Dogs DO play! Playfulness is a defining characteristic in any intelligent animal. Play enlarges the mind. Play is discovery. Play is competitive. Play is learning. And play is fun.
When I Google searched playfulness in intelligent animals (and other searches similar) I found page after page filled with animals…but none of the searches were about dogs! There were, of course, countless stories and clips about dolphins, elephants, crows and whales. Then a few pages after that you can find pigs, river otters, more stories of dolphins and whales, and even stories on the intelligence of the octopus but not a one on wolves, dogs, or other canines. What’s up with that?
Dogs are play masters (the gods of frolic) and I know they are one of the smartest creatures on earth. You want proof. Here’s my proof…the dog has traded the dangers of the brutal wild, the need to scrape by on the brink of starvation, fighting and flighting just to survive, to instead, lounge next to our hearth, our couch, or on a comfy Costco dog bed! The dog gets fed each day like clockwork, and in general has it, “made in the shade.” Doesn’t that imply the dog is brilliant? Haven’t they won, so to speak, when it comes to the game of survival? Don’t dogs use us, their owners, as tools or a means to their ends? As humans we know we are smart because we dominate the planet and we build civilization but aren’t dogs right there with us?
Don’t talk to me about the intelligence of a pig when they are still living in the cold outdoors! (sorry to all you rabid pig fans out there!)
The dog has won. In fact, many scientists ie: nerds who come up with theories in very specific detail and then conduct experiments and tests to try and prove said theories. (sorry to all you rabid scientist fans out there too!) have come to the conclusion that many wolves may have actually chosen to domesticate themselves! Talk about intelligence, that is a bold and daring choice.
Imagine leaving the wild to join up with a totally different species and by hanging out with that species you eventually get to eat some of their trash and left over food scraps.
It takes all the danger out of hunting much larger animals (which wolves do on a regular basis). Leaving the wild and being in a state of perpetual youth (the state our domestic dogs are locked in due to us breeding them for calmness, playfulness, and working abilities over the years – neoteny) obviously can add health and longevity since the average life span of a wild wolf is only 6-8 years (and many die sooner).
Let’s get back to the topic of play as pertaining to smarts. On a personal note, most of the smartest people I know tend to play and goof around quiet often. They are quick-witted and easily thrive in a group setting. (I am not talking about the rare genius who lacks all social skills because his brain is so different). I’m talking about the people who become leaders in our world. To live and survive in a social group (pack) you have to be intelligent. Let’s go a step further and I think you’ll see why I hold the opinion that dogs are both outrageously smart and playful.
Have you ever gone to pet a dog and they pet you back? I think we are all familiar with this. You reach your hand down to stroke/pat the top of the dog’s head and instead of letting it happen that dog intercepts you with it’s nose, it’s tongue, light mouthing, pawing or jumping up. This is clear canine communication. I see it quite often in my day-to-day work with dogs. As friendly or excited as the dog may appear to be the dog is, in that exact moment, testing the social boundaries and attempting to determine or anticipate what behavioral pattern is going to happen next and what they can and cannot get away with from the person touching them. Many dogs intercept our touch trying to one-up us, sort of a one-sided game, forcing us to play their way with their rules concerning their body and social spacing.
Next time you pet a dog watch for who is petting who first, or who gets the last touch. It is fascinating to watch these interactions from the dog’s point of view. There is something much deeper happening than just a surface, “Pet me.” going on in the brain of the animal. And I know this because most dogs left unchecked in the touching department ie: dogs that spend their lives on top of us (our laps) or jumping on us, licking us, mouthing us, et cetera, soon become masters of manipulating rituals that surround us everyday and…they manipulate us perfectly (which leads to behavioral issues).
I’m getting off track again and this is for another post but please remember your dog is brilliant. And if they aren’t learning rudimentary sits, downs, and the like maybe you should check your mirror for who is lacking in the intellectual department because your dog has trained you and certainly not the other way round. But I’ll cut you some slack since you are reading this blog and if you follow this blog or continue to read it soon you may be just as clever and quick as the furry animal that slobbers on your pant legs.
“So what can I do”? you ask.
Find out in my next exciting post! Garrett’s Five Steps to Perfecting Playtime with your Pooch. To Be Continued………………………………………………………………………
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