The Importance of Playing with Your Dog

Madelene Hissom · Jun 9, 2021

Author: Amanda Brahlek

When it comes to keeping your dog active and healthy, what comes to mind? If you’re like most dog owners, you may think of walking your dog, providing them with the best diet and treats, and taking them to the vet. Yes, all of these are vital for your dog’s health. However, it’s important to not overlook the power of playtime. Playing with your dog benefits your dog’s body, mind, and spirit. Why is play so important for our canine companions? Read on to discover how play can be serious business for your best friend. 

Why Puppies Play 

If you’ve had your dog since they were a puppy, you likely witnessed an important part of their development: play. Puppies use play to learn about the world around them. They explore the world with their mouths as they teeth and chew. Puppies also learn about boundaries and socializing as they wrestle, tug, and nip. During this phase, puppies learn bite inhibition from their playmates. As they sink those milk teeth into another puppy (or unwitting momma dog) and their fellow dog: cries out, discontinues play, or reprimands them, they learn that biting too hard is not fun. 

Many theorists believe that play between puppies and play between puppies and adult dogs are the first steps in learning pack mentality and pack coordination. Learning how to operate within the pack keeps all the dogs safer, allows them to hunt more effectively, and makes raising new generations easier. 

Of course, play isn’t just about psychological development. It also helps puppies learn motor skills. If you’ve ever seen a puppy tumble over their own paws, it’s because they’re just not quite as coordinated as adult dogs. They’re still learning how to keep their balance and navigate the world around them.  

Without play, a puppy’s life would look far different.  

How Does Play Benefit Adult Dogs? 

As dogs grow and develop, they can still benefit from playtime with their owner and fellow dogs. In fact, studies show that, paws-down, dogs much prefer playing with their owners than independently. What can your dog get out of some playtime with you? 

1. Playtime strengthens the human-dog bond 

Just as playtime for puppies teaches them about relationships and socialization, having a bit of fun with your dog shows them that you care. Playing gives your dog one-on-one undivided attention, which helps them feel like a special part of your life. Coordinated play also increases the trust and understanding your dog has for you.
For example, if you’re playing fetch, your dog has to trust you to throw the ball when they bring it back to you. When you do throw the ball, it solidifies their ability to predict your actions and trust you with one of their favorite belongings. 

2. Playing gives your dog a much-needed energy release  

Our dogs spend a great deal of the day indoors, often sleeping. Getting up and active allows them to burn off excess energy. This is the same pent-up energy that can lead to negative or destructive behaviors, such as excessive barking and chewing on inappropriate objects.
When your dog is done playing, they will sleep more soundly and wake up feeling rested and relaxed. 

3. Dogs are never too old to learn from playing

When your dog plays, they activate all of their senses. This helps the brain continue to develop. Those puppy-like lessons about textures, coordination, and socialization never end.  
Furthermore, playtime can be the best time to work on training and skills. Most dogs love a challenge. They also love games like keep away, fetch, and tug. While you play with your dog, you can incorporate training tasks as a way they can earn the positive reward of their ball being thrown or access to a chew toy.  

4. Play improves your dog’s mental wellness  

When your dog plays, their brain releases positive endorphins that create joy and happiness. The effects of these endorphins last long after playtime is over. This provides your adult pup with emotional health and hormonal balance for a better life.  
In addition to making your dog feel good, mental stimulation can have a profoundly positive impact on dogs that struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Engaging in games has proven to slow the progression of Canine Cognitive Decline and improve the symptoms of CCD. 

5. Playing helps build your dog’s confidence  

Because playtime strengthens your dog’s prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that helps them make decisions and exercise restraint), dogs that play more often experience a greater sense of confidence. Playtime helps your dog exercise their ability to make wise decisions which extends beyond just play. When your dog wants to play with a canine pal, they can approach their playmate with greater certainty that they know what they’re doing. 

Encouraging Your Dog to Play 

Even if your dog seems less interested in playtime since they matured from puppyhood, it doesn’t take much to entice your dog into some fun and games. All it takes for some dogs is their owner’s excited ‘playtime’ tone. Other dogs cannot resist the sight of a new toy or the squeal of a fresh squeaker. And of course, few dogs can resist the savory scent and rich flavor of treats.  

If you’re looking for some new ways to play with your dog, try one of these DIY techniques: 

  • Muffin Tray Madness: Using a muffin tray, hide small pieces of a high-value treat like Anchovy Dog Treats beneath tennis balls. Your dog will have a blast pulling the balls off to find a tasty reward hidden beneath. 
  • Create a Snuffle Box: Using a cardboard box, hide a treat or two at the bottom of layers of towels, blankets, and pillows. Then watch as your dog pulls layer after layer from the box, rooting, and snorting around until they find their prize. 
  • Treat Hide-n-Seek: Exercising your dog’s nose can be highly beneficial. While your dog is out of the room, hide little tidbits of treats here and there. Then let your dog in and let them sniff out the flavor and fun. 

As a dog owner, you even benefit from playing with your pup. As you spend time with your dog, your brain releases endorphins, as well. And studies show that spending time with your dog is great for your heart health.

It’s Always the Right Time for Playtime  

No matter what your dog’s age, activity level, or physical ability, play is important. Don’t forget that your dog relies on you for their play opportunities. So, invest in some new toys, order your dog’s favorite high-value treats, and have some fun.