Sage and I have been attending a Puppy Manners class at the obedience club. There are about 5 other puppies in the class, three siblings from the same pointer litter, a cocker spaniel puppy (tiny) and a terrier mix who, until this week, was about Sage’s same size. Sage and the terrier, whose name is Annie, have a very compatible energy level and enjoy the same type of games. Primarily, they wrestle and chase each other. The only time this is a problem is when human knees get in the way.

One of the most interesting things to do is to compare how Sage plays with Annie to how she plays with her “big brother” Jojo. Jojo is my sister’s 4 year old Australian Shepherd. He comes from a herding background and, at about a year and a half, washed out of herding training because he couldn’t tolerate the aggressive training practices the handlers used. When my sister got him, he was terrified of men, had no knowledge of daily household life (stairs? What are those?), and was only nominally housebroken. What he did have was brains and an undying willingness to love and be loved. Jojo, proving that the right method for the right dog can work wonders, has not only earned a Rally Novice title but also a Canine Good Citizen certificate. He has even been pressed into service occasionally to pull a wheelchair when my foot was injured. While he was in harness and working, you wouldn’t have known about his fears; he was the consummate professional.

In watching him learn to play with Sage (because he did have to learn to play with her), I’ve watched him explore different angles of “attack.” If he comes in from above and she rolls onto her back, he’s not all that happy about it because her very long legs get in his way so he can’t grab her neck-fur. If he comes in from the side, she is big enough to give him a solid body-slam in return. She’s a lot easier to grab that way but he’s found out that it’s a lot easier for her to grab him too. He likes coming in from behind while she’s laying down. Technically, he’s mounting her but neither one of them seem to acknowledge that at this point in time. She’s too young and they both are neutered. If she does allow him to come in for a landing, she usually grabs his ears when he leans over to grab at her paws or what she might have in her possession. He’s not crazy about that so the “aircraft carrier” method doesn’t always have the best results for him. Because she’s barely four months old and because she is still physically smaller than he is, they do often play face-to-face with no real need for calming signals or submissive indications necessary. Chasing and wrestling are also the favored games between them. With Jojo, though, Sage can really go all out, resulting in an exhausted pup and a tired but happy older dog.

Sage has learned that she can’t play the same way with every dog she meets. Jojo is, by far, her favorite playmate because he’s as rough and tumble as she is. Missy, my sister’s 6 year old spayed American Eskimo, is good for chase games but draws the line in no uncertain terms at wrestling or tug. Quinn, my sister’s other Australian Shepherd (5 year old neutered male), simply isn’t interested in playing with her but doesn’t object to her following him around. My other Aussie Lacey, a 12 year old spayed female, will do some playing with Sage but because she is so much older, she can’t be as vigorous as the puppy wants. Finally, Sage has learned from my other sister’s Papillon Sammy that little dogs don’t like rough play. She does occasionally play chase with Sam but he definitely draws the line with her if her teeth come into the game at all.

So how does this relate to puppy class? I’m not sure except that a good puppy class should have dogs of all energy levels and sizes for your pup to learn from. The instructor(s) should be prepared to step in and order a time-out if the pups get too aroused. Finally, as the puppy owner, I am always practicing calling Sage out of playtime for a reward then releasing her to go back to the fun to get in a lot of recalls. One of the advantages of a well-run puppy class is that your pup should learn that, while playing with other dogs is fun, playing with you can be even more rewarding.