The State of Play

Defining play in words is tough – although we usually recognize it when we see it.  Here is one definition: Play is something that’s done for its own sake, it’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it’s something that takes us out of a sense of time and it includes a diminished consciousness of self. I love that.  Achieving that State of Play is what attracted me to dog sports.  And it certainly defines what we see when our puppies … and our kids….play.

That definition comes from Stuart Brown, M.D. , medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and the founder of the National Institute for Play.  What I love is that he has made “play” the center of his work since retiring as a clinical psychiatrist.  Why? Because in his practice he had the opportunity to study the developmental background of a group of mass murderers, finding the absence of normal play to be a distinguishing feature from the control population.  This began a clinical interest and passion in the topic that led to the formation of the Institute of Play.

We’ve all been told how important it is to give our puppies opportunities to play with other puppies.  A session of play between two well matched puppies is dynamic, intense and by all appearances fun!    Research shows that it’s also critical to the development of social animals. Play aids the development of emotional regulation, social competency, the ability to be flexible with something that is happening that’s unexpected, and the capacity to adapt to a changing world.   Depriving rats from just one form of play – rough and tumble play — results in adult rats that do not have the capacity to tell friend from foe, they don’t mate properly and they don’t handle stress well.

I’ve been lucky to have friends with same age / same size puppies.  and we have been getting the pups together regularly.   Next time you see puppies play…smile at their antics and enjoy watching all the neural connections that are being made!

Link to podcast with Dr. Brown:  http://brainsciencepodcast.libsyn.com/2009/08

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