This Valentine’s Day: For Dog’s Sake, Play!

When I was a puppy, I couldn’t get enough of the rosebushes in our backyard. As soon as the blooms popped up in late spring, I’d munch them off and run crazy circles around the yard with my ears flopping in the wind and the soft, velvety rose petals flying out of my mouth. Eating roses was pure, unadulterated fun — and definitely worth the occasional thorn.

I’ve outgrown my taste for rosebuds (though a nibble now and then can’t hurt). My greatest joy these days is spending a few hours with my humans playing in the park or at the beach. Judging from their grins, I’m sure they feel the same way, too.

So why don’t more people stop and smell (or taste) the roses? This Valentine’s Day, I’d like to encourage my four-legged friends to nudge their humans off the couch and out the door for a day of play. It’s better than a box of chocolates and might be the beginning of a happy and healthy habit.

 

What Happened to Playtime?

Humans are working more than ever. “Time-saving” gadgets are getting sleeker and smarter, but they’re also piling on the pressure to get more work done. A dog on a six-foot leash has a lot more room to wiggle than a human tied to the office via an invisible digital leash. (Which, if you ask me, is a lot like the retractable kind my humans use when we go hiking in the woods. One minute you’re free, and then —whammo! — you get reeled back in.)

The problem is that people think play is the opposite of work, something they squeeze into their schedules after they’ve satisfied all the duties and obligations of daily life. Now compare that mind-set to a dog’s way of thinking. We see play in an entirely different light. For us, play is one of the foremost duties and obligations of daily life. , It’s how we constantly re-discover our surroundings, burn off energy, and recharge our batteries. 

 

Play Like a Dog

All dogs know that any time is a good time for a play date — as long as the other dog (or human) is in the mood to join in. That’s why we dogs have developed our own social protocol for inviting someone to play: We stick our butts in the air, plop our front legs on the ground, prick up our ears, and give a big happy grin. 

Humans call this maneuver a “play bow.” It’s our way of persuading someone to come and join us in stirring up some fun. You’re not likely to see a dog play-bow to a television set or a computer monitor, either. That’s because play is our way of connecting with real people, real dogs, and real tennis balls — you know, the things in life that are important.

Of course, dogs don’t expect humans to stand up from their desks and stick their tails and ears in the air. That’s too silly, even for a Boxer (we’re not called the clowns of the canine world for no reason). But I don’t think there’s a dog who’ll disagree with me when I say that the world would be a much calmer place if more humans took figurative play bows by getting up, taking a look around them, and figuring out how to enjoy a little playtime. 

 

Choose Curiosity

There is a Zen saying: “In the beginner’s eyes there are many possibilities, in the expert’s eyes there are few.” Fortunately, we dogs see ourselves as perpetual beginners. We see everything as new, so everything has possibilities — and they’re usually about play. A dog can find something fun and interesting in a landscape that he or she has visited a hundred times before, thanks to a healthy sense of wonder and curiosity (not to mention smell).

Dogs also aren’t afraid to play because we aren’t obsessed with perfection. Frankly, we don’t care if we have a natural talent for something or what other people think about our abilities, as long as we’re having fun. 

My suggestion for humans is this: Pick any activity that fires up your creativity and challenges you. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether you are particularly good at it. The point is that as soon as you stop thinking about play as a luxury and start considering it a necessity, you’ll find a way to make it a part of your daily life.

 

The Best Valentine’s Gift of All

I’m a pretty persuasive Boxer; some people might even say that I can be a pest (of course those people would be wrong). To sum up: Playtime is important for everyone’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Breaking up the workday with a little bit of play reduces stress and contributes to a longer and healthier life. I can’t imagine a better gift for all the Valentines in your life, furry and otherwise, than spending the day on play.

Bella the Boxer is the author (with her humans, Ellen Galvin and Patrick Galvin) of Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success, available on Amazon and at www.bellatheboxer.com.