Lack of play behavior in dogs may be indicator for lack of well-being!
It’s not unusual for dog trainers to use a dog’s willingness to take treats, during training, as an indicator for lack of anxiety and/or fear. Given in the context of behavior modification, it’s often necessary to move reactive, fear and/or anxiety related dogs away from stimuli (targets) to reduce the reactivity cycle and facilitate the eating of treats. The premise is, when dogs actively take treats, during behavior modification, they are building new brain connections, using classical conditioning, that are more adaptive in those contexts, because dogs are learning (operant conditioning) to perform alternative behavior/s that are more desirable.
However, given what we know about play behavior, the absence of play, is a good indicator for lack of well-being. In my opinion, this means, as trainers, when we observe lack of willingness to engage in play, in prior problematic contexts, can indicate continued anxiety and/or fear, in those same contexts. Additionally, a behavioral history and/or one-on-one observations, that include active engagement with the dog, can provide clues to underlying anxieties and/or fears during specific types of interactions and/or contexts. Therefore, in other words, eating treats may show positive improvement, but dogs showing playful type behavior could be more desirable given it’s not unusual for some dogs to accept and take treats even when they are still clearly anxious.
Playful animals are going to be healthier. Simon Gadbois #SPARCS2014