Thursday, April 24, 2014

Play is important in the development and training of pets, and finding what is a motivator is the key to using it optimally

Play is something that we often forget about participating in as we age. We usually are reminded of how good it feels to partake in it when we have children, or for a lot of us, when we have pets.

With that in mind, it's helpful to turn the tables and be mindful of how beneficial it is for our pets.

As ethologists have learned from discoveries in their research, play isn't just a fun thing to do — it's vital.

You see, as humans, during the process of play we learn, grow, think, reason, step outside of our comfort zone and acquire new skills in the process. We know from research that's been done that this is the case with animals, too.

Learn more about how play is integral in brain development and enhancement by clicking here.

And, as Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D. — an author and researcher — indicates, depriving young animals of play puts them at a disadvantage: it affects the maturation of the brain. His research showed evidence that the simple act of play increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, a protein linked to brain maturation.

It's easy to engage in play with puppies and kittens because they so willingly initiate it. But it's equally important to keep the ball rolling as a pet ages.

There are all sorts of games for dogs that are easy, inexpensive, fun and beneficial to play, and options are limitless, just as they are when thinking of the needs of cats.

Identifying your pet's play preferences can be helpful, as they can vary from not only species, but from pet to pet. Breed, age and physical capability can also influence the way a pet plays.

Some dogs are chewers, others love to hunt for things and still some others love to problem solve or even play with puzzle toys. You might even consider activities like nose work or agility for your pooch to give them a healthy outlet.

Cats have play preferences like birding, stalking or hide-and-seek.

Even birds like to — need to — play.

Human-pet play is an invaluable source of enrichment for a pet, and as I always remind when thinking about enrichment for your pet, "Spend half as much money, and twice as much time."

This type of play is different than self-directed play or interaction between other animals. One difference is that we use language to communicate during a fun activity, using repetitive phrases and gestures. Think about how this correlates with training.

Play has been an integral part of unfolding my now 14 year-old dog, Gretchen, and is one of the most important forms of interaction between myself and the animals in my care. By paying attention to and honoring how they play and engaging in a fun activity with them, I can quickly ascertain what motivates them, what they find off-putting and developing a bond with them.

What are your pets favorite games?

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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