Tuesday, December 6, 2011

To Chase or To Be Chased. What's More Satisfying To A Dog?

I'll be honest.  My knee-jerk reaction to writing that title was, "To chase, of course.  Who wants to be chased?  Who wants to be the one attacked?"  For a person who always views the world in shades of gray -- to a fault -- I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that my knee-jerk reaction was so Black & White!  

Really?  Do I actually believe that?  Hmm. 

The image that immediately popped into my head …

… was of my friend's lab/husky, Sherpa, stalking, chasing, and pushing Bella over on our hikes.  Sherpa "eyes" Bella as she runs ahead on the trail, minding her own business, engaged in checking out a smell or just enjoying the run.  Notice Sherpa’s stalking behavior.  Then the chase.  Suddenly Sherpa is upon her, either bumping her off-trail or grabbing a quick mouthful of "Bella-neck" before running off in glee.  Bella has now stopped on the trail, looking down-trodden.  Or perhaps she's on her side, having been pushed over.  Whatever Bella was in pursuit of, whatever smell had enticed her, was abruptly interrupted.  How rude!

Mirror, Mirror, What Can You Make Me See About Myself?

Kevin Behan, the founder of Natural Dog Training (NDT), writes about the purpose of dogs in our lives -- the dogs who affect us -- in his recently published book, Your Dog Is Your Mirror, "The real reason for the dog in our life is to reveal what instincts, thoughts, and judgments prevent us from feeling what is at the very bottom of our heart.  [This is] the cause of the unresolved emotion we carry, and unresolved emotion is what truly drives us. … How individuals respond to the way unresolved emotion makes then feel determines how they [fit themselves into society at large].”

I observe Bella being interrupted by Sherpa on the trail.  Whatever smell had enticed her … she’s lost it.  Now to myself: when I work on a major project, I need to be left alone to be able to think.  I need to focus in order to wrangle my thoughts and organize them so they’re useful.  I hate being interrupted.  In fact, I pull all-nighters and suffer the consequences simply because of the difficulty of having to pick something up later.  To re-organize my train of thought and get back on track. 

I’m an introvert, and even having another person sitting quietly in the room as I work gives me the tiniest pangs of anxiety.  After all, if there’s someone else in the room, there’s potential for them to interrupt me!  And yet, I feel a twinge of guilt for being like this.  I judge myself, my actions.  “You’re horrible, neglecting your friends.”  “You can’t work like this, it’s unhealthy.”  “Why be such a perfectionist?  Others can get it done in half the time and still get the point across.” 


I started this blog post …
… wanting to put into my own words what I’ve learned about dogs’ playing styles and their ability to help others have a good time.  It’s interesting how I ended up writing more about myself.

Flipping Polarity & Getting Stuck (during play)

I just read a post by Behan where he explains why – when both pups agree to participate in play – it feels better to be the object-of-attraction and absorb the other dog’s energy, than to be the “predator” who transmits all its attention to the “prey.” 

As you watch most dogs play, you’ll notice that they take turns with both roles.  They “flip polarity,” if you will, between chasing and being chased. 

Now let’s imagine two pups playing … and they never take turns.  One pup remains the predator.  The other remains prey.  The prey-dog may attempt to “flip polarity,” but if the predator-dog is not willing to soften its behavior, it will not share the role.  Here’s the trouble with that.  Being the predator-dog means that you remain tense.  Always frustrated because you’re in pursuit of something.  Even if the predator-dog catches the other, it’s still not satisfied!  It keeps at the game and gets stuck.

Being Stuck 

This is an important concept.  As Neil Sattin, a NDT trainer, explains on his website, “If a dog [does not get the chance to relax], then it can only experience so much energy before [it experiences] an emotional overload.  This overload can look like aggression, submission, anxiety, overfriendliness – basically any behavior that you might call ‘disfunctional’.”  A dog stuck in the predator role is giving a certain amount of energy to the prey dog.  And giving it.  And giving it.  And giving it.  There’s no chance to relax!  Poor thing. 

Getting Unstuck
Trading Roles: Socially Successful Dogs

A “Socially Successful” dog, to me, is one who is able to not only have a good time during play, but to help others have a good time as well.  It’s generous, but not necessarily by nature.  It has learned the skills to get Unstuck.  It “flips its energy polarity” so that the other dog doesn’t get overloaded.  

I need to note here that YOU can help teach your pup the skills to be able to flip polarities!  I'll be writing additional posts about these techniques later, but for now I suggest browsing through Natural Dog Training sites and writings by it's primary proponents, Kevin Behan, Neil Sattin, Sang Koh, Lee Charles Kelly.  Be careful, though!  A lot of trainers are out there who say that they use "natural" training, but these are the only four who I'm really familiar with who can accurately explain the methods of NDT.  Please let me know about others you discover so that I can check them out and add them to this list.

Simple Explanation: A dog will help the other to get Unstuck and Snap-Out-Of-It by changing its body’s position.  It does this by whipping its body around 90- or 180- or 360-degrees.  Or by flopping to the ground in what traditionally is seen as a “submissive” pose (I hate using that term, but it works to give you a visual since it’s such a common phrase).

You can stick with these simple explanations and check out the videos below.  Note the moments where the dog has flipped it’s body (side to side) or flopped (up to down). 

