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Play Behavior in Dogs

Play Behavior in Puppies
Puppies begin to play as soon as they can walk. Littermates commonly wrestle and chase each other, pulling on ears or tails. Through play with littermates, pups learn just how strong they are or how to turn circumstances to their advantage. By the time they are weaned, each pup has formed an impression of its own abilities and social standing within the ranks of littermates. This forms the basis for adult behavior, such as achievement of dominance, in relation to people and other dogs. Play allows a young animal to practice important life skills without adult consequences. Running, jumping, hiding and other playful antics could be invaluable later when hunting for food or escaping an enemy. Play is one of the best ways to teach desirable behavior to a pet by setting standards for a lifetime. By tolerating subtle or not so subtle dominance behavior even in young puppies, for example, you may encourage inappropriate social patterns.

Undesirable Forms of Play
Wild and uncontrolled forms of play frequently lead to undesirable behavior in juvenile and adult dogs. Games that encourage chasing and jumping on people promote aggressiveness. Don't encourage your dog to mouth, chew, nip or nibble any article of clothing or part of a person's body, even if it is behaving playfully. Avoid games that arouse your dog's aggressive instincts, such as wrestling or tug of war with any object. Forms of play that do not focus a dog's attention on you or reinforce your authority may lead to misdirection of the animal's energies. The results of a dog's unrestricted activity are often undesirable. Also, you lose the opportunity to teach your dog desirable skills.

Obedience Training During Appropriate Play
Ideally, a pet should behave in a calm and controlled manner. The ideal dog should obey you and behave gently toward people under normal circumstances. Play should incorporate obedience training to provide an opportunity for constructive interaction with a practical purpose. As compared with wild play, controlled play is often more enjoyable for both you and your dog, and tends to inspire more frequent play sessions. Your dog will enjoy obeying your command to "sit" if this will earn it the right to chase after a ball. Call your dog to "come" as it retrieves the ball and to "sit" again when it returns. Say "drop it" as it gives the ball to you. This is a chance to practice obedience skills and provides the dog additional opportunities to earn your praise.