I’ve been watching a lot of animal documentaries, especially those pertaining to wild Canines and canine-type animals such as the Hyena. When discussing the play behavior, the narrators often express that when young predators play, it is getting them prepared for hunting when they grow up.
As I’ve watched my dogs play, I often wonder why they play. I’m sure their play behavior is a throw-back to their wild roots. Still, the pet dog doesn’t have to hunt for it’s food (that is unless you use food puzzles). I know some breeds were bred to hunt, but what about dogs that were strictly bred to be lapdogs? They exhibit the same predatory instincts that hunting dogs and even wild dogs exhibit.
My youngest, Clara, even stalks her sisters. She also has learned that instead of directly pursuing Molly, who is fast despite her short legs, she watches Molly and determines where Molly is going to turn at and cuts Molly off, knocking her off balance with the precision of a Cheetah knocking an Impala down. I can’t get enough of watching Clara perform this predatory ritual time and time again.
It’s still amazing that despite the fact that they’re Shih Tzu, they still have the drive to chase and catch. If the prey were small enough, I’m sure they’d play with it until it died.
Once, Molly and Haley even chased down a rabbit and caught it. We managed to get the dogs off of it and the rabbit hopped off no worse for the wear. While the adrenaline pumped through me, I felt angry at my dogs for picking on a poor, wild rabbit. The next day I realized that the stupid rabbit ran right toward my dogs and that they were doing just what dogs did. Quickly I went from being angry to being amazed, to bragging about it. My toy dogs caught a rabbit that was almost their size! Even friends were impressed.
I know I started out this post with a question as to why dogs play. I know that it is a throwback to their wild ancestry, but why do dogs still have the urge to play? Of course adult humans enjoy playing as well. Why do adult humans still play? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I love to play–especially Minecraft and the Sims–simply because it is fun. So, I have to say that I think domestic dogs play more out of the sheer fun of playing, but if it helps hone their predatory instincts that’s just icing on the cake.
Until next time…play like your owner is not standing there and knock her over or trip him up.