Loki came into my life as a puppy, a very high-energy puppy. His favorite things were play, play, and more play. He had so much energy, I didn’t know whether I would be able to keep up with him. We played at the dog park. We played in our back yard. We played running around the house (my house goes in a circle, which makes for a never-ending track). It felt like it would never end. Back then, the main thing I wanted was for him to burn energy. I thought that was what play was for.
Little did I realize at the time how important play was for his developmental process. By playing with Loki as a puppy in a variety of different ways, I was doing much more than just burning energy and having fun. I was actually laying a solid foundation for a well-adjusted, healthy dog.
Oh, how we loved to play together. As I look back on that time, I can see some of the wonderful side-effects of our playtime had on him. Here are a few.
As the saying goes, “a tired dog is a happy dog.” Tiring Loki out wasn’t easy. He was like an “Energizer Puppy” that went on and on. When I returned home from work, he was ready to go. His favorite game was “chase”. I would chase him, he would chase me, and back and forth. Our heart rates went up as our legs got a workout. It was good for both of us.
If you exercise with your dog regularly, good! If you have a puppy, I ask you to consider that she or he is still developing, and there is indeed such a thing as “too much” exercise. Growth plates in the legs can continue to develop up to a year old, so don’t push your pup. If the pup decides it’s time for a break, take it (you will probably need a break, too). And keep jumping up and down on things to a minimum at earlier ages.
When exercising outside, also consider the conditions. If it’s hot outside, make sure to take some water with you (I carry a Gulpee). If it’s cold outside, protect the paws against the cold and ice (I use Musher’s Secret).
Bonding and Communication
I remember Puppy Loki’s trainer saying to me, “the only thing Loki really wants in this world is to be with you.” I believe this was primarily the byproduct of our abundant play time. While playing, we were learning to pay attention to each other and respond appropriately. Learning to communicate is vital in any human-canine relationship.
Whenever we interact with our dogs through touch and gazing, the drug oxytocin is released in the of both human and dog brains. Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of love and bonding. The more we interact with our dogs in a loving way, the stronger that love becomes.
In some sense, a brain is like a muscle. The more it is used, the stronger it becomes. This is where puzzle games come in. I picked up the Kyjen Paw Flapper treat puzzle. I opened a flap, placed a treat in the hole, closed the flap, and spun the top (which has eight flaps total). Then I told Loki “find it”. Off he went. He opened a flap, poked his nose in one hole, and then spun the top around until he found the treat. I don’t think he was supposed to do that, but it worked. Puzzle defeated. So much of life is a puzzle that needs to be worked out. Puzzle games prime the brain to do so more efficiently
Strengthening a dog’s brain early can also help stave off the effects of “doggie dementia”. I hate to think about Loki getting old, but I know it is going to happen. Mental enrichment games such as hide and seek and training that asks the dog to really think are helping to prepare him to cope with old age.
It’s Still On
Loki is an adult now, and we still play. The games we play together can range from low to high energy. Here are some basic ones that we have fun with in the house.
Contrary to an older opinion out there, tug does not teach dogs to be aggressive. Quite the contrary, it turns out that tug is a great game to play with dogs. In fact, a good game of tug in which the dog wins facilitates a positive experience that actually encourages the dog to want to play with people. With a good “drop it”, tug can easily turn into…
This is one of my favorites. If you are tired and your dog is not, then this is a great way to rest while the pup burns energy. It’s also a great way to teach your dog that giving you something doesn’t mean that it goes away forever, but rather that the fun gets to continue.
Hide and Seek
A game best played at night. I turn out lights, find a hiding spot, and call out, “Loki, find me!” Instantly I hear the jingling of tags and his sniffing nose. It never takes him long. Click, treat! This game encourages him to keep track of me, which is a good skill for him to have.
Now, go out and have fun playing with your dogs!
I Can Help
If you are looking for a modern, science-based trainer who does not use intimidation, fear, pain, or violence to motivate a dog, I would be glad to work with you. If you live in the Beloit, WI area, I can come to your house. If not, we can work over Skype.