I am planning to take another class through the Fenzi Academy, this time with Tessa. I plan to take a class with her on relationship and play. I am hoping to snag a gold spot. This is something I really hope Tessa and I can start to run with!
The dog who came into my house three years ago had no play in her whatsoever. She was all about survival and keeping herself safe. It actually didn't take very long before she started inviting the other dogs to play. Unfortunately, none of my other dogs have ever accepted her invitations to play. I'm not sure why, but Maddie, who got on very well with Tessa and used to hang around with her for hours, refused to play with her. Dean, who used to play vigorously with Maddie, refused to play with her. Sammie might have, but he was too old and really beyond dog-dog play by the time Tessa came along. And Speedy doesn't play anything but ball games with other dogs.
Tessa also started, rather early on, to grab a ball and run around with it. She will caper with it, drop it, pick it up, pounce on it, and even tease the other dogs with it. But this ball play is always in the context of interaction with the dogs.
Play with me was a different matter entirely. If I tried to join in the game, she would cease and desist immediately. She might plop down on the ball and lay there. Or drop the ball entirely and move off. After quite a while I was able to pry the ball from her mouth and throw it for her to retrieve, but she has never really become a dog who loves retrieving. Tessa has always stopped, gathered herself into herself, and backed off when I have tried to play directly with her.
The only place Tessa really lets go and plays with me is at the beach! At the beach, she loves to bring the ball near me so I can send it flying for her!
Tessa and I play, of course, in a way, when we work together. When she is running Agility, that is a form of play. She had to work very hard to get to the point where she could relax and enjoy Agility. Even tricks and Rally FrEe and Freestyle are a kind of play between us.
But she and I have never gotten to the point where we could really just engage with each other and play. She doesn't have little games that she plays with me for fun like Dean and Speedy have.
One might wonder why this matters so much. She is happy. She trains well for food. Does she really need to play?
It may not be an absolute necessity, but I honestly feel it would be very good for her to be able to really let down her guard and play with me. Knowing her as I do, I really do think that if she had not experienced what she experienced in her life before she was with me, she would have been a dog who thoroughly enjoyed play with a human. I am pretty committed to helping her become as much like that dog as I possibly can! I want her to be the enthusiastic, fun loving, and confident girl that she really is by nature.
With the goal of taking this class in mind, I have been experimenting a little with play with Tessa.
Sometimes when she comes in the door from being outside, she is very playful! She will puppy bow to me and caper around a bit. Instead of just petting her, or sitting down on the sofa to get her to jump up and snuggle, I've been starting to engage at this point. I'll turn away from her and run a few steps, and she runs along with me. I'll touch her lightly and then turn away. She has responded very positively! I am eager to learn more about how to progress with that sort of play in the class.
Last night at the training building, after teaching, I played a little with Tessa with food. Instead of asking for a behavior, releasing, her, and then tossing food as a reward, I used the food to rev her up a bit, threw it, and then, with some excitement in my voice, called her to me. As she came running, I asked for a leg weave! The first time, she hesitated, but after that, she would come flying toward me and weave right under.
This is major progress!
We did leg weaves and twirls and spins - all in the context of the food and her being more "up"!!
She didn't want to stop!
It occurred to me afterward that my attitude toward play with her is very different from my attitude toward play with my other dogs. The fact that Tessa will play with me is an incredible sign of her trust. She is allowing me to interact with a side of her that she normally keeps carefully hidden.
It is an honor to be able to play with Tessa!! An honor that she has finally come to the point of being willing and able to grant.
I am very much looking forward to the play class! Not only will it prove to be a training asset, but I know it really is going to serve to deepen the bond of trust and affection that Tessa and I share.