Sometimes you feel bad that you only have one dog and wonder if you should get a second to keep him company. But over time you notice your dog might be perfectly content. Have you ever come home to see your dog’s toys strewn all over the house? Some of the balls might have just bounced, but the stuffed toys are destroyed, fiber filling everywhere. Have you ever seen your dog throw a ball to himself? He is in the backyard all alone and is having a grand ole time picking up a ball, tossing it, and chasing after it. He might not have anyone else to play with, human or canine, but your pup can certainly entertain himself. He’s learned to keep himself active, even when alone.
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The Root of the Behavior
Playing is an important part of a dog’s daily routine and the ability to play happily all alone is a useful one. Dogs learn to play when they are puppies in the pack, and often playtime in social groups gives them useful life skills, like play fighting, hunting, or chasing. Eventually, most puppies leave their littermates and mom and need to figure out what to do on their own. Think of your dog as a child. Some children can play well by themselves, self-soothe, and occupy their time with toys and imagination. Other children are not as good at that, but they all have to learn the skill at some point. The ability to use imagination, problem-solving skills, and energy while left alone makes the time go faster and it is healthier than sitting around doing nothing.
The same concept applies to your dog. Some are better at playing alone than others and can have the best time without you when you are at work. Playing is necessary for a dog to have good mental, physical, and emotional health, even if it is done alone. Playing when he is left alone is a great skill because playing can reduce stress and anxiety. It also stimulates his mind to give him a challenge and focus on something constructive, and he will be using his energy in a positive way. A dog who does not have access to toys when he is alone might chew the wall, a shoe, or some other undesignated item. By playing by himself, he is maintaining overall positive health and he feels good about his activities. Unless he uses your leather loafer as a toy, he knows he won’t get yelled at. Many dogs love to play and it improves not only their alone time, but their time with you as well.
Encouraging the Behavior
Just like you need a balance in your life otherwise you’ll feel off, your dog does too. According to a study from Bristol University, dogs who don’t play regularly can suffer from problems like anxiety, aggression, whining, and not listening, among other problematic behaviors. Dogs playing by themselves should be encouraged. If you have a dog who can entertain himself, it’s a sign of intelligence. Your dog is getting out energy, chewing, chasing, challenging his mind, and practicing skills when he plays.
For dogs to play by themselves, there should be plenty of toys and a variety of toys around. A stuffed fabric toy is a classic toy, and squeaky toys are good because they make noise, which entices another sense. Interactive toys are an excellent choice because your dog can play with it for a long period of time. Some toys that have treats inside are a great motivator and will keep dogs playing. Puzzle or IQ toys can provide a lot of engagement for your dog; he won’t have to toss the ball for himself with those. Make sure you keep toys in rotation because a dog can become bored with the same toy. If you notice he starts leaving one toy out, it’s probably because he’s used to it and the novelty wore off. Take it away and replace it with something new.
Other Solutions and Considerations
A dog playing by himself is great, but make sure he’s safe. Remove toys that are damaged or have pieces he can swallow easily from his reach. If he’s adopted a stick or piece of wood as his new favorite toy, make sure that it doesn’t have splinters or nails sticking out of it. If you have an interactive toy with food, make sure you balance the rest of his nutrition with it. If you notice he’s gaining weight, limit how often or how much food you put in the toy. If your dog doesn’t play by himself and you want him to, you can try to work with him yourself or take him to a trainer for some techniques. To start, praise your dog when he is playing with his toys and make sure he has a variety of toys. Keep his environment safe and clean and ready for play.
Dogs are a man’s best friend, and when they play by themselves, they’re their own best friend, too. Give your dog lots of toys for when you’re out of the house. Even if he has played with toys all day, he still thinks playing with you is the best thing, so make sure you throw a ball when you get home.