"Play is good for our spirits, bodies and minds. It teaches both dogs and humans to coordinate our efforts with others, to inhibit ourselves even when excited and to share the ball even when we want it for ourselves." Canine behaviorist Patricia McConnell said it beautifully. Play helps dogs develop and retain valuable social skills, provides opportunities for reward-based training (dogs get good stuff when displaying desired behavior) and keeps them mentally and physically healthy. The same holds true for us humans!

When we play with our dogs, not only do we gain better mental and physical health, it strengthens the human-canine bond. Dogs probably became our best friends because we share this love of play. Play not only keeps us healthier, it's just plain fun.

Playing with dogs allows us to take a break from our busy lives and enjoy the moment with our canine companions. Need some ideas to get started? Here are a few games my dogs love and were also sure-fire hits with the hundreds of dogs I've played with in shelters, daycares and boarding kennels:

1. Hide and Seek: If your dog knows "stay," use this command while you hide. If your dog won't stay on command, have someone hold him while you hide. Start hiding in easy places (behind a door, in a closet) and gradually move to harder places. Go indoors and out. When you're ready to be found, call out: "Fido, find me!" then stay quiet and let the fun and excitement begin. Give lots of praise when you are found to let your dog know he did a great job.

2. Treasure Hunt: Take a small treat and put it in a shoe box, gift box or paper towel tube. Let your dog see you do this then say "Find it!" Your dog will have fun working to get his treat out of the package. Up the challenge by hiding the treat without him seeing where you put it. Even better to have several different containers - he'll have to figure out which one holds the "treasure."

With a little creativity you can easily think of new games to play with your dog every day. You'll both be happier, healthier and enjoy an even stronger relationship.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Stefanie Strackbein is a canine behaviorist and owner of What Dogs Want, a pet-sitting service whose focus is providing premium care along with customized playtime for dogs of every age and activity level. For more information, visit www.whatdogswant.org.


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