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A Video Study in Canine Body Language and Play

Lilly’s best, best friend (Katie, the borzoi) came to visit over the holiday weekend. I shot some good at-play video that I think is pretty instructive, when slowed down. It shows Katie and Ginko (our big boy) playing, with Lilly on the edge of the action. Considering that Ginko can be a bully and initially showed reactivity toward Katie when they met a few months ago, and considering that Katie was pretty fearful of him because of that, the two of them playing is a triumph of positive reinforcement that we did every day over many weeks.

For those who’ve read Calming Signals or Canine Body Language, you’ll notice several things:

First, while you do not really see a formal “play bow,” there is a lot going on.

Katie is a master at inviting dogs to play and then using calming signals (looking away, laying down) to keep the action pleasant. Notice too when she shakes off the energy.

Ginko shows a deftness at using bouncy, big movements and a perpendicular body placement to keep things friendly. (He might be “showing his boy parts,” which he is fond of, but I’m pretty sure he is trying to be nice.)

Lilly, whose dog-dog skills aren’t so good because she is so fearful of other dogs, mostly chases, barks, and hangs out along the edges of the play space. The two girls tend to play chase games, as seen here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the end, where Katie goes to get a drink out of the fountain. Lilly and Ginko follow her, but then split off to give her space.

After several minutes of play, with breaks and more play, Katie flopped down on the grass to sleep. Ginko picked up a toy and played by himself, and Lilly went to follow my husband as he mowed the uppper pasture.

Two more more things to note:

Typically, they do NOT play like this until they’ve been together for an hour or two. They all race around at first, then they often just do their own things for a while — poking around the pasture or the pond and exploring what’s what.

I suspect that playing is contageous because after Katie went home. Lilly and Ginko played a rousing game of what we call “Rabbit Dog,” where they take turns chasing each other betwen bouts of front-leg thumping and jaw wrestling. At one point, they both flew into our pond with such vigor then shot out again that my husband was convinced I’d thrown a ball. Sorry to say I don’t have video or photos of that.

I swear it was like having Katie around reminded our dogs that they are pretty fun too.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Mary - June 4, 2009

Thanks for sharing the video. Interesting how the different personalities come out in how they play and interact.

Betty - June 4, 2009

What a delightful video! I had to watch it around Tommy, literally…he had his face up to the monitor and would NOT move…he watched all the dogs playing! I think Katie is just gorgeous; and, she and Ginko had a good time. I see what you mean about Lilly hanging on the fringes; but, she did her share of playing with Katie, too. Thanks for the fun watch!

KB - June 3, 2009

Katie really knows how to defuse things, with play bows or lying down, especially when she’s feeling nervous about being cornered against the fence. I can see that Ginko is trying hard to play without being intimidating. He even does a few subtle paw lifts when Katie looks nervous. I noticed Katie ‘shake off’ her tension at one point.

Lilly looks like she’s trying to herd them the whole time, which then leads to a chase game. I can see that Lilly lives for chasing!

It sure looks like Ginko’s knees are feeling good!

Samantha S - June 3, 2009

That is REALLY cool. I can definitely see what you mean about Ginko’s movement and body placements. Katie has quite a nice influence over your dogs. I think we need her here so she could teach Marge a thing or two.. though our Spaniel friend Buddy is a fine substitute, I think.

I love all the blogs I follow, but I can always count on you to post something massively interesting and educational. Thanks Roxanne! (BTW, hope you are having a better week than last!)

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