Friday, January 22, 2010

Playing around

Allie doesn't always have the best timing when it comes to asking me to play. I have never, for example, been able to understand why my unloading the previous night's dishes prompts her to bring me her tug toy. Sometimes I get frustrated because, all too often, the times that she wants to play are times when I can't or don't want to. She certainly isn't a neglected dog by my standards (anyone who knows me knows I dote on the dogs I live with), but sometimes I've wondered if she thinks she's neglected.

Only in the last day or two have I begun to suspect that at issue here is not a feeling of neglect on her part but, rather, a desire to build the bond she already has with me -- or, at least, to reaffirm it.

I developed this suspicion while watching a video of dolphins and people surfing together off the coast of South Africa. Both the footage of human-cetacean wave-catching and the music accompanying the footage are mesmerizing, as evidenced by the fact that I've watched the video at least a dozen times since coming across it yesterday. But in his commentary, naturalist David Attenborough notes that "scientists think that for dolphins, play might have a crucial role in strengthening the social bonds within a group."

Allie, of course, is no dolphin. But like all dolphins, she's an intensely social individual. When she brings me her tug toy or drops a ball at my feet, she may not just want to play with me. She may need to play with me.

Right now she's napping across the room on my 30-year-old couch -- but, judging by the clock, she'll soon be letting me know that it's time for a potty break, after which she'll let me know she wants to play. This time, I won't say no.

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