Dog-dog or ‘owner-dog’ play, are two very different but important games that all dogs should regularly play.
But why do dogs favour playing with their owners over other dogs?
Healthy Dog V dog play
Most information on this comparison comes from a paper written by Rooney et al 2000.
It suggests that while dogs usually enjoy both playing with dogs, and other humans (well some do) that the motivations between each play are very different.
The instant take away point about this is that dog-dog play is vital for a dog’s continuing education about its place in the pack. I walk a lot of dogs, and some dogs whether young or old, just don’t seem to bother with interacting with other dogs a great deal. If they are calm dogs, this is not such a problem.
But I can tell you that the majority of dogs that I walk that have owners who walk them daily, will engage in play with other dogs much more. And the mental and physical energy that this expends seems to satisfy them much more than a dog that stays its distance from the pack and doesn’t engage in play.
Healthy Dog V Human play
The 2000 study was really more about how dogs play with humans, and if there is any inherent benefit.
You see, most people I know love puppies, and they play with puppies in their home and groom their puppies until the dogs turn one or two years old. Somehow after that the puppies lose their appeal and get abandoned in the back yard. Bad owner, bad owner, but I digress.
They have found that there are some quite different methods of play that your dog will play with you as opposed to another dog. For instance, tug-of-war with another dog is usually a question of strength and who is higher in the pack. A lot of dogs don’t give up the rope easily.
Tug-of-war with owners was found to be both competitive and “functionally cooperative”, something that may not even occur between very close dogs. This means that it appears that while your dog may be trying to impress you with its strength, they are often pulling to help you rip the rope or animal apart – i.e. not purely always in direct competition with you.