if instead we just moved on? Instead, we have this annoying habit of trying to extract some form of petty revenge. I have to admit, sometimes I’m no better. When somebody cuts me off in traffic, especially if they shave it uncomfortably close, I’m guilty of tailgating them for at least a bit just to annoy them. Usually, though, I’m happy just to let them lead their lives.
We’re so bad at just stepping back and apologizing when we hurt somebody. We tend to hurt each other often, and frequently without even being aware that we are doing it. Unfortunately, sometimes we do know. It’s amazing how quickly a situation is deescalated with a simple acknowledgment and apology. Part of this is that often it is a completely unexpected response. Frequently the other party wants to be angry, but with an apology it leaves them nowhere to go with these emotions but to internalize them.
Okay, that sounds a bit passive aggressive, but it’s certainly funny when it happens.
The interesting thing is the common courtesy. Introducing each other, and bowing to say, “let’s just play”. Of course, there are also manners in which dogs show submissive behavior during the play, by laying on their back and exposing their bellies as a reminder that they’re only playing.
It’s fun to play with dogs like this. My girl was a hundred-pound puppy when she was fully grown, all muscle and coordination. A hundred pounds might not sound like much, but the coordination makes them formidable, but when I bowed in a manner analogous to what dogs do to commence play, she knew, and we just had fun. She’d grab at me, and dodge and dart around me like I was a statue, but it was always fun.
If my wife did that we might still be married.