Detailed Explanation: Or, if you’d like to have another language to think about this, let’s get a bit more technical.  Time for some diagrams.  Kevin Behan talks about “energy polarities” to describe where the dog places its body in space.    Think of it as Up ( /\ ), Down ( \/ ) and Side to Side (-->) (<--)

·      A dog with an Up Polarity ( /\ ) is standing alert, on guard, shoulders tense as if it’s pushing itself up from the ground to look taller.
·      A dog with a Down Polarity ( \/ ) is loose in the shoulders, head relaxed and cocked, perhaps it’s flopped over like a sack of potatoes or even on its back wiggling around like a fish.  It's important to note that a dog doesn't have to be on the ground to switch to this polarity. 
·      Side to Side Polarity is simply the direction in which the dog is moving or facing.

So, here are the different scenarios you’ll see when watching dogs play. 

·      There’s a dog chasing another dog (--> -->).
·      There’s a relaxed dog with a tense dog ( /\ \/ ).
·      There’s two dogs ignoring one another, just relaxing ( \/ \/ )
·      There’s two dogs trying to get the other to chase it (<-- -->).
·      There’s a dog getting in the way of another trying to chase (--> <--).
·      There’s two dogs in a potentially aggressive confrontation ( /\ /\ ).

(--> -->) is good, since the dogs’ energies complement one another.  However, (--> -->) (<-- <--) (--> -->) is better.  You can see why, yes?  The dogs are trading roles of chaser and chasee.  Predator and prey.  Same with ( /\ \/ ).  The dogs’ energies are complemented.  However, if a dog gets stuck in ( /\ ­) or ( \/ ), it will become frustrated.  Much better is ( /\ \/ ) ( \/ /\ ) ( /\ \/ )But no dogs play like that.  They’re up, down, running, flipping around.  They mix it up!  A play session you’d be more likely to see is:
(--> -->) ( /\­ \/ ) (--> -->) (<-- <--) (<-- -->) ( /\ /\ ­­) (--> -->) (--> -->) ( \/ /\ ) ( /\ \/ ) (<-- <--) (--> -->) (--> <--) (--> -->) ( \/ \/ ).

If I were describing that diagram session in words, it would be:
Dog A (Ace) chases Dog B (Buddy).  But then Buddy flops to the ground and Ace stands over it.  And when Buddy takes off, Ace chases it.  Then they switch roles and Buddy does the chasing.  But Buddy decides to turn around and ask Ace to chase him, but Ace wasn’t paying attention since he was in mid-sprint!  Both pups stare at one another from opposite sides of the room, teasing the other …

And then Buddy takes off, so Ace chases him.  And they keep the chase up!  Until Buddy tires of this and slows, dropping his head.  Ace wants to keep going, so he paws at Buddy and then bounces away, which Buddy responds to by chasing him.  And then they change directions.  Suddenly Dog C (Cookie) tries to block Ace from chasing Buddy.  Ace stops to sniff Cookie, during which time Buddy takes the chance to go grab some water and lay down.  But Ace remembers his attraction to Buddy and rushes over to him.  Grabs some water, takes a few seconds to catch his breath as well.

Does That All Make Sense?   

Do you like having this other language to describe dogs playing, or does it seem like there’s no use for it?  I’m really interested to hear what you think! 

Now some videos to put this language to use.

Let’s take the 9 mo old chocolate lab puppy as an example.  He had a hard time NOT pestering the others to play.  He wanted to be chased (--> -->), but if he was asked to chase the others (<-- <--) (--> -->), sometimes he would just stop dead in his tracks ( /\ /\ ­­), as if to say, “That’s no fun” and he would literally flip his body around (<--) (-->) and run off in the other direction.  But the other pup was tired of chasing, so the lab was left frustrated!  

To become “socially successful,” this pup will need to learn how to chase others.  Behan writes that if both dogs are constantly running away from one another (<-- -->), this is no good because they are “stuck” in their polarity.  The more a dog asks to be chased without a response, the more tension builds up in its body, and eventually that dog will Overload.  Being ignored by the others gives the dog a sense of resistance, and feeling stuck in that resistence is the “spark of an aggressive outburst.” 

Obviously, if you get two dogs who want to be the predator and chase, you’ve got a similar problem.  The lab puppy did have one dog in particular that it was highly attracted to: an English Bulldog.  Unfortunately, as you can see in this video, at the same time the Lab was attracted to the bulldog, the bulldog was attracted to the GoldenDoodle.  The polarities looked like this (--> <-- -->) (Bulldog, Lab, GoldenD).  The video stops sort of abruptly because I shut it off to give a time out to the lab.  Not because he was getting in the bulldog’s way of chasing the GoldenD, but because he was trying to be a predator to a predator.  And I could see the lab overloading (notice how he starts to try and mount the bulldog out of frustration).

Finally, a few videos with Bella.  She is in heat at the moment, so she’s much more predatory than normal (her mom is so proud of her for being predatory … I’ve been working really hard on this with her!). The first thing I notice is how she is pushing towards the lab, who up til this moment in the play session has been the “pusher” of other dogs.  We get to a moment at where the two are nose-to-nose, bodies almost symmetrical, and you’ve got ( /\ /\ ).  But then, as if to ease the tension, Bella drops her shoulders ( \/ ) and moves away as prey ( <-- ) , a sort of double-polarity-flip!

The lab loves it.  She’s jumping all over Bella ( /\ \/ ).  But then, you can start to see the tension building in the lab again, since B is just laying there.  The lab is feeling that “stuck resistence,” which leads her to bite at Bella’s neck to get her attention and then jump away.  As Behan writes about another group of dogs at play, “she presses in on [him] when he drifts away in order to trigger predatory impulses, and then she absorbs these by acting prey-like.  Notice how she springs up and rushes into [him] as he loses interest in order to incite him to flop her over again.” 

The additional two videos are more of the same play session, lots of polarity flipping.