To Play Or Not To Play?

On Dog Star Daily there is a self-contradicting logic loop generated by two articles, one by an unidentified author, the other by Dr. Roz.


“When puppies reach adolescence, food lures temporarily lose effectiveness. The owner and their food lures now have to compete for the dog’s attention with all the more interesting stimuli in the environment. Indeed it is a rude awakening for many owners to discover that their dogs are much more interested in sniffing another dog’s butt or chasing a squirrel than paying attention to them. Most owners resort to upping the olfactory punch (and price) of their food lures. But this seldom works for long. In fact, you may identify forlorn and exasperated owners of adolescent dogs by smell, since they have finally resorted to using dried fish as a lure.”

“With adolescent dogs we need to temporarily change the type of lure from food to toys. Retrieval toys and tug o’ war toys work the best. Get your dog hooked on fetch or tug and then you may use the toys as lures and rewards to teach him almost anything.”

(2) Dr. Roz

“Throwing balls and Frisbees and playing games which increase the dog’s heart rate can actually make the dog more stressed and have a completely counter affect to that which you’re trying to achieve: a calmer, less “wired” dog. Here’s a test for you if you have an active or hyperactive dog or one from working lineage: for the next 3 days, don’t throw any balls or Frisbees and don’t play any games that will overly increase its heart rate.  Play tug, do some training, try some environment enrichment exercises, put them on a long line and just allow them to explore and sniff.  If you’re screaming at the screen as you read this: “What?! No balls?!!!!!! My dog LOVES running for a ball!!!!!” ask yourself if they really do or if you love them running for a ball.  The production of adrenaline becomes self-rewarding and behavior becomes compulsive and uncontrolled, just as you see in hyperactive children.  Just because the dog does run for the ball and readily retrieve it, it doesn’t qualify that it is any good for the dog.”

So what’s an owner to do? a) Recognize that dog behavior isn’t a function of cues and reinforcement and that the fundamental purpose of play isn’t to have fun (it’s about “making prey”). b) Understand that behavior is a function of Drive, the nature of which is to overcome resistance. Canines evolved as hunters of large, dangerous prey. So my advice? Be The Moose and Keep On Pushing!

(Note, because NDT is predicated on the notion of Drive, it has long recognized that over-stimulation is as noxious to Temperament as is something overtly toxic. In other words a positive isn’t necessarily a positive. (One piece of rich chocolate cake = good, four pieces = toxic.) Whereas reward/lure trainers say that the notion of Drive has been discredited and is unnecessary in the face of the modern terminology about “reinforcements.” So then how can there be too much of something (ball) that supposedly reinforces a good behavior? In NDT, overcoming resistance by way of Drive is always gratifying and hence calming, whereas, something out of context with Drive is always enervating. In short, dogs are moose hunters, not mouse hunters.)

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Published July 11, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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16 responses to “To Play Or Not To Play?”

  1. Christine says:

    So then, fetch is more like mousing and tug and pushing are more like moosing, correct?

  2. kbehan says:

    Right, in tugging and pushing the dog is dealing with resistance and so when he overcomes it, his emotional system returns to neutral, in particular, push-of-war. Resolving unresolved emotion is a function of “fighting drive” in other words, the drive-to-make-contact. So tug of war is good to get the dog invested, but push of war is truly satisfying.

  3. john says:

    does pushing refer back in any way to the time a dog was a pup on the bitch and had to push in to get a feed , the actions are very similar with the front legs tucked back and the force coming from the hind quarters,,,
    i normally get blinded by science, and try to associate topics with behavior i can relate to,,
    and is ball play ,chapter 16 from NDT( read both books know but just love to open any page of ndt and still find gems of information) still as relative today as it was back then, or would a different approach be taken now,,thanks,,

  4. kbehan says:

