I love playing with dogs! I love giving them a short toss of a ball, and seeing them so athletically jump up and snatch it out of the air. I love giving them a long throw of the ball, and seeing how fast they can run, and how eager they are to seize the toy. Dogs are man's best friend, after all, and what kind of friends don't play *some* kind of games now and then? Whether that's Street Fighter, soccer, good-spirited arguing, or fetch, playing games can be important to all of us.
Sometimes people need an excuse to get out of their comfort zone and let loose. I've known some people who go about their day-to-day life with a stick up their ass about everything. They are very serious about both big things and small things, the only emotion they want to show they have is grumbling annoyance or maybe even anger. They try to keep a stone face and act like they would never laugh about anything, they're real tough guys. But then, hand them a Miller Light, and two sips later they're slurring their speech and cracking jokes and living it up. Wow! Hey not to totally call those people out or anything, but if you have two sips of a Miller Light, you're still within the legal limit to fly a passenger jet airliner over Los Angeles (I assume, lol). Maybe, it wasn't the literally not even intoxicating effects of 1/10th of a can of 8.4 proof bread water that forced that person to relax a little. Maybe that person just feels awkward about expressing happiness, and it helps them if they have an excuse, so that if they're acting silly, they can blame it on the hooch.
And in just the same way, if we want an excuse to act a little silly without using drugs and alcohol, we can blame it on the pooch! If I was alone in a park running around and then suddenly stopping and crouching and picking things up and throwing them and going "rawr rawr rawr," I would look like a crazy woman. But if I'm doing that while a dog is also running around with me and chasing after the things I'm throwing and bringing them back for me and he is also saying "rawr rawr rawr," now we're looking at a fun day out! Dogs are real ones for giving us that. Not that they're not having fun too, of course, this is probably an even more fun time from their perspective!
Playing games is fun. Playing games also fosters healthy communication. Getting down face-to-face with a dog and swiping at each other's paws in an amazing way to learn interests and boundaries: they can bap their paw over top of your paw, and you not raising a fuss about it tells them that you don't mind; conversely, if you slide your hand away and they respond by barking super loud in your face, you can give them a stern "HEY," telling them that you don't appreciate loud barking straight at your face; and then when they get it, you can get back to being playful all over again. It's a two-way street too: if you put a paw over their paw and they slide the paw away from you, and then you do it with the other paw too and they get up and leave, they're telling you coversies-pawsies isn't fun to them right now, and you should listen and find something else to do.
This baseline of communication finds its way into other areas of life too. Playing paw-touch games down face-to-face with a dog, that dog learns that he can tell me things. So later when we're out walking, and that dog hears a far-off bang (probably just someone unloading some equipment off their truck), he knows that he has other resources than freaking out and straining his leash one way and then the other and barking and crying. He knows that he's not stranded out here tied to some evil gremlin who's just holding his leash to be mean and subject him to loud scary noises. He knows that he can communicate to me, just stop and look up at me, and I can ask if he wants to go back home, and he can gladly start moving in that direction, and we can both work on the shared goal of getting home together.
Whether it's fetch, tug of war, wrestling around and butting your heads into each other, or running around together in a field, getting to play games with a dog is the best part of my day, and I like to think it's a pretty good part of theirs too.
To dogs! And the playful joy that they give!
Article written by Alissa Dogchurch (September 2023)
Questions, comments or concerns? Check out our Discord server! discord.gg/EfVTPh45RE