Tag! You’re it!

While most people we encounter marvel at Bright’s impeccable behavior and good looks (hehe), every once in awhile, someone decides she needs pity: “Oh, that poor dog always has to work. I bet she wishes she could play sometimes.”

Let me start with this: Of course she gets to play! Come on!

Work vs. play.

Before I get into the importance of play, let me clear up a related misunderstanding: Bright can be working or off duty regardless of her vest-wearing status. So, just because she’s got her vest on doesn’t mean she can’t play and vice versa. I’m sure that when I put her vest on for the first time in a day, she has a sense that it’s time to act important, but she’s not really working until I give her an official command, which is often as simple as, “Sit.” If I want to let her to know it’s ok to be silly, there’s actually a command I can give her to tell her she’s not on duty for the time being.

Glad we cleared that up.

Work hard, play harder.

Have you ever met a person that never plays? Chances are, they’re not very happy. They’re probably stressed out and lacking in sense of humor and creativity, and they usually take life way too seriously. Dogs and people have that in common, so play is a really crucial part of a healthy life.

Play accomplishes a lot of things:

Stress relief. A day in the life of a Service Dog can be stressful. Breaks in routine, stimulus overloads, and new experiences can all be sources of stress, and dogs process and release stress by moving their bodies. They chase, fetch, jump, stretch, and dig, and all that nervous electricity in their bodies has a chance to work itself out. It’s also their time to act autonomously and not worry about doing any commands right or resisting distractions.

Bonding. When you were a kid and your parents left you with a babysitter, I bet they had a roster of them to choose from, and I bet you had a favorite. My favorite sitter was my grandma because she did all the things I liked to do. We watched Mr. Rogers, did puzzles, went to the park, and played kitchen. Dogs bond the same way; in my relationship with Bright, it’s important for me to be intentional about doing things that she likes to do.

Fitness. Bodies, both canine and human, are made to move. Dogs, especially young ones, have so much energy! It’s critical that they have an opportunity to flex their muscles, get their heart rates up, and maintain their speed and agility. This aspect can be really beneficial to the human half of a pair, too, as many of us lead pretty sedentary lives – in order to meet our dogs’ needs, we have to get our bums off the couch and move.

Improved social skills. I used to know some kids who were homeschooled and not involved in any community activities with their peers. They were awkward on the rare occasion that they were forced into social situations, and it really wasn’t their fault. I don’t know about you, but when my dog interacts with other dogs, I want her to feel comfortable and confident, and I want her to be able to understand between their showing fear, aggression, or playfulness.

A dog that plays is a dog that stays…happy.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a dog that gets to play and one that doesn’t. A dog that doesn’t play or socialize can be insecure, have issues with separation, and can even be depressed. Yes, dogs get depressed. On the other hand, a dog that gets regular playtime is usually energetic, eager to work, enthusiastic about seeing its person, and in overall better health.

So, to reiterate, yes. Service Dogs do and should play. A lot.

Besides, if I didn’t  give Bright her playtime, I think she’d go on strike.

What’s your pup’s favorite way to play?

*Update – 11/9/12 10:28 am*

I’m seeing a lot of comments about how working breeds love work, too! I should clarify that I believe that while work time contributes to a dog’s happiness, play time is a different kind of important. Similar to a person who loves his or her job, working breeds get enjoyment out of working, but playtime provides an opportunity for decompression. No matter how much you love your job, you still have to cut loose!

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52 thoughts on “Tag! You’re it!

  1. Wonderful! I loved it! Working breeds thrive on having a job and are happiest and most healthy when they are working. Shepherds , border collies , retrievers , etc…I have trained quiet a few shepherds and couldn’t imagine how depressed they would be without the opportunity to perform.

  2. So glad this was on FP today! One of my friends in college used a service dog who was the sweetest thing on earth! Love animals and the things they do for us.

    I have 2 dogs at home and am basically obsessed with them. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Congrats on being FP!

  3. Excellent post! As pointed out by Hope, most people often forget that a lot of dogs actually like having a job to do. If done right and the dog is paired with the correct work, what we call a “job” can be a fun time for them. Needless to say, what you wrote should encourage all of us (human and canine alike) to take a break and enjoy the little things!

  4. Ah what perfect timing on stumbling upon this post. Just 5 minutes ago I just got home from a 30minute jog with my 7 year old lab! And he already wants to go for another “walk”!…maybe we’ll go running tonight…he sure does keep me active! Bright sounds like a wonderful companion to have…best wishes! :)

  5. I have never met a service dog that didnt love what they did, thats why they are a service dog! Yes play is important but equally important to those dogs is work! They love to work as much as they love to play :D

  6. Pingback: Tag! You’re it! | birdmanps

  7. my little yorkie was a therapy dog, and she loved going to work and making old and young feel better! every time her work collar comes out, she gets so excited you’d think we’re going to play fetch or something. and it’s just wonderful to see the faces light up of people she visits at the hosp.

  8. Great blog… Great post. When I was in college there was a young man in many of my classes that had a service dog. Her name was Sunny. It was great to see them interact.

  9. We don’t have a working dog unless you count being company work. She loves it when we chase after her and she gets to chase after us. We’re really loud when we do it. Our dog (havanais) has a dog toy that is as big as she is and getting us to play with that is her favorite thing to do, well that and chase cats. Chasing cats has to be the all-time favorite thing for our dog to do.

