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Why is playing with your dog so important?

Why is playing with your dog so important?

Happy dog playing with Pippen with his owner

In honour of the launch of PIPPENAxaeco’s first dog toy, we want to dedicate an article to the role of play in our dogs’ lives. We talk to Roberto Guadagnini, a vet behaviourist:


«In the natural world all mammals play. This is especially true for species which care for their young for an extended period of time and which are not under constant threat of attack from predators. The animal orders to which these characteristics most apply are carnivores (which includes wolves, the ancestor of modern dogs) and primates (such as our own species).

The fact that playful activity is seen in many wild species, means that it must serve an important evolutionary role; indeed, play stimulates and develops motor activity in young animals and allows them to learn about the world. In addition to this, play shapes the relationships between individuals in the same group across all social species. Adult interactions of bonding, competition, and cooperation are first encountered by young during play. Play is essentially the training ground to prepare all animals for life, especially where there is a high level of socializing with other species.

Play is also a fundamental activity for our dogs, both as puppies and adults. As a consequence of domestication, dogs play even more than their wolf ancestors and this has resulted in certain morphological and behavioural characteristics of puppies being retained into adulthood (paedomorphism-neoteny).

Continuing active play, even when the dog is an adult, is useful in maintaining a strong emotional bond between human and dog; through play, dogs gain self-confidence, learn to respect others and communicate effectively. In short, without play, dogs are unable to fully express themselves or fully experience relationships, be they with other dogs (intraspecies) or with other species (interspecies).

When animals play, they experience beneficial feelings of pleasure; play should not be goal-oriented, but fulfilling and enjoyable, never tiring but always stimulating. Feelings of stress, frustration or fear have no place in play.

Playing makes dogs happy and, without realizing it, they develop important cognitive skills, increase concentration, and learn how to resolve day to day problems.

As I have already mentioned, play between humans and dogs (interspecies interaction) strengthens the relationship because these moments of pure joy allow the participants to get to know each other better and to develop trust for each other. Interspecies play can be divided into different categories: physical play, predatory play, competitive play, cooperative play, and mental play.

Physical play has motor activity as its focus: just the pleasure of running together without a particular destination produces happiness. Sometimes this can turn into predatory play, where dog and human chase after each other. Predatory play, however, more generally involves an object, such as a ball thrown by the human and pursued by the dog. Predatory can in turn become collaborative if the dog brings the ball back to the human and then, with a complicit look, thrown again to continue the “throw and fetch” game.

The ball itself can become an object to compete over, with each pulling it towards them;and this tug-of-war game can be even more enthralling for the two contenders when played with a rope. Mental games differ in that they are less physical and more cognitive. Mind games involve problem solving and concentration which means that the dog must use self-control and rely on its senses to complete the task. An example of this could involve a ball which is hidden out of sight of the dog and which the dog must locate just by using its sense of smell.

There should be some moments of play between human and dog every day, even if just for a few minutes, as these can often be the most fun and carefree part of the day for both. Play can happen at any time and that’s why it’s good to have a versatile ‘play tool’ which can be easy to take with you anywhere you go.»

Translated from original article in Italian language.

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