All animals, human and nonhuman alike, play. In fact, we all need to play. Who doesn’t love the YouTube videos of bear cubs rolling around? Watching butterflies chase each other in the garden? Seeing kids running around playing hide and seek? I think adult humans in modern society probably don’t play enough. Life just gets in the way – grocery shopping, work, house chores… the list goes on and on. It’s super easy to let our grownup responsibilities overtake our daily schedule because they seem more important. Playing is a “nice to have” whereas other tasks are “must do.” Right? Well, maybe not.
I didn’t play for most of my life. I worked hard, and I took vacation to relax and recuperate from all that work. So that I could be productive at work again! Heck, I was too tired to play, or so I thought. I also didn’t have a puppy. My dogs were old and not as playful, and the time I spent with them was more often tending to their physical ailments and taking them to the vet. Enter Beau. The Mastermind of Play.
There are so many reasons I’m grateful for Beau. Top among them is that he not only loves to play, but he insists that I play with him. He makes up games – like “I roll the ball to you and you roll it back.” That is a completely different game than fetch! When Beau sees me starting to type on the laptop, that’s his cue to drop a ball on my keyboard and look at me, wagging his tail. “Come play, Mom! Forget about all that work!” One possible response is, “without all that work you don’t get yummy treats, Beau! Don’t interrupt!” However, I’ve found there’s almost no day when I don’t have at least 5 or 10 minutes to give him my full attention, be goofy, follow his lead, and play. That moment is not always when he drops the ball in my lap, but I can find time in most any day. He needs it. He craves it. He insists on it. And it’s good for me, too.
We had so much fun yesterday playing in the pool. Beau loves to swim more than anything. I can usually throw the ball for him and do something else at the same time. I’m a multi-tasker! He’s playing when I do that, but I’m not. Getting in the pool or on the ground with him and giving it my all for 10 minutes is a completely different experience for both of us. He’s so fun and smart! When I’m focused on playing with him, the point is not to think about all the adult things that I need to do and just be in the moment with him. He knows the difference; it makes his heart sing to have all my attention.
I know some of you have older dogs, and running around the yard may not be an option for either of you. Even an old dog’s nose works great, though. You can hide treats, let them work to get a treat out of your closed hand, or get them to find high value treats hidden in the yard while you accompany them. Even tug of war (and please let an old dog win) is an interactive way to play with all but the oldest dogs.
Playing with your dog is good for you and good for your dog. It’s also good for your relationship. It’s a shared moment, a good memory, and hopefully some laughter on both your parts. We almost always have 10 minutes to play with our dogs. If you’re like me, you’ll find it improves your mood as much as your dog’s when you do!