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Whether it's a ball, a favorite plush toy, or just an old stick you found in the backyard, dogs just love to play fetch. This game can furnish hours of entertainment and fun for you and your dog. Naturally, it is also a great way to exercise while having a fun bonding time. The game of fetch is so ingrained in the collective experience and consciousness that it is taken for granted. However, the odds are good you've never asked yourself the question: why do dogs like to play fetch?'
So, why do dogs like to play fetch? Is it something all dogs do? Are there known reasons for this behavior, or is it just one of the world's mysteries we're not meant to know the answer to? Stick around, and we'll answer all these questions and more, including the question of the day: why do dogs like to play fetch?
Do All Dogs Fetch?
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While fetching and retrieving are hard-wired into dog-kind from the very origins of the biological family Canidae, not all dogs fetch. Dogs and the larger category of canine animals have been bringing things back for a very long time. That said, some dogs just don't understand or like fetch. It could be the breed or just the dog's natural tendency.
This trend runs across particular breeds. Take terriers, for example. Terriers are brilliant at running to the fetched object, be it a toy, a stick, or a ball; they can get a firm hold and bring it straight back to you—but that's where the game ends. The dog puts a death grip on it, and you are not getting it back.
As a breed, terriers are a seek-and-destroy dog. Unlike their retriever cousins who were bred to have a soft mouth (a gentle grip on the fetched object and an easy release into a person's hand), the terrier was trained to kill pests. So, it is little surprise that many terriers are not interested in giving back the thing they were supposed to put to death. It is a matter of instinctual inclination. You might have to change the game up with a terrier if you want her to like and feel comfortable with it.
Sometimes, it is as simple as an individual dog's personality; she either gets it or she doesn't. It is not unlike people, all of which have a general concept of music, dance, or song. But there is a dividing line, because not every human can perform at the same level in these areas, nor will they have the same interest level in such skills.
Benefits Of Playing Fetch
The benefits of this game can't be overstated. Besides the fact that many dogs just love it, there are plenty of other reasons to take him out for a game of fetch. Some of these include exercise, animal-human bonding, positive behavior modification, and canine instinct.
Exercise is crucial to maintaining good health in dogs. Like most mammals, building muscles and strengthening cardiovascular health is very important. Dogs are not meant to be sedentary. While reptiles and fish must preserve energy to survive, this is not so with dogs. They need to burn off surplus energy and move about to be at peak health.
Dogs are social animals. Engaging and interacting with human or humans in their lives is a major need. Fetching means they get to work together on a common task and do a job they take personal ownership of. You are not just engaged in their space; you are interacting. Dogs see fetching toys as a form of partnership.
We as people encounter this ourselves—we do something just because there is a person who will do it alongside us. This accounts for a dog's enjoyment of the game of fetch. They love this game because you are with them. There's no person your dog loves more than you. They'll do anything with you!
Fetch is a cooperative game with a competitive angle. Games can be integral to bonding if done correctly. Tug-of-war engages a competitive sense in the dog where the pecking order is established. Fetch is a cooperative and interactive game that encourages this bond between human and dog. In some ways, you are established as the alpha because you are the one who starts and ends the game.
When the dog comes to see the person as the one who leads the pack, it creates a loving and dependent bond. They already understand that you give them food. The game of fetch makes them dependent on you to give them the satisfaction of the thrown ball. When you determine the game's direction, the dog comes to see you as the leader.
Dogs are engineered for work and relationships. They possess a high level of pent up energy that needs to be burned off or else they'll take to destructive or disruptive behaviors to satisfy this need. They'll chew, prowl in the trash, escape their enclosures, chase cars, etc. When dogs feel purposeful, they'll stop engaging in these negative behaviors.
Fetch can teach the dog respect for its owner. Positive interactions are ones in which dogs feel like they are helping their human companion and doing a job. When both are done in combination, a dog gets great satisfaction.
Dogs have an instinct to use their teeth as tools. Beyond eating, they naturally have an inclination to exercise their teeth. Fetch can satisfy this desire and help them see the difference between appropriate and inappropriate objects for chewing.
Tapping Into The Dog's Instincts
Fetch is very natural for your dog. Some domesticated dogs' closest relatives are the coyote or wolf, who engage in a behavior called prey-carrying. Following the hunt, a wolf will carry prey to the young that were left behind at the den. Their job is retrieving dinner for the family. So bringing a ball back to the owner is a very primal response.
Remember, the dog is a pack animal, and his biological history involves interacting with others to get a job done. They also have a domesticated history in which they hunted alongside man. These traits remain strong and have been habituated into the dog's instincts. The interactive game of fetch gives your dog the opportunity to engage all these collective instincts.
Why Do Dogs Like To Play Fetch?
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Fetching is fun for dogs, overall. There are some dogs that have both the instinctual and domestication for the game. For example, retrievers are so named because this was their historical task when hunting with people. Retrievers are still used for game retrieval to this day. Herding dogs like German Shepherds were also trained to return things. So, the action of bringing or returning something to their human is very satisfying to dogs.
A Dog's High Energy
One serious reason dogs so enjoy fetching has to do with their high energy level. It doesn't take much encouragement to get a dog to exercise. Not only do they get to go work, but it is a job they enjoy. Many times, you find that you have to moderate your dog's fetching time or else they'll overwork themselves.
A Dog's Sense Of Responsibility
Dogs see the toy that needs to be fetched as something the owner lost. Going to get this gives the dog a sense of responsibility which helps us establish the answer to the question: why do dogs like to play fetch? They perform a task that the owner “needed” to be done. Dogs love to please. It allows the dog to express loyalty.
Engaging The Animal's Senses
Part of the dog's sense of fulfillment comes from the full engagement of their greatest senses. They get to use their sense of smell and direction. The extremely keen physical senses are put into overdrive during the game.
The Chemical Response
Dogs also benefit from the chemical rewards of fetching. Why do dogs like to play fetch? They get a “high” from it similar to a weight lifter's high or a runner's high. When the neurotransmitters are activated in a game of fetch, the dog is flooded with feelings of satisfaction because of a simple biological response.
When asking, 'why do dogs like to play fetch?', you have to keep in mind that you have an animal with high energy, strong teeth, and an uncanny sense of smell. Both habituation and biological design have geared them up to find and retrieve things.
Your dog will completely invest themselves in the game of fetch. Everything that she is by design gets put to use in the game of fetch. Canines satisfy so many needs and biological traits in a simple game.
Their very family's history required the ability to perform this task as a means of survival. It meant tracking down their prey, chasing their prey, and returning a portion of it to other pack members. Now it is just fun recreational time shared between a human and pet.