Keep Your Dog Healthy With Play
Benefits of Playing With Your Dog
By Karen Doane, RVT
Almost every dog enjoys a good walk or jog with his owner. A trip to the dog park can be fun too. However, there are many other ways to spend quality time with your dog.
Play is a great way to exercise your canine. It also strengthens the bond between you and your pet, and it’s fun! Puppies aren’t the only ones who enjoy playing. Dogs of all ages enjoy playtime. You may need to slow it down for older dogs, but there is no reason why a healthy senior dog shouldn’t have some fun too.
Different Types of Playing
Different dogs naturally have different styles of play. Retrievers love a good game of fetch while Terriers may prefer tug-of-war. Scent hounds, such as Beagles and Bassets, use their natural gift to find hidden toys or even people. Herding dogs, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, love to play chase. While many breeds have a tendency toward a specific behavior, a little dog training will most likely be necessary in order to teach your dog how to play each game.
Choose fetch toys carefully. An enthusiastic dog can break a tooth trying to catch a bone or other hard object. A ball that is small enough to fit down your dog’s throat could wind up lodged in her windpipe, choking her. Plastic, rubber or cloth bar-shaped toys designed specifically for fetching can be purchased at many pet supply stores. Some even float for fetching in the pool or lake. Life vests made for dogs of all sizes can help make this game fun and safe.
Classic Tennis Ball
Tennis balls are a favorite fetch toy. There are several products specifically made to sling or launch tennis balls so you can get more distance with less effort. Plush dog toys can be used indoors when a more gentle game of fetch is desired, or if the weather makes it necessary to stay inside. Rugged cloth and rope toys are great for tug games—just make sure to let your dog do the tugging. Pulling too hard can loosen teeth, and jerking back and forth can cause neck injury.
Hide and Seek
Even dogs not specifically bred for tracking have a superior sense of smell and can get enjoyment out of seeking a hidden object. Some toys are infused with alluring scents to make them irresistible. Hide one in your home, or yard, and then encourage your dog to find it.
You can also play hide and seek with your dog. If your dog doesn’t perform the “stay” command well enough, someone can sit with your dog while you “hide” and encourage your dog to “seek.”
A game of chase can also be fun and exciting. The little red dot from a laser toy is irresistible to many dogs. They can’t help but follow it wherever it goes. (Note: To avoid injury, don’t aim the beam directly into your dog’s eyes.)
Games that challenge your dog mentally are equally important. You can make a game out of asking your dog to bring you a specific toy. Psychology professor John Pilley has taken this game to amazing lengths. He has taught Chaser, his Border Collie, the names of more than 1,000 different toys. While he only offers up a couple dozen at once, he continually shuffles the selection. When he asks his dog for a specific toy, she searches through the available toys, locates the one he asked for and brings it to him.
Most of us are not willing or able to dedicate the several hours a day (for years) to see just what our own dog can learn. We can, however, teach our dogs the names of a few toys and enjoy the game as much as Professor Pilley and Chaser do.
“Play While You’re Away” Toys
There are also toys made to dispense treats as your dog plays. These types of toys are designed to encourage your dog to play while you’re away, but they can also be fun and entertaining while you’re home together. If used on a regular basis, you can simply allot some of your dog’s daily amount of dry food to be dispensed from the toy. Otherwise, this is one game that could cause your dog to actually gain weight.
Whichever games you choose, make play a part of your daily routine. Make a point to reward appropriate play behavior so the game stays fun and interesting for your dog. Remember, the highlight of your dog’s day is spending time with you so go play.
READ ALSO: Dealing With Separation Anxiety in Dogs