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I love to play games with my dogs. Our young one Porthos has shown a real talent for them and is tenacious when it comes to fetch; Athos likes to mirror movements and go jogging with me, and Aramis loves a good nose work game where he can try to find the hidden treats. All three love to chase and play rough together.

We all know that playing with our dogs is fun, but what we don’t often talk about is how important it is to their overall health and well-being. Games provide cognitive, physical and social benefits for dogs and it’s a great way to relieve stress.

So what exactly are the benefits?

A Stronger Bond

One of the best ways to strengthen the bond you have with your dog is to spend quality time together. Playing together is a great example. Not many mammals play well into adulthood, but humans and dogs do. And that playfulness trait that we share with our dogs is part of what makes the relationships we have with them so special; it’s hard not to form a deep bond when you can play and have fun together. (If you ever played team sports, you would have always had friends in your team because of the bond you created with them during play and practice).

There has been research that suggests that playfulness in dogs was a trait that was selected during domestication, and that it’s one of the big factors when it comes to forming emotionally bonds with our dogs.

A very close bond with your dog also means that they will be less of a flight risk, less anxious and training will be far easier. So, if you’re looking for a relatively simple (and fun) way to strengthen the bond you have with your dog, add some more playtime.

Physical Exercise

Dogs need physical exercise every day. Certain breeds and individual dogs need lots and others, less. But, if those needs aren’t met, they can get into trouble by developing unwanted habits like becoming over excited and jumping a lot, becoming destructive (such as excessive chewing) to pass the time and pulling heavily on the leash. If you’re having trouble giving your dog enough exercise each day ,you can supplement their routine with some playtime at home.

Play is a relatively easy way to fit in some more physical exercise for your dog each day. Games like tug, fetch and frisbee are physically tiring for dogs, and by adding in a few quick play sessions each day you’ll create a routine that provides your dog with plenty of exercise.

Mental Stimulation

Play provides mental exercise as well as physical. Mentally stimulating activities (often referred to as brain games) are a fun way to enrich our dogs’ lives by giving them something meaningful to do. In addition to physical exercise I like adding in a few quick mentally stimulating games into my dogs’ daily routine.

Some great examples of these include nose work games, puzzle toys, snuffle mats, and stuffed Kongs. They’re easy to play, and best of all they’re a simple way to keep dogs focused, active and entertained throughout the day.

Relieves Boredom

One of the biggest benefits of play for dogs is that it relieves boredom and keeps them busy. It can be a challenge to keep our dogs occupied all day, and when dogs get bored, they’ll come up with their own ways to entertain themselves and that often involves undesirable behaviours such as chewing shoes or excessive barking.

By playing with your dog a few times a day you can decrease the likelihood of them developing destructive habits.

Improves Manners & Makes Training Fun

Play is fun, but it’s also a great way to work on some basic training and improving manners. Playtime is one of the ways puppies start learning basic manners right from the beginning; if they play too rough, they’ll likely get a nip from their littermate or mother, or they might stop the game altogether. (You should not nip your puppy, but you can stop the game to teach them to play nice)

So how can we continue that trend of using play to help train our dogs? By engaging in interactive games with our dogs. Take the tug of war game for example; it’s a fun game by itself, but it also helps teach your dog how to control their impulses aka how to be gentle when it comes to using their mouth and when to “leave it” when given the cue. Our dogs are always observing us, so when we engage in play they’re learning social cues from us, as such as when we are calm and controlled, they will also be. However, if we get loud and aggressive, they learn this is acceptable behaviour from us.

Effectively playing games is not only good fun for you and your dog, it is also an important part of their health, development and training.

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