How many of you have ever wondered why your dog won’t leave you alone? "All Fido does is nag me to play with him." If you are saying this to yourself or to others, you should take some time to read this blog entery.
Why do dogs like to play, and where does it come from? That question plagues many people, yet the answer is simple. In the wild, canines use play to hone their skills. Playing is a way to sharpen their skills for hunting, fighting, and even for dominance. Wild canines need to play as pups, or they won’t be able to survive. So in essence, play is how dogs learn to interact with their surroundings. You can kinda compare this to a little girl who likes to play house, then grows up to be a good mom.
All dogs descend from wolves. When a wolf matures, it hardly, if ever, plays. Through constent breeding, domesticated dogs have kept this playing trait called neoteny. This simply means that domestic dogs have kept the wolf pup play drive. Humans wanted their pet dogs to have some form of play drive, otherwise having a dog would be boring!
In training, play drive is used to motivate the dog to do something for us. In some cases the play drive is stronger than the food drive. So using toys as rewards works better. Some trainers don’t believe in using treats at all! After all, rewarding the dog with a toy is far less fattening.
As a matter of fact, most all working dogs (SAR, Police, Drug, etc) never get a treat for their working performance. It’s usually always a game of fetch rather than food. When training a dog for that kind of work, trainers look for what’s called a "ball drive." Some trainers believe this is a seperate drive from play drive, and others are not so sure there’s any difference. But a dog that displays a strong ball drive is a good canidate for that kind of work. These dogs are so focused on playing with a ball that they will do anything for it! They’ll hunt a suspect down, rescue some one, or sniff out some drugs just for a game of fetch. It is extremely important for those kinds of dogs to have a strong ball drive, otherwise they may stop working in the middle of a chase!
When playing with your dog, you may notice his butt go up in the air and his front comes down, like a bow. This is called a play bow. This play bow is the body language dogs use to tell people and other animals that they are wanting a game. By play bowing the dog is telling it’s human or another animal it’s time to play. But it’s also saying, "Don’t take anything I do after this bow seriously!" You may notice while watching dogs play that they sometimes tend to get a little rough. This is ok. Dogs know that during playtime, nothing they do is for real. It’s their way to hone their skills like I mentioned, and scratchs here and there are normal. However, rough play should always be supervised by an adult.
Using the knowledge of how dogs play to our advantage is simple. We know that dogs relieve stress quickly while playing. So by playing with the dog, we can also teach him the skills he needs to survive in our world without boring or stressing him out. Fun and positive training goes much farther than strict and harsh training does. If you try this with your dog, you might find that your dog always wants to learn.. because it’s fun.
Remember, dogs can get bored easy. Playing is important for them. They need to play to be healthy happy dogs. Play also helps people to bond with their dogs, and to help dogs bond to other dogs. This creates friendships on both sides that will last a life time.