The following information has been adapted from Dr. Brenda Griffin’s Playing Games with Shelter Dogs, as well as adapted from material on the ASPCA pro website.
- Is healing
- Is contagious
- Is enriching – physically, emotionally and socially
- Is a powerful stress buster and mood lifter
- Helps dogs connect with people
- Helps us get to know the dogs in our care
- Builds trust, confidence, and coping skills
- Is fun for dogs and humans alike
- Is an excellent way to build a foundation of real-life skills
- Sets dogs up for positive, fun learning experiences
Cooperative brisk activities, positive energy and play are excellent ways to engage animal centre dogs.
Through playing games, anxious dogs may learn to let go and relax and highly aroused dogs may learn that they can have fun and control their impulses at the same time.
Skill games are a type of play. This style of play can:
- Build positive emotions and motivation, while teaching skills
- Incorporate “fun behaviours” and play into learning desirable behaviours
- Be therapeutic for dogs and humans alike
- Involve toys, food, and/or utilizing targets
Determining the type of skill game you will play with animal centre dogs will depend on your population, both canine and human. You don’t need a lot of equipment or space—just a playful, creative attitude and positive energy. Remember: play is contagious. It creates positive emotions in all who embrace it. Besides being great fun, it is also a great way to “show” (or show off) a dog and a great way to engage potential adopters. Who doesn’t love a dog that will play with you?
What Kind of Games do Dogs Enjoy?
Think like a predator—what’s fun?
- Running games
- Chasing games
- Hunting games (sniffing games)
- Jumping games
- Mind games
Some of them can be played with dogs that must remain confined to their runs for safety reasons – they need to play, too!
Choose the games that are most practical, fun, and useful for your animal centre dogs. Above all else, make time to play. Make it a priority – every little bit will help. Remember, play is essential for all of us! We all deserve a little play time.
Bear in mind that some dogs are very easy to engage in play, while others are more challenging. Play styles and preferences vary greatly among dogs and depend on many factors including genetics, personality, prior experiences, and emotional state among others. That being said, playing is a fundamental behavioural need for all of us – and when we find ways to play with a dog, it is an incredible way to connect with them. The effort invested in finding what ‘works’ for a dog (i.e. what gets them playing) is well worth it.
Remember, it is important to have knowledge of canine body language, signaling and defensive handling techniques before playing with animal centre dogs. Understanding and being able to recognize signals and behaviours associated with fear, anxiety and aggression versus play will enable staff, volunteers and foster caregivers to play safely and successfully with animal centre dogs.
Viewing recordings about canine body language and play, as well as watching dogs engaged in play with other dogs, are two great ways to learn. Before beginning, remember to regularly review and practice humane defensive handling techniques.
Special note: If a game you choose for a particular dog triggers unruly, inappropriate, or undesirable behaviour, modify the game or find another one to play – Don’t allow the dog to practice such behaviour. Playing games should be fun, and at the same time, they should help build appropriate, healthy behaviours with people.