Dog Joins Man’s Workout

What’s going on here?
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2018

The debate is not as intense as the “Laurel or Yanny” controversy, but people are still taking sides about whether this dog is trying to play or trying to copy the exercises being done. The sociable Great Dane has become a minor internet star after being filmed joining his Dad’s exercise routine.

At first, the dog looks puzzled and even the slightest bit anxious as he observes the man doing lunges. It’s hard to say if he is trying to figure out what is going on, observing so that he can perform the same actions, or if something else is on his mind entirely. What we can see is that he does begin to copy the actions reasonably accurately, considering that he is operating on four legs rather than two. He does his own lunges in the same slow and controlled way as the person at first.

As time goes on, the dog lunges more abruptly, which make his actions more like play bows. At that point, it does seem as though the dog has become more playful. That could simply be because he has become more confident in his movements, and it could be that in trying to figure out what’s happening, he has decided that this is an opportunity for play.

We know that dogs can imitate human actions, and this video certainly has promise as an example of that. It is also likely that the dog is a bit perplexed by a human doing something that is similar to a play bow and then not playing. Nobody can say with certainty why the dog is behaving as he is, but people have expressed strong views about it anyway. Despite the differing opinions, there is general agreement that the dog wishes to join the man’s activity, though whether or not the dog understands the activity’s purpose remains unclear.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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