The Importance of Playing with your Dog

Play is often used as a reward in the training of working dogs who do detection, seeing eye or search and rescue work.  We know that social interactions with familiar humans are highly rewarding for many dogs and that dogs whose owners play with them have been found to score higher in obedience tests than those whose owners do not play with them  (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).
The owners of pet dogs can use play as a powerful reward in training. Play is associated with a reduction in the stress hormone “cortisol”. To get the most out of play, keep things positive. The benefits of play are reduced if the dog receives a verbal correction from the owner and dogs who have been trained with punishment-based methods are much less interactive during play than dogs who are trained with rewards (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).
Initiating play with many dogs is easy but some types of invitation are better than others. Studies on play between dogs and humans showed that when humans run toward or away from a dog, the human was effective at initiating play with their dog but when humans tapped the floor in a common method of attempting to initiate play, the dogs showed a much lower rate of responding playfully to the human behavior (Rooney, Bradshaw, & Robinson, 2001).
Studies have shown a correlation between playing games with physical contact between dogs and owners and lowered rates of separation-related behavior such as vocalizing in the absence of the owner or staying by the door the owner lefIMG_2950 copyt by (Rooney & Bradshaw, 2003). Physical contact should always be gentle.
Play  works as a reward because it is fun for the participants. Play is a cooperative pastime and MRI’s (magnetic resonance imaging) on humans show that the brain’s pleasure centers are activated when people cooperate with one another (Bekoff, 2007). Studies at Colorado State University revealed that oxytocin levels in women increased by 58% when women played with their dog (Hare & Woods, 2013). Oxytocin is an important hormone for women promoting mother-child bonding amongst other functions and has been referred to as the “cuddle” hormone.