Ella: Learning how to play

Ella - love you girl!
Ella – love you girl!

Ella joined our clan in July and fit in right away. Ella accepted Charlie and his blindness without hesitation. It was apparent that Ella trusted Charlie even when he was socially awkward. Ella grew up in a home that was filled with other Cavaliers so when she met Jade she saw a giant beastie of a dog. It didn’t take long for Jade to ease Ella’s fears about her. Ella soon decided that Jade wasn’t scary at all and that Jade hung the moon!

Teaching Ella the basics
Ella arrived knowing how to walk extremely well on a leash and how to stay, but sit and down were new concepts. If there were thought bubbles over Ella’s head at times I swear they would read “isn’t it enough to be beautiful?” or “you want me to do what?” Ella is one of the sweetest and most loving dogs you will ever meet, but learning new skills takes time and creativity on my part. It has been fun to go back to the basics with Ella.

Ella learning how to "down" by modeling Jade's behavior
Ella learning how to “down” by modeling Jade’s behavior

Do you see how hard Ella concentrates? I haven’t had a dog that thought this hard to get something right in a long time!

It has been fun has been watching Jade teach Ella. Jade is very patient  with Ella especially during training moments. If you’ve ever met Jade you know that patience doesn’t come naturally to her!  Words like “overly enthusiastic” or “extremely joyful” or even  “baby Godzilla” have been used to describe Jade. Patient … nope… not a word that typically fits her profile.  So, why do you think she is being patient with Ella?

Jade is teaching Ella and is self-handicapping. Jade can be very sweet and loving when she knows that a person, or a dog, is in need. Jade is patient with Ella because somehow she knows that Ella needs help learning basic cues like sit, down, and leave it. It is cool to watch her teach Ella.

Play is an important part of learning
One of the many wonderful things about dogs is they use play to teach and learn. When Ella met  Jade and Charlie she was shy around both of them.  She became friends with Charlie first and loves to snuggle with him.  It took a little longer before she was completely comfortable around Jade and even longer until she was willing to play with Jade.  These are appropriate activities with each dog because Jade loves to play and Charlie loves to snuggle.

Ella and Charlie - sweet pups
Ella snuggling with Charlie – sweet pups

It took about about three months of Ella living with us for the next story to happen.  Every dog, every home will be different – the key is to be patient and let your new dog find their own comfort zone so that they can find their joy.

Jade selected the smallest fleece rope toy that she had and took it to the overstuffed chair in our living room so she could let the rope dangle from her mouth over the edge of the chair. Jade looked at Ella to make sure that Ella was watching her.  Jade got up and very slowly paced around the living room – back and forth – right by Ella… each time Jade passed Ella she got closer. Sometimes Jade would let the rope gently touch Ella but she didn’t let Ella take the rope. Every now and then Jade returned to the chair and waited a few seconds before resuming her walk around the room.

Each time resumed her walk she increased her speed. Eventually Jade started tossing the rope up in the air and catching it… Ella got interested in chasing Jade when the rope was being tossed! Ella didn’t try to take the rope, she just chased Jade. The game continued for a while like this… Jade pacing, swinging the rope and/or tossing it up and catching it with Ella chasing Jade.  Don’t blink… Jade let Ella catch the rope! Within a few minutes Jade had Ella tugging on the rope and even had Ella grabbing the rope right up by Jade’s mouth to tug.  And I mean tug hard!  Ella was tugging!!

Ella and Jade tugging
Ella and Jade tugging

I was so happy to see this – why? Because this was the same girl that thought Jade was scary. Jade was patient and knew what was needed to let Ella be her friend. Jade taught Ella how to play with her. Jade self-handicapped so that Ella could learn that she was safe, that she was a friend who could be trusted. We all need friends like Jade in the world.

Ella, Charlie and Jade playing
Ella, and Jade playing. Charlie comes to see what they are doing and maybe join in the fun!

Jade and Ella continue to play and have increased their games to include other toys. To let you know how comfortable Ella is in our home, Ella has even stalked Jade! Jade seems to like being stalked by Ella because she takes her paw and just puts it on Ella like “you’ve got to be kidding.” That is when Ella takes the toy and runs! Ella has a few places she can hide out, but Jade knows where to find her. It has become their game. It is good. It means Ella feels safe.

Since this post is about play I want to share one more thing. Ella has been “retrieving” with Jade when Jade practices for her competitions or just for fun. Ella has only been willing to tag the ball or dummy. She does run with Jade to get the ball or dummy and to bring it back – she has not brought the item back. The other day she picked up the ball! I was so excited!

Ella retrieving and holding a ball for the first time. This is a stress ball - she doesn't look stressed here!
Ella retrieving and holding a ball for the first time. This is a stress ball – she doesn’t look stressed here!

It is important to share the joy in play because if nothing else, play should be fun!

So… How do your dogs play together? How do you play with your dogs?

For more information on the importance of play:
Jaak Panksepp: “Affective Continuity? From SEEKING to PLAY — Science, Therapeutics and Beyond” p.1

The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *