What fun! Let’s Play!

Puppy play – what fun to watch!
We know our dogs enjoying playing but do you realize how much your puppy benefits from play? First, play gives them the physical and mental exercise they need to help develop their muscles and brain. All puppies need play time with their litter-mates to learn emotional control and bite inhibition. This activity is very important so that as juveniles they are able to play nicely with other dogs and tolerate feisty dogs. They need bite inhibition so that they know when they are biting their playmates or their people too hard. Also, play helps teach boundaries and rules. It helps form a good pet who can play with a soft mouth and calm himself when he is overexcited.

Puppies will establish rank through play. Play fighting enables dogs to learn about their opponent’s strength, agility and desire to win. They will be playfully aggressive and practice predatory and social behaviors for adulthood. All of this can occur without a serious fight.
It is vital that puppies and juveniles are socialized and are able to play. It is difficult to teach an adult dog to play if he has never had the opportunity to learn. It will take the perfect play partner to do this (usually a submissive, playful dog of the opposite sex) and a lot of play dates. I would say it is worth the work though as this will increase the confidence of the dog and make his life happier and fuller. When socializing older dogs, watch for signs of aggression and consult a professional trainer to supervise or give you input on how to begin.
Working at a doggy daycare, I see older dogs come in who do not know how to play. One story in particular makes me very happy, Kaiser was a dog that started coming to our playday on Saturdays and his owners decided to bring him to daycare for a couple days each week. He was fine for daycare because he was not the least bit aggressive, in fact, he wanted to stay as far away from some of the other dogs as possible. He did not know how to interact with them and he was very timid. This went on for a while but we saw that there were always a few dogs that Kaiser was interested in and did not run from. One was Rudy, a black lab. Rudy is all about play and he never gives up. Now, mind you, Kaiser also had a boost of confidence from the pool that we installed last summer. He likes swimming so much that it got him out and around the other dogs and he was always so happy that he would play after swimming. I believe though, that Rudy played a large part in bringing Kaiser out of his shell and now I can say Kaiser does not hide (unless he’s tired) and he plays more than he doesn’t when he’s at daycare.
As a trainer, I believe that play is very important for dogs for all the benefits listed above, but in my household the most important reason for play is that a tired dog is a good dog! I get a lot of clients that come to me because they can not control their dog’s energy level. When you combine that with a lack of obedience training, it is a disaster waiting to happen. The dog gets loose and won’t come back to them because 1- they don’t know what come means and 2- they have too much pent up energy. Simply put, playing wears your dog out and that’s a great thing!
Unfortunately not all dogs can nicely socialize and play with other dogs. That does not mean that they are not nice dogs; it just means that they don’t play well with others. If you have a dog that is like that, YOU have to be their playmate. Prepare yourself for lots of hours of tug, throwing the tennis ball and long walks. The benefits of this play will make it all worthwhile.