I thought I knew everything about dog play. Hours of watching my dogs, past and present, race in circles, little legs barely touching the ground, then entertaining them at home, and buying toys (so many toys) led me to think I knew it all.
Then someone asked me my dog’s play preference? Play preference? I had no idea. If I had, I might have saved significant money on toys.
But first, let’s explore the difference between play styles and play preferences.
What are dog play styles?
Let the dogs loose at the dog park, doggie daycare or in your backyard and you’ll soon see character revealed – if you associate character with play styles. Play styles are how dogs play with other dogs.
My high-energy English Springer-cross is all about movement, so she’s a chaser. Sometimes chasing but usually being chased, my dog picks up a ball and entices furry friends into a frenzy. So far, I’ve only let her among her own size because I fear predatory drift… when larger breed dogs begin viewer small dogs as prey. (Learn more here).
Other dogs are full-contact players, body slamming, rolling and wrestling. My little pup will engage, but often needs intervention when she’s clearly out-sized. Not everyone in the dog park knows when to intervene during this play. My previous pup, Victor, loved to run but was also a referee – he’d be on the periphery of active group play letting the youngsters know when they’re getting carried away.
Recognizing plays styles is an essential study, particularly important if we’re going to occasionally blow off steam at unfamiliar dog parks during our travels. Further study required – stay tuned.
What is dog play preference?
Ok, so that was a quick introduction to play styles with others, but what is play preference? How my pup prefers to play alone at home, admittedly, isn’t something I thought much about until I explored the how and why behind many new dog toys revealed at Global Pet Expo 2021, one of the largest industry events in North America.
Entertaining your dog at home and engaging her mind will tire her out as much as a run … that’s advice I’ve been given a lot recently thanks to my new puppy who can run laps at speeds that put Usian Bolt to shame, mixed with a stamina envied by Iron Man competitors. In an attempt to coral her excess energy, three rooms in my home look like a daycare centre littered with colourful stuffed, squeaky, chewy, braided toys. So many dog toys. Some more loved than others.
Why? Because dogs have play preferences.
That’s right, dogs have preferences in how they play not only with each other (which apparently is adaptable depending on dog, size and situation), but how they play alone. Or with you.
For details, I borrowed heavily from R&D research done by dog product company Tall Tails (who we met online this year at Global Pet Expo and previously met at SuperZoo). Tall Tails has developed yet another characteristic durable, tasteful unique product category: dog toys designed with individual play preferences in mind.
Think tug, fetch, squeak or crunch. The toys are categorized by play preferences: tug, fetch or sensory and are available to purchase separately or in a box set catering to all play preferences. Great new puppy shower gift! (Yes, that’s a thing).
How does interactive play benefit dogs?
Bonding, exercise and mental stimulation are the first benefits that come to mind when discussing doggie play time. But there is more to human/canine activities you might have not considered. For instance, that old standby tug game, isn’t just a way for you to build dominate arm muscles, it helps train your pup too.
Benefits of Tug Play
Durable tug toys are great for teething and redirecting busy throbbing mouths away from human hands and human valuables like shoes and eye glasses. Yes, my puppy chewed my month-old prescription eye glasses. Also, tug games improve confidence, socialization and even impulse control provided you teach skills with ‘take-it’ or ‘leave-it’ commands.
Because tug is something certain dogs do naturally with each other, it’s a bonding activity with people too. Plus, it reduces both his stress and yours, especially now. (Seriously, shake along with the dog. It helps).
However, avoid over stimulation characterized by the dog being aggressive and grabbing at the toy (or worse, hands). The game should be started and ended by you, the pet parent. Obviously, only use tug toys and not items (or hands) you don’t want Fido chewing on later.
Benefits of Fetch Play
Fetch – my dog’s passion. Well, unless I want the ball back. She’ll bring it near me, but getting it from her is half the game. My crazy little seven-month Sprocker is all energy, with a bit more energy thrown it. Running is her thing and when she sees the ball, she’s ready to rock.
Fetching is all about physical exercise, and it’s the one way I can burn some energy out of my Springer/Cocker Spaniel cross while still keeping some attention on me (otherwise the birds win). According to Tall Tails, fetch exercises a dog’s brain, as well as body, because it encourages them to make decisions and follow rules, although in my dog’s case I think it’s me following the rules.
My dog does know ‘get the ball’ when she drops it far away and I don’t want to run for it. However, twice I’ve had to fish it out of the river because apparently ‘get the ball’ stops at the shoreline.
Benefits of Sensory Play
This one is my least favourite: sensory play. Fortunately, my puppy is not that sensory motivated. (Maybe because she’s got three cats that make enough noise at her).
Squeak, crackle, crinkle and even sometimes pop! It’s the breakfast cereal of play. Noisy toys, according to Tall Tails, have the benefit of stimulating all the dog’s senses from sight, touch, sound and even smell.
For some dogs, the sound is the satisfaction of a successful hunt. Maybe that’s why my light-mouth part bird dog isn’t drawn to squeakers. Crackle, however, she’s developing a taste for. (Side note: if squeaky toys drive you crazy, check out this option).
Tall Tails offers this advice on how to make sensory toys into a hide and seek game, teaching commands sit, stay and ok. Let your dog smell the toy; put her in a sit/stay, then hide the toy behind a chair (maybe even squeaking it to give a puppy a helpful clue). Release her with ‘ok’ to hunt, find and wiggle with the reward of victory.
Tall Tails is sponsoring a contest!
Find the How Does Your Dog Play Contest here, and be sure to check out the entry criteria, which is a little more complex than usual. (Note: this contest is run by the company and open to U.S. residents only)
- Tall Tails is asking for short video submissions of you dog(s) playing for their chance to win a fun Tall Tails is providing the prize pack catered to your dog’s play style: Fetch Play, Tug Play, Sensory Play or Reward Play.
- Each category will have one winner, so there will be 4 winners in total (better odds).
- The contest is open from April 15 to June 5, 2021. Winners announced June 6, 2021.
- Open to residents of the United States of America AND Canada!
Show off your pup love: as we all know, making time to play each day with your dog is important for building the special bond you share with them.