Play is a crucial part of a pet's life, but researchers say not all types of interaction are equal
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.
Click here to read more about how play is integral in brain development and enhancement.
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.
Identifying your pet's play preferences can be helpful, as they can vary from not only species, but from pet to pet.
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 — no, 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. But as Julie Hecht, a canine behavioral researcher notes in a recent article in Scientific American — there are other factors to suggest human-pet interaction is different that other kinds of play.
Hecht, who also manages the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at New York City's Barnard College, has put out the call to dog owners to submit videos of themselves engaged in fun activities in an effort to help catalog the ways that people play with their dogs in a study called Project: Play With Your Dog.
Click here to learn more how you can be a part of the project.