The purpose of play

19 Jan

I’m sure all of you have at one point in your life sat back and watched a dog play, either by itself, with a human or with another dog and had a smile on your face. Is play just for fun? Or has it got some more importance behind it? Well, i can answer that one!

Although play is usually associated with young dogs and puppies in particular, it occurs through all ages of dog and probably has a number of purposes. One of the most obvious reasons and earliest theories behind the importance of play is that it enables puppies to develop and learn the necessary motor skills and coordination that is needed to survive long-term. Play behaviour is therefore vital in perfecting behavioural performances that are key to the animal’s survival.

Play can also teach other important lessons, particularly in domestic dogs or “pets”. This includes the valuable lesson in how to control the intensity of a bite. Littermates will often bite each other in play and one study showed that 87% of play encounters involved biting. The “light touch” and “soft mouth” that is considered important for dogs that live with humans requires training at an early age. Even in breeds such as the Labrador which are renowned for their “soft mouth” need to be taught this at an early age. This lesson is learnt when the bite provides enough pressure or discomfort for the play to end.


Although play is not a requirement for socialization to occur, social play can be beneficial in the socialisation of a puppy to humans or even its own species. Social play is much more common in domesticated dogs than it is in wolves and coyotes, therefore suggesting its importance in preparing a dog for a life with humans. As well as being important for learning, play could be an enjoyable experience, carried out simply for the satisfaction they receive from the behaviour.

*photo is not mine*


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