Looking for an excuse to take time to play? Research suggests play is good for the brain, so go ahead and take that time – and include your pets! Exploring objects and practicing movements like running, twisting and jumping may help animals when they come across something new and unexpected. As a result, they may feel less scared and are less likely to be caught off-balance. And it’s good exercise!
It also appears that learning rules and dealing with conflict when feeling safe during play may also help some animals, as well as people, treat others more fairly in real situations. Therefore, play may also help build trust and strong bonds between you and your pets, as well as your family and friends.
What if you have a pet who won’t play?
If there are no underlying health or age issues, it may be that your companion animal wasn’t exposed to play behavior when young, or maybe you haven’t communicated clearly that you’re up for a game.
Dogs obey clear rules when they play with each other, and show appeasement behaviors – they apologize! – when they accidentally play too rough. A play bow is one clear sign that play is what dogs want, and most dogs also like a good game of chase. Scientists in one study found that people who “gave chase” to dogs received a playful response 100% of the time! Also, people who did a play bow in front of their dogs received a playful response most of the time. However, other popular behaviors that humans do, like patting the floor, clapping or tapping the dog did not do as well. For example, patting the floor only got a playful response 38% of the time.
So if your dog feels safe and comfortable, and still won’t play, get down on those knees and try a play bow!