mentalhealth-01

Intellectually we all know we should exercise and play with our dogs. Yeah, it’s good for them. They’re dogs, that’s what they do.

As life’s daily stresses get piled on and we continue through our work day and week, things may start to fall through the cracks – including taking Samson out for his walk. You figure: “Oh, he’ll be fine, one or two days won’t hurt.”

But think of it this way, when you’re at work, Samson is cooped up in the house all day. And while dogs have adapted to human needs and schedules, they are still relatives of wolves, meaning they are not designed to be left alone all day inside with nothing to do. Dogs are active, outdoor animals who need regular exercise to maintain mental health.

In fact, without that regular energy outlet offered by walks and fetch and tug, and other fun dog games, they can and will turn destructive in their boredom.

According to the ASPCA, some behavioral problems that can result from lack of play and exercise, include: destructive chewing or digging, garbage raiding, hyperactivity, rough play, barking and whining for attention.

On the reverse side, a well exercised and played with dog will be less anxious, more mentally engaged and satisfied.

More specifically, here are five ways play and exercise can help your dog’s mental health:

Play Can Promote Calmness and Reduce Anxiety

Dogs are physical beings, and they need to move and just do things to release all the energy they have built up. In the wild, this energy would go toward hunting prey, dealing with their wild surroundings and just plain surviving. Our domesticated canines fortunately don’t have these challenges, but still have some of that energy.

“Dogs that have the opportunity to play and exercise are generally happier, more emotionally stable and calmer than those who do not,” says Linda J. Brodzik, dog trainer and behavior specialist, in her article The Power of Play. “Play allows an appropriate outlet for energy that would otherwise go elsewhere. If we do not initiate appropriate ways for our dogs to play and exercise, rest assured they will find their own.”

Walks Keep Dogs Engaged with the World and with Brains Stimulated

Taking your dog for a daily walk or two works on multiple levels to help his mind. One, he’s with you – which he loves (more on this later). Two, he gets to do dog stuff like sniff and explore the world through his powerful nose. It’s what he would have done had he been born a wild canine, and he still wants to do it now, but doesn’t always get the chance. Three, he gets to be outside and see things other than your sofa, bed and TV. (Going outside is good for everyone, isn’t it?) Plus, he’ll get to see other dogs. Dogs are social animals, and if they don’t have any behavioral problems with other dogs, enjoy a good sniff or greet with other friendly dogs on the trail. All these things will help keep your dog’s mind working and active.

According to an article by Dr Karen Becker, dogs also get that “runner’s high” known in humans, from the release of endocannabinoids from running – making walk time, or “run time,” a good time to boost those “happy hormones” for you and your dog.

Dogs need daily exercise to be optimally healthy and emotionally balanced, and this goes double for young pets and high-energy breeds. It’s important to understand that your dog – no matter how small – can’t get adequate exercise running around your home or backyard by himself. – Dr Karen Becker

Playtime Can Also Serve as Learn Time

Playing (and walking) with your dog can be fun and educational. You can use the time to reinforce commands like sit and stay, as well as teaching new tricks and games – all of which keep his mind working.

Playing Games Can Help Satisfy Natural Instincts

Games like tug and fetch are not only great for the pure fun of it, but are great outlets for satisfying natural urges in your dog that mentally engage them as well. According to the ASPCA, canines have a natural need to want to grab and pull things with their mouths (tug), and chasing is what canines do when they’re after prey in the wild (fetch a ball or chase a toy hanging with rope on a stick). “Find it” is another useful game that engages that nose (and mind) again. For more scent game ideas, here’s a handy list.

Play and Exercise Can Be a Time for Bonding with You

Recently a study was released concluding that gazing into your dog’s eyes can trigger a bond that’s similar to that of a mother and child. Those of us with dogs are probably thinking, “Duh!” Well, because of that, anything that encourages that bond – in this case play and exercise – is also going to be good for your dog’s mental state.

So, yes, play and exercise are good for our dogs. We just have to remember that when they’re sitting in front of us gazing intently into our eyes, trying to Jedi Mind Trick us into throwing the ball. On that note, I’d better go play with my dog.