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Children and dogs: Communication through play

Little girl with two labrador puppies advice
© Shutterstock

Playing is natural for all young mammals, human or otherwise. As a result of domestication, dogs have kept a wonderful child-like playfulness and still like to play even well into adulthood.

By Emilie Heyl

Essentially, dogs love games and they know how to make us understand it. They have an array of techniques and rituals to tell us they want to play and show their enjoyment by wagging their tails.

Children also love to play. As well as their shared love for fun, children and dogs share similar behavioural patterns when it comes to playing, so it is easy for them to know when the other is looking to start a playful game.

Children and dogs have a special kind of relationship. When they play together this only intensifies, as they are able to understand each other completely. As children often play physically with their four-legged friend, a dog makes an ideal playmate for children who love to be active and run around. However, children like to include their pet in all sorts of games; it wouldn’t be unusual to see the family pet sat around enjoying a child’s tea party sat shoulder to shoulder with a doll. 

When they are playing more calmly, you often see children playing house and treating their furry friend as a baby, they get them dressed up and push them around in a pram. You can sometimes catch young children, around the age of 1 to 2, trying to imitate the way their dog moves or speaks. Dogs generally enjoy playing these sorts of games with little children.   

When the game chosen by a child isn’t quite to the dog’s taste they are able to demonstrate an extreme level of patience and tend to join in anyway. Being so tolerant to such childlike playfulness makes dogs fantastic playmates.

When children and dogs play together they use prelinguistic language, meaning that communication between the two is achieved through body language. Although it’s about much more than simply having fun, playful activities are a great way for children and dogs to interact. It could be said that games establish the fundamentals of communication between the two.

Study on dogs in the family

The majority of children are eager to establish a relationship with a dog. Almost all children are drawn to pet and stroke dogs. However, only half of children want to play with dogs. When the two do play together, it is often in the form of a physical or active game. The majority of dogs are happy to play with children, some even seek it out. 

Dogs are a playmate for children
Dogs are souls that children cherish
Dogs are an important and loving presence for children
Dogs, in children’s eyes, are both different and similar to themselves. Recognising this, children sometimes model or adapt their own behaviour to that of a dog.
Dogs help children to feel more confident and to take responsibility as they give them an opportunity to take care of and assert their authority over another.
Some dogs instinctively take on a protective role over children.

When a relationship with a pet dog exists very early on in a child's life, it continues intensely throughout their lives.
 

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