Should You Play with Your Dog?

The science of play, and what it might offer your relationship with your dog.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #50

Then they did the experiment backwards, letting the dogs win if they’d lost in the first round, and vice versa. Important note: the experimenters used Goldens because this breed has a rep for owner-directed aggression. So if winning at tug causes trouble, you might expect these to be the dogs it caused trouble in.

Dogs Paid More Attention to Their Human Playmates

The researchers found no significant change in confidence or dominance whether the dogs won or lost. The “dogs scored higher for obedient attentiveness” after the tug games than before. Whether they won or lost, they did become more demanding of attention as the tests went on, and the most playful dogs showed more “playful attention seeking.”

More Research Needs to Be Done

The experimenters carefully note the limits of their work. They studied a small number of Labs and Golden Retrievers. Surveys by other researchers of mixed-breeds came up with similar results, but the various full breeds differ behaviorally. So follow-up experiments should use other breeds. And do we know for sure that you can relax and play with your dog, no worries about who wins or loses and whether there’s going to be a  palace coup? We don’t.

Behavioral science, unlike pop experts, rarely has definitive answers to give. Caution’s in order if your dog has aggression problems, especially if she guards her food or toys. But the best evidence we have suggests that for most of us, the hypothesis that play builds social bonds is right on target. Reward yourself for taking all this science on board -- go forth and have fun with your dog!

Email your comments and questions to me, dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com, or call 206-600-5661. And come and say hi on Facebook. That’s all for this week. Bye!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

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