Play is a fantastic way to spend time with our dogs and our cats. Our newsletter this month is on play, so I’ve been noticing how often I do silly games with my girls. All the time! Play is such an important part of how we spend time together.
Along with just being a lot of fun, play can be extraordinarily powerful. Play (and the laughter and feel-good hormones it produces) contributes to good mental and physical health (and this is true for people, dogs, cats and pretty much any animal that plays!). But play also helps build connections and establish trust.
Making FlyGirl Smile
When I first got Fly, I would try to play with her some every night. I would put her up on the bed and rub her tummy and wrestle a little and laugh. At first, she would cower and be afraid. So I switched strategies and would just massage for a while (another great bonding tool!). One night when I put her on the bed for our nightly play and massage, she flipped over and pawed the air with her feet — she was offering play! She made great strides in being happy after that – play had helped her learn that she didn’t have to be so scared or serious.
Rough-housing with GemStone
Gem and I often wrestle, me playing with her neck and her mouthing me. We’ve done that since she was little and it was an important element in her learning bite inhibition(bite inhibition means that a dog has learned to be gentle with her teeth). When we played, if Gem bit too hard, I would stop the game. Gem learned to be gentle in order to keep the play going. But I didn’t get too rough with her either, and in that way, she learned that I would follow the rules of play too and that she could trust me.
Trust—an essential element in any relationship—was fostered through play. Of course you can build that trust with your animals in other ways too—through caring activities like feeding and grooming, through positive training, and certainly by just hanging out together. But play—laughing and having a great time—that is what adds the real power to the connection.
This morning as I smiled at Fly and Gem, they both wagged their tails because they know what a smile means. How perfect is that? I think all dogs should react that way! So today, have some fun with your animals. Take the time to play—you’ll not only be supporting your pet’s mental and physical health, but you will also be building trust and deepening your connection. Let’s get playing!