Separation anxiety is a common problem for dogs who don’t feel safe and secure when left alone. Your dog could start destroying things when you’re gone, or he might bark the whole time. While dogs can have separation anxiety even if they are well-trained, there are some ways to avoid or treat it. Here’s what you need to know about this issue and how it affects your dog.
Dogs and Play (Why do Dogs Play?)
The term “play” has several meanings in the English language. When used in physics, the term play is defined as a period of activity, usually requiring energy, undertaken for enjoyment and characterized by spontaneity and lack of serious purpose. In ethology, a branch of zoology that studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment, play is a method employed by animals to improve their physical fitness and social skills while reducing stress.
Play is a process of trial and error, during which an animal searches for a way to cause stimulation, such as moving around its body or object, observing things in motion, and playfully responding to it. This activity may seem unwarranted if viewed in terms of survival value, but play is essential for the survival of all species. Play fulfills many functions that are vital to an animal’s well-being. Play promotes physical fitness by encouraging natural movements that develop strength, coordination, and balance. Play enables animals to practice hunting and fighting skills, which are necessary for survival in the wild. Play also encourages newborns to practice making various kinds of sounds and movements.
Dogs play because it is a process through which dogs meet two essential needs: physical fitness and social development. Physical fitness is necessary because adult dogs need to be strong, agile, and healthy. Social development is critical for several reasons. The first is because adult dogs must learn and execute the behaviors necessary for survival in the wild. A second reason is play is how dogs learn to interact and get along with other dogs.
What Is Dog Play?
Dog play involves three important elements: techniques, rules, and types of play. Dogs use many different types of techniques during play. For instance, when they run after one another, chasing behavior is used. When they stick their tongue out and wave it about, this is referred to as “lolling.” When they chase one another around excitedly, that is called a “convex” play bout.
Dog play also has rules. The first rule is all participants must be willing participants. Secondly, all participants must stay with the group. For instance, if three dogs play together and decide to leave the group, they can’t come back until invited. The third rule is that all participants must remain within sight of each other.
Sleeping dogs and dogs that are sick are not allowed to play together because they can’t stay with the other group members and, in most cases, can’t keep up with the rest of the pack. Lastly, all participants must remain close to one another for as long as the play session lasts. For example, if one dog is chasing another at high speeds, then they should run near each other so that neither dog becomes lost in the crowd.
Behaviorists refer to dog play as an activity that is motivated by the desire to obtain social status. A more specific definition of dog play is the planned exploratory activity. One or more canines (dogs) solicit, initiate, maintain, and terminate various types of interaction with one or more conspecifics (other dogs), primarily members of their species.
Play motivations are complex and likely vary in strength and intensity under different environmental conditions. Play can display social status, as it is often the dominant, more aggressive dogs who initiate play. However, even subordinate dogs will join in play bouts initiated by more dominant individuals.
It is essential to keep in mind that the rewards derived from social interaction are not limited to dominance. For example, the desire for social interaction is highly motivating. Dogs are known to engage in behavior that allows them to interact with other dogs they encounter, even if they exhibit submissive or fearful behavior toward them. When dogs exhibit fearful behavior during play, however, it is often an attempt to avoid conflict and the associated costs such as physical injury or loss of resources.
At all times, the pounce-and-bite technique must be used with discretion; otherwise, the game can end in a fight. Therefore, when you are playing with your dog, you must continue to monitor their body language. When playing with your dog, it’s good to use the ‘check-in’ technique where you go and check on your pup throughout the play session. This will help ensure that your dog is not injured and that the session is going well.
The Importance of Play for Dogs
Dogs maintain their physical fitness through play. Physical exercise builds muscle strength, improves breath control, builds responsible social skills, and can even decrease aggression (Fay 1986). Playing is a great way to expend excess energy. Play provides a natural opportunity for dogs to work out their frustrations. A vocalization made during play (called a play signal) may indicate that the dog feels frustrated.
Dogs also use play to practice the skills they will need in adulthood. Play is essential because it gives dogs a chance to learn how to communicate with other dogs. It also allows them to practice hunting, chasing, and fighting skills necessary for survival in the wild.
Dogs use play to prepare themselves for important social interactions they may encounter once they are adults. For example, dogs often use play to prepare for the challenge of raising a puppy. Play is also an ideal way to learn social norms and appropriate behavior for interacting with other dogs.
Human play with their pets helps the humans and their pets to create strong bonds. Many studies have shown that the more time owners spend playing with their pups, the stronger their bond becomes (Fogle 2004). People often develop bonds with their dogs by playing games such as tug-of-war or hide-and-seek together. This shared activity helps to strengthen the relationship between pet and owner.
Play can also strengthen the bond between humans and their pets by allowing them to explore together. For example, people often play fetch with their dogs to give them some physical exercise while also allowing them to learn new skills, like retrieving a ball or stick. As a result, owners are teaching their dogs how to behave acceptably in human society. If you’ve ever watched your dog play with other dogs, you’ve probably noticed this type of behavior. When dogs play, they often mimic the actions of the other dog. Dogs use this technique to learn how to perform specific running, playing, and fighting (Smith 2005).
Since play is crucial for your dog’s physical, emotional and mental health, it’s essential to understand how play works.
Dogs use a certain series of movements when playing with one another. This pattern of movements is called a ‘play bow.’ This behavior is a signal that the dog wants to play. The dog’s play bow is significant to dogs because it means that they want to play. Your dog will often use the ‘play bow’ when you first bring him home from the breeder or introduce him to other dogs.
Most dogs use a similar series of movements when playing with humans: The dog lies down (submissive behavior) and looks up at his human (a friendly gesture). The dog then stretches out in front of the human (play position). The dog may turn his head towards the human (friendly gesture) and begin to play with a toy.
When playing with other dogs, the ‘bow’ is usually a smaller version of the bow used in play with humans. The ‘play bow’ is not a different behavior at all. The dog’s body assumes the same position when it plays with another dog that it does when playing with you.
Dogs love to play. If your dog suffers from boredom, it may be a sign that you need to work with your dog on finding things to interest him. As I mentioned earlier, boredom is only one of the many signs of an anxious or stressed dog. Boredom alone does not cause a nervous dog to become aggressive, but it could be a symptom of other issues that he might have. If your dog is bored, make sure you give him various things to do each day. Teach your dog to play tug-of-war and hide-and-seek. You may also want to go for a walk each day (you and your dog).
References and Further Reading
Duffy, C. & Serpell, J. (Eds.) (2007) The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour, and Interactions with People. Cambridge University Press, New York. Smith, S., Bradshaw, J., Litchfield, C. & Casey, R. (2006).