By Laura L. Benn
It’s the first thing they like to do when they wake up. It’s the last thing they do before going to sleep. They dream about it, bark about it and run around excitedly in circles whenever mention of it reaches their furry little ears. That’s right, we’re talking about play! True, it seems like a no-brainer: dogs like to play. But did you know how much power play holds over your pooch’s health?

Not only does play give your dog tremendous exercise, but it also provides mental stimulation and can help strengthen the human-canine bond. From about fours weeks of age, puppies begin to have fun and games with their siblings and mother. Although their clumsy actions and awkward movements may seem infantile, puppies at play are actually learning how to coordinate their fluff-ball bodies and how to socialize with others of their kind. Even if the rough house gets a little too rough and results in a pint-sized snap, a puppy is still learning a valuable lesson about boundaries and acceptable canine behaviour.
As puppies grow into their paws, their play develops as well. Their antics escalate, helping them to learn dominant and submissive roles, which in turn helps them develop social bonds. Dogs are physical creatures, meaning they communicate foremostly through tactile perceptions and a puppy who has grown up with a good dose of regular playtime is likely to have superior communication skills than a puppy who did not.
All too quickly, however, puppies grow up into adults, but that doesn’t mean life should suddenly become too serious. Often times people mistake an adult dog’s lower energy levels as sign of fatigue and disinterest. The truth of the matter is that play is an ageless past time and helps a dog’s brain to remain active, encouraging problem solving and satisfying their instinctual urges to hunt, chase, tug and run.
But perhaps the most beautiful thing about play is the respect and affection that it generates between the players. Dogs of all ages, shapes and sizes look forward to romping around with a playmate and quickly associate positive feelings with the activity. In other words, play keeps a pooch happy. So our advice? When you get home from a long day at work, no matter how tired you may be, take 20 minutes and play with your dog. Simply drop the briefcase and hit the park or the living room rug and have some quality one-on-one time with your waggy friend. You might be surprised how positively powerful regular playtime can be for your relationship.
What are your dog’s favourite games?