Whether your dog is a puppy, an adolescent, an adult or a senior, there are perks to play at any age. One of the reasons we get along so well with dogs is that we all love to play well into adulthood. We love to have fun and so do they! But we often think of play as simply fun and don't realize the many ways in which our dogs benefit from play. Can you think of any additional perks not listed below?
Perks of play with pups:
- Physical exercise. While there are many ways to exercise dogs, play has to be one of the best. There are many forms of play and thus many ways to exercise and burn energy. Chasing, fetching, tugging, agility, tracking, and the list goes on and on. Running, jumping, tugging, etc. are all ways to get exercise that work different muscle groups to build stamina, strength, and coordination.
- Mental exercise. We tend to focus on the physical side of play but depending on the game, mental focus and ability is needed as well. When Romeo plays chase with Zuzu, he knows he is not fast enough to catch her in a full out sprint. But he uses his mental acuity to learn the best shortcuts and strategies to give himself an advantage. When Romeo is tracking a bunny, Zuzu has developed a strategy for placing herself in the most likely location a bunny will run if it gets flushed out by Romeo. Some games involve a good deal of brain work!
- Social skills. Much as human children can develop better social skills through play, so can dogs. Think about what play often involves for dogs – simulating hunting or fighting. This helps dogs learn the skills to read others and learn how to resolve issues with minimum effort or damage to anyone. This helps dogs better learn to read the intent of other dogs and establish boundaries for interactions. If you play too rough, I won't play with you, for example.
- Self control. Some games require a degree of self control to be successful. And to learn to be able to play with many different play styles and abilities, dogs must develop a good degree of self control. Have you ever seen an adult dog play tug with a much smaller and less coordinated puppy? They handicap themselves to make the game fair. That takes a great amount of self control.
- Bonding. If humans are struggling with developing a strong bond with a new dog, play is one of the ways to make tremendous progress. During play, dogs tend to relax and have fun. What better way to develop a bond with another dog or human than to have fun together and have shared experiences?
- Training. We humans tend to compartmentalize everything. It's training time. It's walk time. It's dinner time. It's play time. But the best trainers incorporate training into everything and find ways to use play as part of their training regimen. There are many skills that can be developed and honed during play. One example is using a game of Tug to work on a solid Drop It.
- Friends. Everyone should have friends! Play is a great way to make new friends or keep connections with current friends. Some dogs love to play with other dogs. Some dogs prefer to play with humans. Some dogs are great at playing solo. All of those have value, and ideally, dogs can do all three. Dogs do best playing with other dogs who have matching play styles, but some dogs learn to adapt to play with just about anyone. That takes some skill!
- Anti-anxiety. Is your dog easily stressed? Does your dog have a lot of anxiety? Play can be an important component in helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Sometimes we get so serious about helping our dogs relieve anxiety or stress that we forget to have fun with them. The ability to relax is a crucial skill for good mental health.
- Fun! Everyone wants to have fun. It makes life better for all of us if we don't take everything in life too seriously. The chance to have some fun can go a long way toward an overall healthier and happier dog.
So get out there and have some fun with your pup!