Because of Spencer’s stress issues, we have a really hard time getting him to play away from home. And looking back on it, it actually took a really long time for him to feel relaxed to play here too. (The one exception is with other dogs — all he wants to do is play with every dog he meets.)
But playing is also an important way for him to learn that the outside world is less scary. First of all, we signal to him that we are relaxed enough to play. Second, the pleasure of playing helps him to associate good feelings wiht the outside world and to relax.
One of things we’ve been trying to trigger some play behavior is to incite Spencer to run with us on command, especially when he’s on his long lead, which gives him much more freedom.
Today, I realized that this is a helpful coping mechanism.
We were on an isolated path in the woods, and a noise alerted me to the fact that someone was approaching on a mountain bike. Spencer normally doesn’t react to people on bikes, but I have noticed that when they are laboring to go up hill slowly, he does sometimes get spooked by them. This guy was approaching us slowly and cautiously, and I wasn’t sure how Spencer would react. Plus, I’m always conscious that it could be dangerous for the biker if Spencer’s lead were suddenly to go tight across a path.
Spencer was a little bit in front of me, and I didn’t have time to catch up and put my hand on his harness. I was afraid that if I called him to me he would see the biker behind me and think the guy was getting ready to pounce on me. So I yelled for him to follow me and to run, and I took off into the woods on the side of the path. And it worked! Spencer thought it was a game and came tearing after me. Incident avoided! Yay team!