Puppy play makes us smile but often makes us wonder why puppies play. There are broad categories of play and how puppies play varies between individuals. Experts call these activities “play” because they don’t seem to have any clear purpose other than fun.
In the past, we assumed puppy play was instinctive behavior designed to develop survival skills necessary for life in the wild. Preferred play styles often are specific to a puppy’s breed, too.
But that didn’t answer the question why adult dogs continue to play if they’ve already honed these skills. So we assumed that adult dogs were frustrated by modern domestication and continued to play as a replacement for hunting or defense urges. Today we know a bit more.
Why Puppies Play
Studies have specifically examined the role of canine play and how it influences the dog's behavior. Even wild animals continue to play as adults. Dogs that get to hunt or herd and so practice the so-called survival or instinctive skills also continue to play. Today, many researchers agree that puppy play (and adult dog play) has many purposes and benefits:
- Play helps puppies develop, and adult dogs continue to practice communication skills.
- During play, puppies learn the doggy rules of the road, how to inhibit bites, and practice all the must-know doggy athletic skills. Play practices running, jumping, biting, wrestling, sniffing and more.
- Play teaches puppies about their world. They learn cause-and-effect through play—for instance, that pouncing on a ball sends it bouncing away. And that chasing a cat makes it go fast—or hiss and swat.
- Playing together reinforces social bonds between group members.
- Play builds muscle, burns fat, and keeps puppies active and healthy.
- Puppy play relieves stress and tension. It allows aggressive dogs to release energy in a legal, productive way by attacking that stuffed toy and shaking it into submission. Play boosts the confidence of shy dogs when they grab the tug-toy and win the game. Play distracts fearful dogs during thunderstorms.
- Because a puppy considers you her best friend, playing with your puppy strengthens the bond you share.
Dogs are such social creatures and appear to have an innate need to play. Play behavior is also an expression of emotion and seems to characterize an individual dog's personality. The joy expressed by the puppy in full-on play-mode can’t be denied. Play is great fun for dogs--and for humans who get to watch. Play for the fun of it should be enough.