What We Learned About Canine Play from Sophie Barton


Petminded's canine play event with Sophie Barton was full of information about dog play. Here is some information about canine play including its benefits and types of activities.

What is Canine Play?

Many of the games our dogs like to play are actually modified “serious” behaviors, such as chasing. When your dog is running after a ball they might as well be running after a squirrel. The innate nature of this kind of play makes it inherently rewarding. This is why some dogs find playtime just as rewarding as treats during training. Dogs play the most during their juvenile stage of development, but unlike non-social species, social species like dogs and humans continue to play throughout adulthood.

Types of Canine Play

Object play: From chasing balls to chewing socks, this non-social form of play is exactly what it sounds like, playing with objects!

Locomotor play: This type of play uses the environment as stimulation, rather than objects. Hopping through the snow and swimming are common examples of locomotor play.

Social play: When dogs play with each other, other animals, or humans, they are engaging in social play.

Mixed play: Mixed play is any combination of the aforementioned types of play.

Evolution of Play

Play behavior is present in many birds, marsupials, and placental mammals like humans and dogs, but is relatively rare among most other species. So why did play evolve? Studies done on rats have shown that play might promote neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt to its environment. Isolated rats showed less sophisticated structures in the prefrontal cortex than non-isolated rats.

Similar studies were done on puppies in the ’60s and ’70s (when our ethical standards were not quite as high as they are today) and showed that isolated puppies had less mature brain waves, an absence of social play, reduced object play, and impaired learning ability. This is why playtime and socialization are so important throughout a dog’s life.

Benefits of Canine Play

Playtime can strengthen you and your dog’s bond as well as improve your dog’s emotional well-being, motor coordination, strength, resilience, and cognitive development.

Dog’s have individual personalities just like humans. Some like to chase toys, some like to do puzzles, and some don’t care to play much at all. Because play is so important for your dog’s brain, it’s a great idea to determine how your dog likes to play and cater to them.

Other Insights on Canine Play

  • Some dogs are neophilic, meaning they are excited by new toys, smells, people, and things. Other dogs are neophobic, meaning new things make them anxious at first.
  • Some dogs love challenges, like puzzles, while others are more leisurely and will become frustrated by puzzles.
  • Dogs are lefties and righties! If you want to discern which side your dog prefers, observe which paw your dog uses more next time you're watching them play.
  • Some dogs prefer solitary play, while others enjoy collaborative play like fetch or wrestling.
  • Some dogs seek stimulation. These dogs might chew or dig holes, while other dogs are more relaxed and do not seek out stimulation from their environment.
  • Some dogs have high prey drives and will chase after other small animals. Others do not have high prey drives, which are the kind of dogs you would want if you had cats.

This informative event drove home the importance of playing with or providing our dogs with enrichment particularly if they’re not collaborative players. Not only will playing with your dog strengthen your social bond, it will also keep them happy and cognitively strong throughout adulthood. Do you know your dog’s favorite game to play?

Check out our other blogs on enrichment activities you can do with your dog!

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