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.
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.