People often say they don’t let their dog off lead, because it takes too much time, he gets plenty of exercise in his own yard or a myriad of excuses. But DOG PLAY is one of the most important things you can give a dog.
Why do dogs play?
Dogs are known to have a high degree of Neoteny. Which means they stay in their puppy stage for a long part of their life. By contrast puppy wolves once they leave the den only play for a limited amount of time, before they get very serious, and all future play is serious and about seriously finding their position in the pack.
In contrast, domestic dogs play, to find their place in the pack, but they can do so without play turning to aggression and injury. In fact this is one of the major reasons why off lead walking works so well and why socialization of your dog is so important. Every time your dog plays with another dog, it is testing itself against that other dog, to see if it had to go up against it in its own pack, or as a member of a rival pack, whether it could beat it. But it is doing so, safely.
Yes puppy play looks cute, and some breeds can stay with puppy play for a long part of their life, but difficulty comes when these breeds play with other breeds (particularly the ancient breeds) that like the wolf, decide that play should be serious. And not to back down once ‘play’ has commenced.
In answer to the main question, dog play satisfies a core need within domestic dogs, which makes them happy!
Dominant versus submissive dog play
Should you worry about why your dog seems to always be submissive or dominant in play? Not really if they are social. A dog will often have a chosen mode of play (submissive or dominant) formed in the womb or learned from play with its siblings. This can be a good thing, as a dog that knows its place in the pack, doesn’t need to feel uncertain about having to assert itself all of the time.
So what happens if your dog is submissive all of the time? Perhaps it’s normal or if it is fearful submissive it is likely tied to a traumatic event that occurred that may need a dog behaviorist to get over. The reason that you may want to help them get over this is a fearful submission can lead to fear biting, and being attacked by other dogs.
What about dominant dogs? Well within any breed , there will be submissive and dominant dogs. While some breeds seem to have a large degree of dominant dogs, you will also find in cute species, even whippets for instance, dogs that can be very dominant. The issues that can occur from this is that if your dog is not social, it will often try and dominate another dog by simulating sex with the other dog. And that is fine, as long as your dominant dog is social and they have read the nature of the other dog correctly.
If your dog has not read the situation correctly, the other dog may extremely dislike this domination attempt and attack them. Likewise a non social dominant dog may become aggressive to an owner who tries to stop them from this humping. This is clearly no good either!