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Dog games? Improve her physical and mental health

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Play is more than fun, it’s a basic need for dogs, enabling them to exercise both mind and body, and to function better in their daily lives. Games for dogs are indeed a synonym for healthy living. Take note of what we tell you in this post, and put it into practice. You and your furry friend will love it.

Why are games good for dogs?

Did you know that play is essential for your dog? This is how she prepares herself for real life. Games are a learning experience, and in this way dogs develop all sorts of skills that will be useful for them in their daily lives: 

  • Developing social skills: they learn to form relationships with other dogs, and with you. 
  • Establishing bonds of affection: with other individuals (dogs, people or other animals).
  • Testing their skills and comparing themselves with others. 
  • Learning to solve little problems, and developing their intelligence.
  • Building and strengthening social relationships with other dogs, with people or with other animals.
  • Learning how to react to unexpected situations
  • Learning the skills needed in order to live with other members of the group or family: reciprocity, negotiating skills, etc.

Games for dogs: mental and physical exercise

Play is always a healthy activity. It’s through play that dogs get their exercise, both mental and physical, keeping themselves fit and active.  

In fact, ethologists use games as a test of canine wellbeing: when a dog gets playful, it means that she feels good. The same goes for many other animals, including people. 

Games for dogs that improve physical health

Games are the best way of keeping fit. So much so that the most internationally recognised canine sports are, in fact, games for dogs set in a rather broader framework.

Play is the primary motivation for all good agility training, OCI, disc dog, even  French ring or other bite-sports. 

On a day-to-day basis, far away from competitive events, there are lots of ways to keep your dog in good physical shape through play. But there are two types of dog games you really need to know about:

  • Guided games: these are games where you consciously use your dog’s motivation to play games in order to train her in specific skills. For example: playing tug of war with a knotted rope, training your dog to control her instinct to hunt and bite. Guided games are one of the basic pillars of canine education.  
  • Free games: these are games where there’s absolutely no intervention from human beings. For example when two dogs play freely together in the park. 

Playing fetch: good or bad?

Some people think that throwing a ball is a good way for their dogs to get exercise when they’re out on walks. 

Be careful though, because all too often this type of game with balls, sticks or other objects the dog needs to fetch can become an activity that’s not quite so healthy.

If you see that your dog is becoming obsessed with you throwing her ball when you’re out for a walk, and that she’s incapable of paying attention to anything else, you should stop.  Then you’ll see how little by little she regains her interest in your walks, in other dogs, in the park etc. And this is always much healthier than focusing all her attention and energy on fetching a ball or a stick. 

Awaken the canine mind through games 

Back in the 1990s, Nina Ottosson recognised the value of games for cognitive stimulation in dogs. This Swedish dog trainer began to design interactive games to give dogs something to test their problem solving abilities. 
Interactive toys based on Ottoson’s ideas are games for dogs in which you hide food so that they need to use their sense of smell and psychomotor skills to get to the prize, by devising a coherent strategy.

Today these toys are very popular, and are even used in behaviour modification therapies for highly nervous or aggressive dogs..

What is Activación Mental Canina®?

Taking the idea of using play as a form of cognitive stimulation for dogs as a starting point, a discipline has been developed within canine ethology called Activación Mental Canina®. As described by the promoters:

It’s a discipline where through games that pose mental challenges, dogs are presented with a series of problems which are adapted in terms of difficulty to the needs of each individual. This:

  • Increases the dog’s independence..
  • Improves her self-esteem..
  • Is gratifying in itself.
  • Improves self-control, and the human guide.
  • Provides a range of experiences that the dog needs in order to develop. 
  • Helps insecure or apathetic dogs, as well as those who tend to be hyperactive.  

To conclude

  • Dog games, whether guided or free from human intervention, are great for physical and mental health. 
  • Play is essential for dogs, and helps them to create social bonds with other dogs, as well as with human beings. 
  • Play is always positive, as long as the dog is able to control her obsession for the object of the game. 
  • Games are a powerful tool where there’s a need to modify undesirable or problematic behaviours. 
  • Play is a kind of synonym for wellbeing.
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