    Exactly right, pushing into the nipple is the beginning of overcoming resistance and is indelibly imprinted with immersion in the group mind given the warmth/compression of the litter experience.
    Secondly, that’s an excellent observation and brings up an important consideration. I wrote the training section of “Natural Dog Training” in the mid-eighties and in those days people didn’t play much with their dogs, and those that did weren’t obsessed about it. They’d throw a stick a few times and didn’t buy any special toys. (Now you go to pet stores and find ball launchers on flexible arms, what’s next, gatlin gun ball dispensers?) So in those days most of the problem dogs I encountered were ones that their owners never even played with and were of weaker breeding lines and so getting them to care about a ball was a big deal and had an amazing transforming effect for the better. Also, didn’t see any aggressive goldens, labs, and few mutzers with aggressive issues, and so while I always did work with bite work with tug objects with my working dogs, I wrote the book with the under-prey aroused typical family dog in mind, and thus the emphasis on ball and Kong because these were the easiest ways to spark that urge into life. But now after the explosion of positive dog training movement, and also the revitalization of the enervated American show lines with European stock, and not to mention the pit bull revolution, and then the conversion of all the breeds into hyper “terriers” of their respective disciplines, the dogs we are now dealing with are “fried” because of over stimulation toward this tiny prey object. This brought me formally to the mousing versus moosing distinction because it is so much harder now to reform troubled dogs than it used to be. This intense training, manic playing and hyper socializing owners are doing with their puppies is like shifting gears in a car without a clutch, it’s metal on metal and the gears are getting anealed with overheating. In short, we are giving dogs autism.

  5. Joanne says:

    Thanks John and Kevin for clarification on the NDT book and putting it into current thinking. In my attempt to understand how to implement NDT I decided to do more observing, alonside getting help from you guys. I see the mousing vs moosing very clearly in my dogs now. the lab retriever was going bonkers for a tennis ball until I confiscated them a few weeks ago on Sang’s advice. I do get some pushing with a tug toy, but the food is much more effective for enthusiasm. Interestingly, with the hamiltonstovare, I have noticed a mousing to moosing difference as well. He is not interested in retrieving but is a great sniffer and previously it was really difficult to get his nose of the ground – shouting had no effect, in fact many dog trainers have previously asked me if I’d had his hearing checked! After a few weeks of pushing for food and encouraging him with during the sniffing, he now looks up and comes running towards me with the ‘ready’, ‘Jack come’ – truly remarkable. I guess his version of mousing was literally ‘digging for mice’, instead of ‘moosing’ or pushing for food.

  6. David says:

    My dog loves to chase balls, but he doesn’t seem interested in tug. I tryed everythig, all sorts of toys, sticks, hoses, tryed to tie the toy to a rope, but nothing seems to work. Sometimes he will tug, but just for a few seconds, and not very hard, like he will do it just to get me off his back, like: ok i tugged for a bit, now throw me the ball or leave me alone. He likes to push for food, so I tried to get him to tug and then push for food as a “reward”, but to no effect. He has aggression issues with other male dogs, so I tryed a couple of times to get him to tug while other dogs were near by, but nothing. Should I completely remove the balls, and only try to get him to tug until he eventually does (which could be never), or is there something more I could try to get him to tug? Thanks

  7. kbehan says:

    Yes, you must remove all the little toys/balls so that this isn’t where he gets his ya-yas out because there won’t be any energy available for the tug. Why the ball and not the tug? Because the resistance is too high. Why is the resistance too high? Because the intensity he needs to muster to overcome such resistance is already channeled into fighting other dogs. So pushing is indeed vital, do not put a food bowl down and then ask him to reverse a lifetime of learning at the dog park. Only feed him when he pushes when around other dogs. Then teach him to speak-on-command, belly rub-a-dub and massage with soft plush toy in hand can sometime induce an urge to bite said toy. And then you have to do an energy audit of life in the house, i.e. do you play indoors, is he noise sensitive, separation anxiety, are you doing eye contacting, does dog follow you around, go after dogs when riding in a car, etc, etc. But if you first do fundamentals of wax/on and wax/off, the pathway will begin to open. So don’t worry, it’s the law.

  8. David says:

    Concerning speaking on command, we started training for that a few days ago. I tie him to a flexible branch and move away from him with food in my hand, and my hand on my chest. As far as I understand, he should be lungeing towards me to get the food, and then when he licks hip lips, he gets the food. But he isn’t lungeing, he just sits there, or he lies down. He does lick his lips every now and then, and then I give him food. But not a single sound so far. Is the lungeing part important?

  9. kbehan says:

    At the moment it sounds like he has no energy so have him jump up and get rowdy, and then mix in a little push a way into the routine, perhaps for now only ask for a bark at a much greater distance. Your first order of business is to get the energy flowing. Check out the various articles on Lee Kelley and Neil Sattin’s site about the description of the work, not to mention Neil has videos available to show it step by step. Keep On Pushing!