  10. Congrats on being FP! A wonderfully informative and fun-to-read post. A dog’s dedication to its owner knows no bounds, as evidenced by your words.
    When he’s wanting my immediate attention, my Beagle-English bulldog mix (Bubble, a boy, the Beabull) runs in a large, circular trajectory around my home – jumping on and off furniture as he goes. He also loves fetch, tug-of-war, and he climbs low-bending trees in pursuit of squirrels. He definitely keeps me active and entertained.

    • I like the breed nickname “Beabull” a lot. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

      I know exactly the move you’re talking about – my first SD, Keno, was a 70 lb. lab golden cross. He would wake up in the morning with insurmountable energy, and that was his routine. What a riot!

  11. Once again it was a pleasure to read your post! I have had the same experience with my SD and people feeling bad for him. Let’s face it, my SD is a husky mix, he CRAVES work, before I got sick we were always looking for a new challenge to keep him satisfied, and then magically he figured it out for himself! The best explanation I have ever given is, “don’t feel bad for him, he’s a pack animal and being a SD means he gets to migrate with his pack leader (me) where ever I go and gets to contribute to the success of his pack everyday!” :) How many dogs get to give you all that?! Congrats and you are inspiring, thank you so much!

    • Isn’t it funny, the extreme emotions that SDs bring out in people? On one hand it’s, “Oh, what a beautiful bond…how sweet!” and on the other it’s, “You animal abuser! Let your dog be a dog!”

      A point that I often bring up is that, while many dogs spend 8 hours a day home alone with nothing to do, SDs are always out in about, having new experiences and exercising their brains and bodies!

    • Oh your video is too funny. Thank you for you support as a volunteer! As a graduate, I have feel more gratitude toward CCI PRs and Breeder Caretakers than I can express.

      I love the culture of CCI – everyone involved knows how important playtime is to the pups!

  12. I had a rough time when I had my Dodger (RIP) He wasn’t a service dog, just a great a companion. I adopted him from the Human Society & I had no intention of letting him “run the house”. For nearly 5 months it was constant training. To be honest it was more difficult to train the people than Dodger! ;) After the 5 months when I started to let up on the training and let him be to play, he didn’t seem to “play” at all. I was mortified. Dodger was a full sized 75lbs Border Collie. I thought to take him to the dog parks and just let him run and play, but he herded all the other dogs, even the giant sized dogs like Great Danes into a group and ran them around the park! I thought like many others that he love to work. I had a rough time figuring out what Dodger considered work and what he considered play. I don’t know that I ever really figured it out, but I think I figured out enough to where he seemed to be a health happy dog in the time that he was with me.

    One game that I figured out that he liked to play was when I would loosely wrap his ball or bone in an old blanket. He would maticulously figure out how to unwrap it. He also played a game with his food. He was a grazer. There was always food left out for him. He would take out 10 nuggets then eat say 3. Then he would take 3 nuggets to replace the ones he ate. Then say he’ll eat 7 nuggets. Then he would take out 7 nuggets … and so one until he was done eating.

    They are amazing creatures. We don’t give them the credit they deserve.

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it? They’re all so different. Your Border Collie had an instinct to chase and herd, and maybe for him, that was play. But that doesn’t always mean that other dogs will want to socialize the same way.

      My husband recently heard a story on NPR about how dogs can count. Maybe not in English, “One, two, three…” but they understand quantity. They studied it by showing a dog a certain amount of food, then reducing it. The dog would look around for the missing food! So cool!

      • NPR? I will have to look that up. I’m living in Ireland now and I find the Boarder Collies (Sheep Dogs) amazing! Out on the countryside where the “farms” (ranches) are they swear that the dogs do know how to count and see colour. In many of the farms they dye a bit of the wool, I think on the rump, a different colour depending on what farm they belong to, and they will send the dogs outs to gather up only their sheep and leave the others alone! It was mind blowing to watch!

        Dodger was a pound dog. I adopted him when he was around 2 years old. I know that he had a really tough time before me but I have no idea what moulded his idea of work or play. I know that he seemed to enjoy doing things that he had to figure out. He got along well with most other dogs especially puppies. He had trouble with certain breeds; Huskies, Malamutes, & German Shepards. I’m thinking that they looked or seem like wolves to him. I’m beginning to babble. Thanks for letting me know about the NPR story. I will certainly look that up!

  13. I feel more sorry for dogs that are locked up in apartments or backyards all day with no interaction with people for hours on end, and then when the family comes home they get nothing more then a glance and a quick hello. No walks, no play, no attention. Working dogs have a hard life? They’re doing what every dog dreams of doing, being with their master all day to work and please. A dog’s life if you ask me. My only objection is that working dogs generally don’t get affection and can be ‘used’ for work and nothing more. Being in a farming country, it’s no surprise to see a working dog tied to a chain and post when it’s not in work. That I think is a little unkind.
    Great post!

    • I totally agree about family dogs getting neglected. And yeah, I think in rural areas where dogs are used for labor on farms and stuff, they can be treated more like equipment than dogs, but that’s definitely a different life than the kind most assistance dogs live.

  14. Love this! I train dogs for the foundation for the blind and I get the same thing from people who see me training the puppies. I couldn’t agree more play is so important. Of course we give our service dogs in training time to play!

  15. Pingback: Pups at Play | Help On Four Legs

  16. I’ld like to comment on retired companions. I assisted in caring for a retired service dog. It was clear to me, he was happier and healthier in his working life. I’m wondering what can be done to keep these incredibly smart and well trained dogs working longer? Or, if they have to retire, what can be done to keep them involved in enriching the lives of others.

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