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One of the best parts of being a dog parent is the chance to play again — a practice that’s not only fun for you, but also good for your pet. Dogs that play with their owners or other dogs tend to be happier than those that don’t. They’re less anxious, less aggressive and more likely to come when called. In fact, the fun-loving nature of a dog thrives so much in having a playmate, research suggests this fun socialization could be the key to having a happy, healthy pup. 

Why exactly is play time so valuable for canines? What does recreation do for dogs, and why are the ones that play with others happier and healthier? Is lack of space an issue for a bigger dog?

Here’s a look at some of the benefits dogs get from playing:

Stronger Relational Bonds

Regular, interactive play between dogs or a dog and its owner is more than fun; it’s a bonding experience. Tossing a ball back and forth or running with a flying disc outside creates a connection that strengthens the relationship. The dog and its owner — or the dog and another pup — build attachment and security. Not all play is created equal, however. The key is for the play to be enjoyable and affectionate, rather than filled with discipline and commands.

Developed Motor Skills

Just as human babies test boundaries and learn how to move their bodies through play, so too puppies develop important skills during their playtimes. It’s in play that dogs find out what happens when they bite a playmate, for example, and how far they can go without getting a nip in response. They learn what works for getting food and how to build better balance. Play helps them gain understanding in the best ways to move, how to defend themselves and more.

Coping Skills for Stress

Because the nature of play revolves around the unexpected, it can serve as a practice range for dealing with new occurrences. In other words, having fun doubles as preparation for life, where dogs have various stressors to deal with day to day. By learning how to handle surprises in play, dogs learn how to handle them in the rest of life.

Mental and Physical Exercise

Without play, dogs are more prone to whining, anxiety, aggression, disobedience and other behavioral issues. Why? The fact is, dogs need fun activities to stay mentally and physically healthy. By getting a chance to use their minds and bodies in play, dogs gain skills that correct many kinds of dysfunction and behavioral problems. Further, physical activity in play helps burn calories and combat the growing phenomenon of pet obesity. 

Given that play is so important to pups, you as a pet owner can give your dog a wonderful gift by making regular time to have fun. There are lots of ways to play with your pooch: fetch, wrestling, tugging at toys by themselves or with another dog, nose work and more. To reap the biggest benefits, make it a habit multiple times a day — at least three and as many as six separate play sessions. You can work this into your schedule however it fits your responsibilities; one way is to shorten walks by 15 minutes and substitute playing. 

When prioritizing regular play, you’ll not only care for your dog, but you’ll also reap the benefits. Playing with a dog is a great stress-reliever, chance to exercise and mental break. Take the adage about dogs being man’s best friend to heart: Get out there and have fun with your pup! You’ll both be better for it.

Author bio: Alec Hutchins is Chief Marketing Officer of Recherche Kennels – Labs, a professional breeding and training facility. Recherche Kennels has over 10 years of experience breeding with top parent bloodlines and training puppies to be the perfect family pet.

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