Cali, Albee, and Deni are playing fetch with a Zipflight (a Frisbee-like toy for dogs that Cali is crazy about). I wander over with Jana. Deni throws the disc. Cali catches it. Cali then brings it over and offers it to me for a throw.
If more than one person is in the area where Cali is playing fetch, she always does this. I find it charming. She takes the toy to one person, and then to the other, as if to include everyone in the game. She’ll include people she doesn’t know well, too, if they happen to be standing near and watching.
Oriel did this too. Cali and Oriel are closely related, but since Albee occasionally does it too, I don’t think genetics fully explains this behavior.
A professor I had in graduate school, ethologist Marc Bekoff, has hypothesized that play behavior forms the foundation of social ethics for a species. That is, youngsters learn how to get along in the group — what is “good” and “bad” behavior in their society, what the rules are for acceptable social interactions — at least partly through their games. They learn to play by the rules, not hurt each other, not to cheat or deceive, and to self-handicap when playing with younger or smaller friends. We observe all of this as our well-bred and well-socialized canines play with one another and with other dog friends. This might be a partial explanation, but Cali’s behavior seems to go a step farther.
I’ve seen dogs take turns in other situations — at the school where I teach, it’s not unusual to see three or four dogs lined up, waiting for a turn at the water bowl! And of course, when we play with our three dogs they must take turns chasing the ball when we throw it. Our dogs wait their turn to get their treats, to get brushed, even to get their dinners. Taking turns is nothing new in multi-dog homes. But dogs ensuring that all of the people and dogs get to join the game is unusual and shows an even higher level of social awareness. Cali’s not waiting for her own turn to do something fun or trying to get extra turns. She’s going out of her way, sometimes across a large lawn, to invite someone else to take a turn, to join the game.
It’s impossible to know exactly what motivates her to offer me a chance to throw the ball when she’s playing with Deni, but it does bring the family together. She even takes the ball over to Jana to offer her oldest sister the chance to chase the ball! Cali’s desire to include everyone reflects something that matters to her. Empathy, or possibly inclusiveness.
An inclusive organization is defined as one that values the contributions of all people (human and canine!); one that incorporates different members’ needs, assets, and perspectives. That sounds like the kind of dog-human family I want. And, from her actions, it appears to be the kind of dog-human family that Cali wants too.