Mary Lenehan Comments on Parallels in Play: The Puppy Zone

by Mary Lenehan | 17 Mar 2022

Industry Commentary, Op-Ed

When I saw Nancy Zweir’s recent post on LinkedIn about keeping play as an integral part of an adult life recently, I couldn’t resist commenting that fostering a puppy is a great one. It also happens to be my current front-burner method for knocking adult-me out of lax improvisational habits – and into the unavoidable chaotic joy of keeping a frenetic, playful office mate in-home.


In fact, being a mother in toy design with a strong life-long affinity for animals – it’s been clear to me for ages that the parallels between child raising (from a behavioral standpoint) and puppy-wrangling are close enough to make puppy practice a valid litmus test for how some people may or may not adapt from 4-legged to 2-legged little rascals. ; D


Many, if not most of the same “reward the good/redirect the bad (behavior)” advice applies – and works. And in terms of redirecting – it’s in play that results are quickly and unequivocally established - particularly in puppy engagement. Because nearly everything a puppy does in real time is an accelerated version of human child development.

The bond between our species – born of the same mammalian origins and solidified with a unique symbiosis tens of thousands of years old – is clearly at work. But no matter the many fascinating reasons (this is NOT a dissertation LOL); this dynamic is instructive, challenging and undeniably delightful. Especially as applied to creative development.


For example; walking a puppy is a metaphor for managed expectations, improv and best practices rolled into one. Struggling with an 8-11 week old Great Pyrenees infant on walks, erroneously attempting to muse on the days priorities, it becomes clear how many parallels there are between creative work flow and the process of wrangling an emerging powerhouse of sentient brains, bone and muscle. And here a few that came to top of mind today:


  • Daily discipline of getting up and out - no matter how your feel or what the temperature – because baby LOVEs the cold way more than you do and shares none of your preference for warm coffee indoors at 7 am in a Midwestern winter. Here, this puppy is a living avatar of the Rest of the World. Awake and moving with or without you. There is no hiding under the covers now - only cowering while the future howls to be let out of her crate.


  • Immediate and constant vigilance - that underlies simultaneous physical and cognitive multitasking; watching for hidden triggers (squirrels?!) maintaining a firm grip on control (leash) while performing awkward maintenance (poop patrol) because sudden powerful shifts in priorities are going happen right at the moment you are bent into the least-balanced position, in the attempt to manage an anticipated mess.


  • Group dynamics that shift from one phase (block) to the next – there’s that big guy who loves to chase his ball. Is he going to share? There’s the little nervous one who wants a piece of the new kid. Can we cope? Who’s that staring at us from across the field? Oh, and here we approach the insane clown posse behind the privacy fence who scare the life out of us on random days with a barrage of bloodcurdling murder barks! Yikes!


  • Resource management – better pick up the new kid as you see a stranger approaching, or anticipate the posse up ahead. Build in time to allow her to observe, from a safe distance, the many different individuals we meet - and learn by watching what they do as long as she is interested.


  • Goal setting - that’s not in sight, but within reach (park!) and a pace that allows for exploration (what’s that!?), growth in stamina (cold/wet/windy days) and flexibility (always time for a sniff). Because the race is won in a mode that incorporates random input, course changes and eyes-on-prize at the end of each round (home!).


These days, that prize is a tired, napping ball of baby-shark teeth and velvety fluff underfoot as the grown-up-human day begins. Warm blood flowing to brain, coffee kicking in – and the task of designing dog toys today ; ) feels energized and fresh.




#playmatters #toy design #creative #inspiration #management #development #perspective #Nancy Zwiers #pet toys #dogs #puppies justdoit

Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!