by Jeanine Renzoni
The fake indication of where the ball is going to go, the sleight of hand hiding the toy, the toss of a rock into the deep water (instead of something that floats), the “what is that, what is that?” to freak them out or get them to bark wildly at … the mirror, or the toilet or the windshield wipers. Playing with flashlights (it’s on, it’s off, where did it go?), encouraging tail chasing – get it, get it, or foot chasing or good grief I’ve seen people encouraging dogs to do lots of weird behaviors for no apparently good reason.
Ha, ha, ha, fooled you … funny, joke, tricked you, you idiot, stupid dog
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with jokes/pranks. Mostly I feel that jokes tend to make us all distrust each other. The more someone is a joker the less I believe them, but the flip side is that jokes and pranks make us more aware of what is going on – we become more observant so we won’t get fooled. Because, no matter how good a sport we are, we don’t want to be the victim of a prank – that’s why there is payback when the jokers are caught.
So is playing jokes on dogs a bad thing?
It depends on what you want to teach. If you don’t want them to trust your hand signals play the game of fake out. If you want them to learn to search vigorously on your body or under you, play sleight of hand with a coveted toy. If you want them to freak out or chase windshield wipers, make a silly game of it or laugh and hoot at tail chasing or leaf staring or light pattern chasing.
You can create a fairly permanent and irritating joke behavior if that’s what you want to do.
So is playing jokes on dogs a good thing?
If you want to increase their intensity at searching for an item, if you want to get them to understand the parameters of when a toy is a reward and when it’s not (the toy is there, but IT’S NOT YOURS YET, laughter if they make a mistake … oops, caught you, no play and when they’re right celebration and play).
So they can be good, but mostly seem to be used badly …
From my perspective the usual jokes/fakes that people seem to do aren’t beneficial and tend to reduce trust and ability to direct the dog, but used well certain prank-like distractions can really upgrade the dog’s understanding of what is wanted and increase the fun and interest in an activity.