It’s taken nine weeks, but today Merlin played with Seelie and Gryphon for the first time.
Merlin is six years old. Before he ended up in rescue, he was apparently fairly isolated from other dogs. He gets along with them most of the time because he ignores them. He’ll warn them off when he doesn’t want them around, but other than that, he doesn’t seem to know what to do when they try to interact with him directly. He’s started to hang out with them in the yard, and stay with them when they run the fence line, but until today he’s never really played.
Seelie’s favorite way to play with other dogs is to have them chase him. He’ll do the chasing in a pinch, but he radiates joy when someone is after him. He’s been trying to get Merlin to play with him since Merlin came home in December, but Merlin’s been clueless. Seelie barks or gets too close, and Merlin goes into nervous mode – licking his lips and making chewing motions with his jaws. As an alternative to playing, Seelie reverts to cleaning Merlin’s ears… for reasons known only to Seelie. Merlin doesn’t seem to mind.
Today all four dogs were out in the yard; I was watching them from the living room window. Maybe Merlin’s just been stuck in the house for too long; it’s been too cold to go for walks and the snow’s too deep to throw the frisbee for him. Gryph and Seelie were running around, and suddenly Merlin joined in. He chased Gryphon for a short distance, then stopped. Seelie jumped through the snow, ran right past Merlin, and Merlin took off after him, tail waving.
Play lasted for only a few moments before Merlin stopped, uncertain about what he was doing. Seelie managed to get him started up again a few times. They clearly still have a lot to work out, as play almost tipped into conflict a few times, but they’ll reach an understanding eventually.
One scientific perspective on play is as developing skills needed to be successful. Today I saw play as a sign that Merlin is finally starting to feel that he is home.