Just Try to Get It!
This is a fun little body language study. The consensus of the viewers is that Clara is a brat!
Here is some background about Clara and Zani and their play habits. It’s pertinent to the interaction in the video. I’m rewriting this in 2021 after Zani passed away in late 2020.
Clara and Zani played together since Clara was tiny and Zani was 3 years old until Zani was about 10. They played only with complete supervision, especially after Clara got a lot bigger than Zani. Also there was Clara’s assertiveness, although Zani was no slouch in that department either. I interrupted them frequently and they learned to self interrupt.
They played frequently when Clara was a puppy and adolescent. They played chase, bitey face, wrestling, and steal the toy. Once Clara got bigger she learned to self-handicap in almost all the games. Clara would never catch Zani when they played chase, even though she was faster. She let Zani catch her, and then Zani would hurl herself on Clara. When they wrestled, Clara lay down and Zani chewed on her legs. Of the two, Zani used her mouth a lot more during play. Zani often snatched a toy away by stealth and when she did, Clara didn’t aggress about it. But Zani generally deferred if they were both going for a toy at the same time (as in the video).
Clara used to stare at Zani with a very erect posture (as in this video) often as a precursor to play. It was usually followed by her running and chasing Zani.
When playing alone, Clara frequently drops her ball and observes it. She has done this her whole life. She will drop it on a hill and let it roll, chase it down, then carry it up to the top and drop it again. She plays a similar game on a slanted board, pushing the ball up and watching it roll down again. She drops the ball in holes and pushes the ball under objects and reaches in to pull it out. This even morphed into a game where she would drop the ball, then Zani would pick it up and bring it to me, and I would toss it back to Clara.
My Interpretation of the Encounter
I tend to agree with the commenters that Clara made a bratty plan and I caught it on video. I haven’t seen another dog do what Clara is doing here, but it does seem that Clara is trying to get Zani to make a play for the ball, then making sure she doesn’t get it. I have seen dogs do things like that with a little less apparent planning: prancing around with a toy trying to get another dog to try for it, then darting away. It is also possible that Clara’s dropping the ball was initially a “nice” play invitation, or at least an experiment (as described above). “What will happen if I drop the ball?” But after she dropped it she could have changed her mind and taken steps to keep it in her possession. This would go along with behavior I have witnessed from her before. She will bring me a ball to throw, then can’t quite give it to me.
Regarding Clara’s stare and possible aggression concerns expressed by some commenters: my teacher always says, “Watch the other dog.” I do not see fearful behavior on Zani’s part. I see interest and yes, caution. To me, the thought bubble over Zani’s head is, “Is she about to be a jerk, or is this going to be fun?” Zani lip licks when Clara approaches her head, and turns away as Clara pushes into her space, both stress signals. But right after that when Clara nudges the ball Zani makes a play for it. She turns sharply away as Clara grabs the ball, but walks casually after that.
Jean Donaldson describes something she calls a “consent test” that you can do when you can’t tell whether two dogs are both enjoying play. You restrain the suspected bully and see if the other dog attempts to continue to play. Often Zani continues to want to play when my observation is that Clara is being awfully rough or bratty. Zani and I have a deal though, that I will help her leave play with Clara anytime she wants, and she makes it very obvious when she is fed up and wants out.
On the evening I filmed this, the two dogs played on and off for 1–2 hours. After the filmed episode, Clara approached Zani with the ball several more times and dropped the ball on Zani’s back. (Didn’t get that recorded!) Zani got the ball on the rebound a few times. Zani did leave the area several times but would return after taking a break. At the time I originally wrote this, they were separated by an ex-pen and Zani was lying on her back, reaching her nose through the wires at Clara, who was gently batting at her with her paws.
I was always careful with dear little Zani.