Saturday, January 21, 2012

Body language and learning to play

Pictured: A Mexicanine Standoff

Historically, Cohen has not played well with others. 

It's a shocker, I know. My loud, pushy, nervous, insecure, tunnel-visioned herding breed has a hard time interacting healthily with other dogs. A lot of dogs are intimidated by her constant barking while she seems blissfully (or intentionally) ignorant of their discomfort. 

Then something changed. Cohen has learned to play. She will try to initiate a game of chase or biteyface with just about any interested party. She'll toss her butt into another dog's face (an Aussie specialization), roll over on her back then take off at top speed. She'll even tug. 

Disclaimer: I almost never let Cohen tug with other dogs, but these two were getting along well and were very closely monitored. 
These are all skills that she should have learned as a puppy, but I'm thrilled that she's finally figuring them out. She's 2 years old for goodness sake - it's about time. 

Along with the increased confidence in play comes an increased awareness of dog body language in general. As I said, Cohen is rather insecure with other dogs. She's easily intimidated and is prone to the occasional reactive episode if she sees a trigger dog/breed (she takes particular issue with Airedales - go figure). As she approaches a group of new dogs she will exhibit a number of appeasement gestures and calming signals - looking away, lip licking, slow blinking, paw lifting. She'll roll over if she's feeling particularly shy. Once the greeting is over with it's game on. 

I've been impressed by how clearly I think Cohen "speaks dog". She's not perfect, but she's come a long way over the last year or so, and I anticipate continued improvement. I get so much joy watching Cohen run at top speed in long winding paths around me - she has a look of pure joy on her face, and it brings a smile to mine. 

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