“Canine Play Behavior: The Science of Dogs at Play,” by Mechtild Käufer, Dogwise Publishing. $24.95.
This scholarly romp in the park is an owner playbook for both recognizing the wide-ranging behavioral parameters of dogs having fun as well as the need for these social creatures to interact with humans and others of their species.
The author addresses solitary and social play along with the roles of stress, age, gender, social structure and breed type in play – from the backyard to the dog park and from puppies to middle-age dogs.
Käufer writes, “For humans and dogs the importance of play is significant, deserves to be taken seriously and is often underappreciated. . . . Science considers play to be not only an activity, but also a state of mind, in the same way that dreams are another form of non-reality.”
From that characterization, she first analyzes what play looks like, then examines what it feels like. An excellent array of photos complement the text throughout.
Dogs are teenagers, too, as you’ll see. Some play rough, others are liquid-smooth movers and then there are the proprietary ones with balls, sticks and toys.
“Curiosity, exploration and play behavior often go hand in hand,” emphasizes Käufer. She notes that “breed-specific behavioral traits such as playful eye-stalking on the part of herding breeds can be misunderstood by other breeds because they interpret them as agonistic behavior, not as play behavior.” Hence the reason for establishing a comfort zone for a newcomer in any social setting like a dog park or doggy day care before allowing it off-leash to interact with breeds of multiple sizes.
Play is a canine “social glue,” the author establishes, but for Fido to reap the benefits it requires owner responsibility and attentiveness, no matter what the environment.
“Canine Play Behavior” is both a razor-sharp analysis and an empowering resource of a subject seldom addressed in depth. Both owner and dog are clear winners in this literary playpen.