Go. Play. Now. – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey serenely chews her stick.

Don’t worry about my stick being too small. I have plenty more waiting to be chewed.

When the foster dog arrived, I put all the dog toys away.

Luckily, Honey knows how to make her own.

Dog Comes Home; Toys Go Away

Before we bring a new foster dog home, I round up all the dog toys and put them away. Why?

  • We don’t know if the new dog will be possessive.
  • Living in a new place (or having a new houseguest) is stressful.

We don’t want to add anything to the mix that could cause an argument.

Eventually, if it seems right, we bring toys out when we’re around to supervise their play. But with Layla in the house, I haven’t felt that was a good idea. So the toys stay in the guest room closet where Honey sniffs them wistfully when I go to get the vacuum cleaner.

And, since Layla isn’t very playful, Honey has missed her fun time. She’s had to solve the toy problem on her own.

Dog Toys Found in Nature

A branch broke off the maple in our front berm. Mike dragged it into the backyard until we could break it down for removal.

Y’know, I don’t think there will be much of it left by the time spring comes.

Honey has already broken all the small branches off the main one. Sometimes she lies in the snow and gnaws on it. And she’s dragged it out farther into the yard.

Besides the branch, Honey’s favorite toy is the snow.

She enjoys chasing the snowballs I toss for her. She rolls on her back to make snow angels. And she tosses the loose snow into the air to let it sprinkle down in her own version of a puppy ticker tape parade.

I should probably put on a pair of snow pants and join her. I could use the fun.

Learning to Play as a Grown Up

A few years ago I decided I needed to recover a sense of childish fun.

My own childhood was fairly serious. Why couldn’t I recover some of the fun I felt I had missed?

First I bought myself some coloring books and the really big box of crayons—the one with the sharpener built into the back of the box. I enjoyed coloring. And now I was old enough to stay inside the lines.

Next I started collecting comic books.

What don't you see in a comic book shop? Women in their 40s.

If feeling uncomfortable builds character, I became a real mensch by being the only woman in her 40s in a comic book shop. Probably ever.

Sure, following the adventures of a dark knight control freak with an over developed sense of responsibility probably wasn’t the most playful move I could make. Neither was my interest in Dream recovering his kingdom from serial killers, demons, and maniacal gods or the attention I paid a samurai and his young child on a path of bloody vengeance. (If you understand all three of the references, you get the geek of the day award.)

But I enjoyed reading things that were all about the story. Y’know, just for fun.

And I’m only now realizing how that bit of childish fun is something Honey and I have in common.

Women Who Play With the Wolves

Entire industries have grown up around dogs’ similarities to wolves. They share nearly all the same genetic material.

But they also have major differences. And one is that adult wolves don’t play.

Sure, they’ll entertain the puppies in the family. Or explore an interesting new object. But adult wolves don’t spend their days frolicking with each other the way dogs do with each other and with us.

Dogs and people play throughout life.

Don’t believe me? Then what would you call kayaking? Pick up softball games? Chess?

We need to play. And so do our dogs.

Go Play With Your Dog

Thousands of years of evolution couldn’t be wrong (or God, if you prefer).

So get off the damn computer. Create a little mischief. Hide treats for your dog. Kick the snow until it sparkles in the air. Toss a ball. Run barefoot on the beach. You won’t regret it.

Play. It’s good for the dog. It’s good for you.

Are you as playful as you’d like to be? Does your dog remind you to play?

Photo of comic book shop is by Soon on Flickr and is used under a Creative Commons license. Click the picture to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. Playing has become an issue at our house. But the tables are turned – we are trying to teach our two rescues to play. Both SlimDoggy Jack and Maggie May are 8-year old rescues. They both had pretty hard and stressful times before they found their way to our little dog paradise. And they both struggle to let go of that past and just enjoy being a dog. Jack will occasionally run around with a toy in his mouth and Maggie will once in awhile run after a ball, or dig a little bit in the garden (see her on Slimdoggy’s FB) but for Labs, they are both very unplayful. So they are forcing US to play more – which I guess is good for all of us!

  2. Play time is great time. Feed the inner child we say. Have a marvelous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. I don’t play as often as my dogs would like, but we do play. Pierson gets super excited with I make certain funny noises. Maya loves tug-of-war. We also play ‘find it’, fetch, wrestle, and some fun things we do that don’t really have a name to it. Playing is the key to the fountain of youth.

  4. I love it when my daddy plays with me, especially when we wrestle:-)

  5. Rooooo so true – if humans would only let go and play a little more they would have so much more fun and feel better too. I see it as my duty to regulate my humans computer hours, if she’s staring at the screen for too long I put my paws on her lap and lean in for a kiss. If that doesn’t help, then I sometimes have to find a toy and put it in her lap. That usually does the trick and we start a good game of fetch together *Waggy tail*

    Sending lots of wags and kisses to Honey -she sounds like my kind of girl!

  6. *sigh* I go through periods of playfulness. And times of hiding in play. When I hide in play, it means that life is hard and I’m probably depressed. Right now I have ten baby chicks which are balm to my soul.

    • Sometimes we play and sometimes we retreat. There’s no shame in doing only what you’re able to do.

      Glad you’re enjoying the chicks. It’s a wonderful time to be enjoying new life.

  7. I’m getting ready to get my play on. My grandson’s 5th birthday is at Bouncetown. Yes, adults can bounce too. This is the one time I will let myself get nuts, watch out little five year olds, I’m bouncing!

    My dogs are not big at playing with toys with me, yes they will play fetch for a bit and yes Sampson did throw a squeaker at me yesterday, but normally our bit of fun is done on our walks.

    BTW, I’m beginning to wonder if we somehow didn’t have the same childhood. :-(

  8. Playing is one of the most important things humans can do for their mental health. One problem though is so much of adult play involves competition with another human and that can be stressful and counter productive.

    We’re smarter and stronger than dogs (or at least we pretend we are smarter) so we don’t worry about competing. I read someplace that we shouldn’t play tug-of-war with dogs because it lets them compete with us. Like a lot of advice from experts, this makes no sense to me.

  9. my dog barks at me when I haven’t been outside to play with her.

  10. Such a good reminder! I remember being so caught up with training Moses that there was a month or two we completely forgot to have any fun – and I mean fun that’s not a “training game”, not controlled fetch or hide and go seek. The realization slapped me in the face and we immediately set out to run around, play tug, and just enjoy something that was unstructured and unscheduled. I won’t forget that again.

    As for me playing? Well, I’m still really good at Tetris.

  11. It’s funny you say that you needed to learn to play as a grown up because you had a serious childhood. I did too and I never thought of that being connected to why “normal adult fun” doesn’t always seem fun to me or feels awkward. The place I feel most comfortable playing is out in nature (also where I did most of my playing as a kid). I guess like owner, like dog because I have raised dogs who love to play in nature too.

    They don’t like sticks like Honey though :)

  12. One of the things that makes me happiest is playing with my dog :) Excellent advice!

  13. I could use some good playtime. I’m way to serious. I suck at fun. If it wasn’t for the dogs and my childish husband I wouldn’t know a thing about playing.

  14. And that’s why I spend all evening dropping balls at dad’s feet! BOL

  15. Great post Pamela. It’s a good reminder to get out there and have fun. I do make time to play with the dogs every day, but I don’t really do anything fun myself as of late. I can’t remember the last time I played a game or drew something (I used to enjoy that sort of thing), but I also wonder where to find the extra time in the day? I guess it’s a problem that plagues us all though.

    P.S. Smart thinking to hide the toys until you know how a dog is going to react. I always try to do everything with caution with visiting dogs.