However, the first things we learn as humans are learnt through playing. That red bouncy ball that escaped you so many times at the beach was the key to developing the coordination that lets you eat food, tie your shoelaces, and even fly a jet aircraft. It’s the same for our dogs. Playing provides the foundations that let dogs perform daily activities, it allows them to use their natural behaviours, boosts fitness and improves their cognitive skills.
As we humans grow up, we play less and less, but when we remember the adage about ‘all work and no play’ and go outside with a ball, we feel revived and enthusiastic. Your dog is only too happy to help you feel like this all the time!
So Why Do Dogs Play?
Biologist John Bradshaw says: “Play must promote survival; otherwise, evolution would select against it. A young animal that’s playing out in the open is much more obvious to a predator than one sleeping in its den. However, the benefits of play do not usually become apparent until months later, when they emerge in the form of better social integration or more sophisticated hunting techniques…the simplest explanation is that play is self-rewarding: in other words, it is fun!”
When I’m working with owners that are experiencing problems with their dog, as part of their assessment, I always look at what enrichment the dog gets during the day. That’s because, in some cases, a dog that’s reactive to another may get a rush of dopamine pumping through his body. This can be highly addictive, especially if Fido isn’t experiencing any ‘highs’ for the rest of his day. So the behaviour, which may have been originally borne out of fear or frustration, can end up being rewarding for that dog and therefore repeated due to a lack of stimulation.
Playing with your dog not only provides happy hormones for your pooch but it also helps focus his natural behaviours in a positive way. Playing strengthens the dog-owner bond, teaches Fido you’re fun to be with, and it helps create and maintain a healthy body and mind. What could be better than that?