Playing with your dog is incredible for your relationship; it gets happy endorphins going for both of you. A study by Bristol University revealed that play is also vital to our dog’s wellbeing. The study discovered that there was a strong connection between lack of play and increased behavioural issues.
If you’re suffering from attention-seeking behaviours or your dog displays signs of anxiety or stress, then playing with you could be a welcome relief. Playing with your dog can also improve their recall and general obedience.
Why? Because when your dog has received adequate opportunity to engage with you, they’ll be just that. More engaged! And more satisfied with their quality of life.
6 benefits of playing with your dog
Playing with your dog offers many benefits and it’s great for their development and mental health.
Playing is an opportunity to
- Lower your dog’s stress levels
- Increase your bond
- Build social skills
- Reduce problem behaviours
- Learn – for both you and your dog
- Burn calories
- Offer a natural positive reinforcer
Playing with your dog isn’t just fun, it’s an essential part of their daily routine if you want your dog to have a happy and fulfilled life with you.
The extension of social playfulness into adulthood appears to be an adaptive trait brought about by domestication, enabling the formation of emotionally-based bonds between dog and owner.Bradshaw, J. W. S., Pullen, A. J., & Rooney, N. J. (2015).
How to play with your dog
Not all dogs play in the same way. Sometimes I will hear that a dog just doesn’t like to play, but really it’s a case of discovering what type of play they like.
It helps here to think about your dog’s breed and what they were originally bred to do. Here we may find some clues to help us learn which types of play will be enjoyable for our dogs.
For example, we will often see Collies who are completely obsessed with chasing after balls. This is because they are bred to herd, and so they instinctively enjoy the chase! (Read on for how to enjoy this safely!)
Retrievers, on the other hand, will enjoy fetching and retrieving items. For them, it’s the carrying the item which is intrinsically satisfying.
Spaniels were bred to flush out prey and so they really enjoy the search and tracking scents, it’s why scentwork is so enjoyable for them.
Terriers were bred to hunt rodents and small mammals, so they’ll often find a toy that squeaks VERY rewarding!
Sighthounds enjoy movement and chasing games, so think about how you can incorporate this into play with you.
Play isn’t just throwing balls for your dog!
Throwing a ball when you hit the park or local field may be a commonly seen way to interact with our dogs, but in reality, your dog is way more focused on the ball in this game than on you.
It can lead to your dog becoming ball obsessed, being unable to listen and perhaps most embarrassing of all… becoming a known ball thief!
We want to avoid our dogs getting into a state of what’s called ‘overarousal.’ This means that they are not able to concentrate on anything else because they are hyperfocused on the ball. Their adrenalin levels are high and they are fixated, which isn’t a very healthy situation.
This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t play with a ball with your dog. But instead of repeatedly flinging it as far as possible, try lower arousal games that will help your dog to remain focused on you.
For example, you can ask your dog to sit at a short distance, wait, and then roll the ball to them.
Or, you can put your dog into a sit, stay and then hide the ball close by and release your dog to find it.
Both of these are less likely to get your dog completely amped up and overexcited but instead allows your dog to engage in calm play with you.
They also involve a level of self-control which is an excellent skill to practise!
The importance of an end of play signal
When engaging in play with our dogs it’s important to teach them a cue that signals the end of play. That could be a gesture, a word, or both. For example, you might put the toy away and say ‘finished,’ to signal that the game is over.
If toys are not put away or there is no clear end to the game, your dog may continue to pester you or try to keep playing. So we need to make it obvious to our dogs that it’s time to hit the off switch!
If your dog struggles to disengage when the game is over then you can use chews or slow feeders such as a Lickimat to help your dog calm down and switch off.
Games you can play with your dog
The options for play really are endless, get creative and don’t be afraid to be a little silly!
Here are some all-time favourites for you to try:
- Tug (experiment with different style toys to see what your dog prefers)
- Hide and Seek (you hide, your dog comes and finds you, they get a reward!)
- Frisbee (this can be a great alternative to a ball as the lack of bounce is slightly calmer!)
- Chase me (that’s you, rather than a ball!)
- Find it (hiding treats or toys for your dog to sniff out and find)
Discover lot’s more ideas for things you can do with your dog in our enrichment guide here.
Enrichment for dogs isn’t just about stuffing a slow feeder or interactive toy and getting on with it, there are so many enjoyable things you can do together.
Play with your dog isn’t just fun, it’s an important part of your dog’s day. Play sessions don’t have to be long, just a couple of 5-minute play sessions is manageable and really enjoyable for both of you.
Playing with your dog doesn’t just lower their stress levels, it does the same for you too!
In a hectic, busy life, it’s these small moments that bring considerable joy to us all.
Give it a try and let us know how you get on. I hope you’ll both have a world of fun together and reap the benefits of play!