Body language of a playful dog

Ever wondered why dogs play? Or what to look out for to make sure that your pooch is happy when playing? Well wonder no more, we have the answers… hurrah!

What is play?

Play has 5 main characteristics:

1. The animal is not under stress/ in danger
2. The behaviour has no obvious function
3. Behavioural patterns are repetitive
4. Behaviour is different from other (functional) behaviours exhibited
5. Behaviour appears pleasurable and spontaneous

Unlike most other animals, dogs play with members from other species, such as humans. Their play in a variety of contexts makes them very unique. From playing alone, to playing with an inanimate object such as a toy, their interest in playing right through to adult hood is a special trait that makes them great pets.

Play is thought to be a side effect of domestication and a sign of positive welfare.

Why should you play with your dog?

According to Dr Emily Blackwell, a leading dog scientist and specialist in animal welfare and behaviour, “Bonds are formed between playmates and the frequency of play may indicate the quality of the dog owner relationship”. The fun interactions between you and your pooch will make your bond stronger, 84% of owner said they play fetch with their dog, making it the most popular game.

If you love teaching your dog new tricks, check out what Dr Emily Blackwell had to say about play…. “Playing with a dog after a training session was found to improve training performance (those dogs who played post-training required fewer trials to re-learn the task they were trained to perform just 24 hours earlier)”. Im-paw-ressive stuff!!

Is your dog playing or fighting?

41% of owner said that their dogs play with both familiar and unfamiliar dogs. Here’s a few signs to look out for to determine if the dogs’ play is appropriate and when it could be dangerous.

Signs of ‘good’ play include:

• Play signals such as play bow and play face
• Bouncy exaggerated movements
• Regular breaks in wrestling, biting or chasing
• Self-handicapping
– The bigger, stronger dog allows the smaller, weaker dog to knock or pull him over, or ‘win’ at tug games
• Role reversals
– Chaser becomes chased
– Positions change – Dog on top becomes dog underneath
– Biter becomes the one being bitten

However, sometimes play can go wrong, and being able to spot if your dog is showing these characteristics or another dog is showing them to your dog, is important.

Signs that could indicate ‘inappropriate’ play include:

• Fast chasing with low, flat posture rather than bouncy
• Two or more dogs chasing one dog
• Chaser doesn’t ever become the one being chased (no role reversals)
• Big dog being uninhibited (rough), or running very quickly towards, a small dog (risk of injury)
• One dog continuously biting the other
• Signs of fear in either dog
• Yelping

So come on, take fun seriously!! Want to see how much playing your pooch does? Grab yourself a PitPat and see how many minutes they spend walking, running, playing, resting and pottering each day! As well as calories burned, so if they’ve been particularly playful you know to give them that little bit extra a tea time…. Lucky hound!!