How do you know when a dog is having fun?

This morning I took my three dogs, Ranger, Trooper and Linus to the park. This is a necessity since I have two Collies and a Sheltie and live in Chicago. Until someone moves in with a flock of sheep to keep them busy, it is my responsibility to provide them with a heavy dose of physical and mental stimulation. So, I took them to a park near my house and played Frisbee with them and threw the Kong on a rope. As usual I also worked on training to keep them sharp. I asked them to stop, come, go left, go right, finish, stay, etc. They had a lot of fun and were their normal goofy, wonderful selves.

A few minutes after we got there, a nice woman brought her 6-year-old Chihuahua into the park and asked if he could play. I said, "sure." She mentioned something about it being a good opportunity for him to run around. Her dog, Bosco, seemed perfectly happy walking around, sniffing and exploring; things that city dogs don't necessarily get to do a lot since they are usually on leash.

After about three minutes, the woman proceeded to leave and said something about, "Well, I guess he doesn't get it. He doesn't want to run." Then she left. I guess in her mind Bosco had to run or it wasn't worth her time to stick around. Maybe she thought that running was the only activity that showed that he was enjoying himself. I am not sure.

It started me thinking about the varied activities that dogs do. Some dogs like chasing other animals, playing fetch, getting belly rubs, sniffing on walks, or cuddling on the couch. But, how do we really know when they are having fun?

Maybe Bosco was having fun just sniffing around, or more likely, his person knew that he was bored. My three dogs each have their own desires for fun. Ranger loves to be chased, Trooper loves it when I grab the leash in the park and trail it so he can bite it. Linus loves fetch. How do I know? Because they continue to do the behavior.

It is basic animal learning theory that states that an animal will do a behavior more than once if it is reinforcing in some way. If an animal repeats something, it is either to soothe an anxiety, a physical desire (eating to alleviate hunger), or because it is fun.

If you are not sure what your dog likes. Try many activities until you find something that he likes. I routinely do things once and wait and see if a dog responds in a positive way. For instance, I will pet a dog for a short amount of time, wait a minute and see if they move towards me or look at me, and then start petting them again. You can teach dogs to communicate their desires to you if you are observant and responsive.

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