Would You Let Your Dog Play with a Wild Bear?

Is this fun – or a path to doggy death?

Check out this video from FirstScience.tv – then we’ll talk about body language.

What is the first thing you notice that shows there is no conflict in this encounter between the dog and the bear?

  • Both animals turn to the side, they are not “facing off”
  • Their body movements are loose and fluid, not tense and stiff

These are the same body language signals you might see in a peaceful encounter between greeting dogs!

What is the next incredible display of restraint that you notice?

  • The bite inhibition of the bear!

The bear has his jaws wrapped around the dog’s head and neck.  He could crush the dog’s skull in one bite.  But he doesn’t – he shows amazing bite inhibition (careful control over his jaw muscles).  Wow.  Dogs also must have great bite inhibition with one another in order to be good playmates.  They learn this with their littermates at a very young age.  Bite too hard, and your puppy playmate will yelp and withdraw, ending the fun.  Clearly, bears develop bite inhibition naturally as well.  But, to apply it to an interaction with a dog – fascinating!

Is that bear self-handicapping?

  • Yes!  This is a fancy term for when a larger, stronger animal “levels the playing field” by making himself smaller, gentler, or more vulnerable.  It is designed to keep the play going.  This bear rolls on his back to get the dog engaged in wrestling!
  • Also, look at the amazingly gentle pawing by the bear.  What a beautiful way to initiate play.  Again – very similar to dogs.  You’ve seen dogs do that – right?

What about that bear hug – is the dog going to be crushed?

  • Another example of beautiful restraint, notice how comfortable the dog is when being wrapped in the bear’s gigantic arms.
  • There is one moment where the dog’s mouth gets tense and then he “corrects” the bear with a little air snap.  This appears to work as the bear does not keep his grip too tight.
  • On the whole, the dog does not try to get away – he seems to really enjoy it!  His eyes are not tense, his mouth is open, relaxed and loose.  His ears are not back in fear at all!

Many parts of the interactions you see here can be seen in good dog play, too!

  • Smooth, loose movements (not stiff and tense)
  • Good spacing between the animals, with pauses in the action
  • Bite inhibition
  • Awareness and control of their bodies so as not to overwhelm their playmate
  • Both animals are willing participants
All we can say is wow.  See if you can spot these tell-tale signs of play next time you are watching your own dog!

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