Do you play with your dogs? I ask my clients this question quite frequently.
Sadly, the reply is rarely as satisfactory as I hope: “We leave him with lots of toys to play with!,” or “Oh we let him out in the yard to run around!,” and “Well, he plays with our other dog all the time!” In all of these scenarios, the owner is hardly involved and the dog is left to create his own entertainment. What I mean by play, however, is purposeful, structured play wherein you and your dog are engaged in a mutual activity that requires exertion from both of you.
Playing with your dog is important for several reasons.
Here are what I feel to be the most important ones:
1. It Helps Build Your Relationship With Your Dog
Play is a social activity that allows for some very serious bonding between you and your dog. Through playing together and, in the process, observing your dog, you can learn much about your dog’s body signals and how he communicates arousal, enjoyment, stress and other emotions. This helps develop better communication, understanding and trust.
2. It Gives Your Dog a Great Reason to Come When Called
When relying on other dogs to play with your dog, you can expect that every time other friendly dogs are around you’ll likely have difficulty calling your dog back to you or even just getting his attention.
With repetition, owners easily become that person who ends the fun, who puts the leash on, who puts the dog in his crate, and who most of the time is boring as heck. Thus, when distractions such as other playmates come up you can be sure that your dog easily chooses the more exciting option, which in most cases is not boring old you. Become an enthusiastic playmate and pair that with training, and your chances for a successful recall will increase monumentally.
3. It Helps Teach Your Dog Some Important Rules
Play and games allow us to teach the dog certain rules that are important in daily life as well. For the game of tug-and-out for instance, I emphasize to the dog three very important rules: 1) He is not allowed to grab at toys and start tugging without my saying “Get it!” or “Tug!”. This teaches impulse control. 2) He is not allowed to put teeth on skin or on clothing, and that if he does the game abruptly ends. This teaches him restraint and bite inhibition. 3) He must release the toy when asked. This teaches him to give up items in his mouth.
4. It Provides Mental and Physical Stimulation for Your Dog
Dogs, and especially young and active dogs, need constant physical and mental stimulation as part of their daily routine. And what better way to provide that than through play. Not only can your dog get a great work out while playing tug, retrieve, or chasing games with you, but he will also be exercising his mind while engaging in these activities.
5. It’s an Alternative Reward to Treats
There’s nothing wrong with using treats to train and reward behaviors, but with play as a potential reward, you no longer need to be dependent solely on food treats being available for your dog to eagerly do as he is asked. If your dog knows that obedience will likely be rewarded with a fun session of play, you’ll find that your dog will quickly and happily respond to your cues whether or not you’ve got training cookies on you.
There are so many benefits of purposefully playing with your dog that this important activity should not be overlooked. Don’t fall into the habit of just leaving your dog with other dog playmates, or buying dog toys and expecting him to make his own fun. Get involved in your dog’s play activities, create fun structured games, incorporate them into training and show your dog that you are an awesome source of enjoyment.
Do you play with your dog? Leave a comment below and share your favorite games that you play with your pooch.
Mary Rose J. Magpily, DVM, DipCBST
Mary Rose J. Magpily, DVM, DipCBST is a canine behavior consultant and veterinarian in practice in Metro Manila, Philippines since 2007. In 2011 she opened her business Pet Centrics, which offers dog training, canine behavior consultations and veterinary services. Much of Dr. Magpily’s time is devoted to teaching dog owners that dogs can be trained without force or coercion. She firmly believes that training should be an enjoyable experience for both dogs and owners, and that to be able to have clear communication with your dog, it’s important for the human to understand how a dog thinks and learns. Aside from her work as a behavior consultant and veterinarian, Dr. Magpily regularly blogs on topics relating to pet care in the Philippines and abroad. For more information please visit www.petcentrics.ph