The tiny door of the crate she shared with her mother was her only window to the world. Part of a court-ordered confiscation, the young Border Collie entered the rescue system and came to live with Debbie Kaufman.
“With no life experience, it was easy to see why Grig found the world a scary place,” Kaufman says. “Watching my other dogs play was the only thing that interested her. I knew play could help her connect with me, so I got to work. Using a soft Frisbee, I began rewarding any movement or interest in the toy. Before long she was touching it to get a reward. Playing gave her the confidence to try new things. Now she is a toy nut and will even go up to strangers if they have a toy in their hand.”
Puppies learn and perfect important canine behavior through play activities. While having fun, they also learn, for example, body language related to pack dynamics and bite inhibition two life skills that will help them safely navigate relationships with other dogs.
As they grow, play also helps deepen and strengthen dogs’ relationships with humans. “Playing with Grig helped build a relationship that wasn’t there before,” Kaufman says. “Now she trusts me and looks to me for the fun things in life.”
In addition, play encourages good behavior. Play is both mentally and physically exhausting, and a tired dog is less likely to get into mischief. “Most dogs [today] are ‘unemployed,’ but playing games, especially ones like the jobs they were bred to do — chasing games for sighthounds, retrieving games for retrievers, directional games for herders — goes a long way to ease these dogs’ frustration and make them better companions,” says D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., author of Beyond Fetch (Howell Book House, 2003). Play builds additional social confidence because it often involves sudden moves and handling, making dogs less skittish and better equipped to deal with the unexpected.
11 Ways To Play
Play can be anything you and your dog enjoy doing together. Convenient backyard play gives your dog plenty of opportunities to be with you. A brisk game of fetch, Frisbee, or soccer burns calories and improves coordination. Tug makes a good game for many dogs, but you need to be the one who starts and stops the game.
If you enjoy being active with others, try organized dog activities. High-energy dogs and owners love the fast-paced sports of agility or flyball. For dogs that love to smell and enjoy being the leader, tracking makes a perfect match. Rally obedience and freestyle dancing let you teach obedience with a playful attitude.
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