  10. Keith Tilley says:

    Hi, I’m new to NDT and this post has confused me a bit. Some dogs seem to be bred to hunt birds and small animals. My Cocker Spaniel is a keen mouse-hunter. Are you saying that this behaviour is true to the breed characteristics, but not true to his deeper instincts as a dog? As I continue with NDT, can I expect him to become less interested in mouse-hunting and more focused on me as ‘prey’?

  11. kbehan says:

    Within any litter there is a range of settings (inhibited relative to arousal/directed intensity versus ease of deflection), just as within the domestic dog species there are a range of breeds that manifest this same range along this spectrum. So you could have a “soft mouth” cocker who feels grounded with the mousing and its connection to you satisfies the focusing of energy dynamic of its temperament, or, it could have a higher prey threshold and the mouse could leave it frustrated. You just have to see what’s up with your dog. If it is overly intense in some other way then the mousing is adding intensity that it can’t focus to a state of feeling grounded. It used to be that the sporting breeds were more reliably soft-mouthed (accompanied by the complementary state of paralyzed intensity, i.e. “the point”) but now it seems to me that the breeders have gamed the system and are breeding “field terriers” that excel at electronic training for the highly stylized world of field training. I think this influence is changing the nature of the breed and causing problems in the domestic setting, i.e. dogs that are too intense and then owners that are hyper stimulating them with little prey objects. So the point I’m making is that they need to raise these dog’s prey threshold by bringing a more robust prey object “to ground” so that they can calm down and their temperament can arrive at the “stop signal.” Hope this clarifies.

  12. Keith Tilley says:

    Thanks, yes that does clarify things and seems to relate to my dog. He was very intense and chased anything that moved. I was throwing a ball to use up his energy and hiding treats to satisfy his hunting. Now I have started pushing and tugging with him and he seems much calmer. He also seems less inclined to ‘mouse’.

  13. David says:

    Hi, just another quick question. You mentioned that I should only feed my dog when he’s pushing around other dogs. I watched the Quantum Canine episode where you were talking about pushing, and used an example of food aggression. You said that in that case you should push over the food bowl when the dog growls, so he will eventualy stop growling, and start looking at you for a push because push feels good, and growling doesn’t. As I undertsand, that is also why we should push around other dogs, because eventually the dog will rather choose to push which feels good, than try to fight other dogs, which feels bad. And after some time he won’t try to fight other dogs even if I don’t have any food because it will feel bad, so he will focus on me because even if I don’t have food, it will still feel better? Am I getting it right? And another thing concerning pushing around other dogs. I have a friend who has a dog that is actually the first dog that my dog got into a fight with, as far as I know (i got him from shelter when he was 3 months). My dog was about 4 months old at that time, and the other dog was about one year old, and he really liked that dog. But one time that other dog was chewing a bone when we were outside, and my dog got too close to him, so the dog atacked him, pretty violently. My dog didn’t fight back, he was just scared. They got along for some time after that, but the fights got more frequent, always the other dog attacking my dog, so I decided not to let him interact with him at all anymore (I now realize I should have done after that first incident, well I sould’t even let it happen). And now when we see each other on walks, that dogs always barks and growls on my dog, and my dog is suprisingly calm in these situations (he’s not afraid of him, he would fight him with no problem if I were to let him). So the question is would it be a good idea to have my friend bring that dog so my dog can push when he’s around? Thanks

  14. kbehan says:

    Right, overcoming resistance with FORWARD THRUST (pushing to get what it wants) feels better than growling which is akin to a plane with reverse thrusters on at power, i.e. trying to hold back. So this changes the dog’s perception of what’s happening and then the food bowl becomes a deepening of grounding rather than a sensation of disconnection. So the same is true of the dog issue, and in this case, your dog gives the other dog “credit” for the good feeling, and this begins to soften and change your dog’s perception of the other dog and what’s going on. Thereafter dogs don’t have to mean the condition of holding back, they can mean more energy is moving and more pleasure is being experienced. The offending dog will be a very good trigger for this held back (due to damage) energy as long as you do it in a safe context. It also sounds like your dog has a much stronger nature than this other dog, which is why he is so quiet, and so it will be easy to heal him and a good thing to do as well as if as an adult your dog ever gets in a tangle with a dog of this stripe, I wouldn’t want to be that other dog.

  15. David says:

    Thanks a lot Kevin, I really apreciate the quick response, it feels good to know that we are on the right track

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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