We Stop Dogs From Play Fighting Because We Fear Our Own Wildness

We Stop Dogs From Play Fighting Because We Fear Our Own Wildness

“You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” ~ Isadora Duncan

I’ve written much on the importance of letting children, and ourselves, play. But what about animals, namely dogs?

Today I was walking through forest trails with my friend and his dog, Koa. Like many canines, Koa is full of energy and bounces up and down in excitement when another dog approaches that he has a connection with.

While walking amongst the tall cedar and pine trees on the gravel and dirt path, Koa came across a gorgeous white and brown Australian Shepard. Immediately, they leaped onto each other with pure joy, as if old dear friends. Never have I seen two dogs play for as long as they did without a break, which must have been about twenty minutes. My friend, the other dog owner and I watched, smiled, laughed, fully enjoying this fur flying spectacle, the growling and biting, the saliva they spread onto each other’s faces and heads, while becoming increasingly matted with dust and dirt. It was such a delight to witness so much unbridled pleasure, so much abandon. We could learn a lot from them.

It’s sad to see how many dog owners bristle at the sight of their dogs play fighting. They get upset not only at their dogs, but at other dog owners who they perceive as not controlling their pets enough. Much like hovering parents who are quick to restrain their children from similar risky frisky frolicking, too many dog owners have a short leash on what they perceive as dangerous and out of control.

They have forgotten, clearly, the wildness in them; that which we instinctively embody as children through untamed movements, sounds and engagement. They have forgotten the joy of unpredictability, of messiness, of risk taking. So controlled they are that they must now control the exuberance of their dogs so that they—the owners—feel safe.

I’ve written extensively on how we project our fears and limits onto others. One particular article you may find relevant is Your Fears and Beliefs Create the Edges of a Child’s Playground, and Your Own.

When we think of the wild we often think of danger. A grizzly bear, steep rocky mountain, and raging river come to mind. But what we forget is that squirrels and flowers are equally wild, so too are lichen and bacteria.

Despite what anthropocentric, industrial societies may believe, humans are not separate from the wild. We are no less a part of the organism Gaia—Mother Earth—than seagulls and seas are. The discursive thinking and busyness of modern civilization separates us, but innately, wild is who we are. It is our very nature because we are Nature itself!

Wild scares us for good reason. Most of us were taught to keep ourselves in check when young. Our intense emotions, sinuous movements, soaring imagination, and rapid, meandrous speech were considered too much. Eventually, to feel safe, garner approval and feel loved, we quelled our wild spirits. We dimmed our wildfires such that we fit in and behave. We tamed our authentic nature to cope with having it regularly disapproved of.

Wild rhymes with Child for good reason. They go together just as sunshine and beaches, and cuddles and kisses, and rain and mud puddles do. We are born naturally unencumbered, unbridled, and in this we find our freedom. Wild and Free—two words that also go together.

Wild does not mean out of control, but rather uncontrolled. Adults conflate the two because their natural uncontrolled nature was deemed out of the control. How many times were you told that you were “out of control”?

Lost is the undomesticated, unsanitized spirit that longs to let loose like a couple of dogs play fighting in the dirt, like a child who sings carefree. Lost are the all the benefits that go with wildness such as testing limits, attunement to others, boundary setting, strength, dexterity and relationship building, creative self-expression, and trust.

Here’s one benefit you may not know, specific to rough and tumble play:

“Roughhousing triggers a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which really is like fertilizer for our brains. It activates multiple areas of the brain and promotes healthy brain development, including stimulating neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. It ups a child’s academic and emotional smarts, motor skill development, and a feeling of being happy.”

I would guess the same applies to dogs in their ruff and tumble play!

So I implore dog owners and parents alike: when you feel the need to restrain your pet or child, ask yourself, who are you doing it for? How much do you control their behavior because you have long been conditioned to control yourself while denying your wildness? How much do you shorten the leash on other’s natural playful instincts because you have forgotten how to play yourself, and perhaps, like many, find play deeply vulnerable? How much do you intercede on what you perceive as dangerous under the guise of “safety” when it is your safety that feels most threatened?

How you treat others is a reflection of how you treat yourself… more than you may know!

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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults

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