Turns Out, There Is A Better Way To Play With Your Dog

Scientists watched 187 videos of humans playing with canines. Here's what they found.

13/04/2016 7:39 AM AEST | Updated 13/04/2016 7:39 AM AEST

About 70 million people in the U.S. own a dog, but in between cuddle sessions, staring into each other's eyes or playing plain ol' fetch, we all tend to play with our dogs in different ways, according to new research.

Turns out, men play with dogs very differently than women do, and people who work with dogs professionally (such as veterinarians or dog groomers) have their own way of bonding over playtime.

But while we all have distinct styles of play, new research has found that we all speak to our dogs similarly.

In a study recently published in the journal Animal Cognition, scientists have identified the most common words we say to dogs as well as how to make the most of quality time with your pooch.

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To uncover the secret formula for the perfect dog-human playtime, Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht, scientists with Barnard College's Dog Cognition lab, asked the public to send in short videos of them playing with their dogs.

Dog lovers worldwide jumped at the opportunity, and Horowitz and Hecht reviewed 187 videos from 19 different countries that showed people between the ages of 8 and 75 playing with their canine friends. 

Watching the videos frame-by-frame (which, by the way, is a scientifically-proven pick-me-up), the researchers observed 30 types of playing, including fetch, tug, chase, keep-away, various tricks and teasing. They also measured the face-to-face contact between owner and dog, level of activity, proximity to the dog, and physical contact during the playtime.

The researchers even transcribed every word the owner said to the dog and identified the 35 most used words (e.g., "good," "get/got," "come/c'mon," etc.).

While Horowitz and Hecht observed that the dogs' response to the playtime was "overwhelmingly positive," they found that the dog owners' emotional reactions depended on how they played with their dogs.

"I was surprised to see that different types of play (and different levels of activity and contact between person and dog) were correlated with different emotional experience for the persons," Horowitz told CBS News in an email. "They had very positive affect in games like tug or wrestling play; much more neutral affect in fetch."

Since most of the dogs were happy with the playtime, the researchers measured how much the owners smiled to determine how they were affected by these interactions. 

Here's what they they found:

People are happier when they are physically close to their dogs and active with them.

The researchers found that dog owners who touched their dogs more, stayed close and moved around a lot appeared to have more fun while playing with their dogs.

"In other words," the researchers explain in the study, "people smiled more in play when they were active and moving around, and when there was a lot of physical contact between them and their dogs." 

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Women are more likely to touch their dogs during playtime.

The researchers found male dog owners engaged in less physical contact with their dogs than female owners. In fact, 50 percent of men had no contact with their dogs during the observed playtimes, while only 32 percent of women were hands off.

Peathegee Inc via Getty Images

Dog professionals stay closer to their dogs during playtime.

Of the 187 videos, 48 of them featured people who handle dogs professionally, including trainers, veterinarians, dog groomers, breeders, and shelter or doggy day care workers. Compared to the rest of the people in the videos, individuals who worked with dogs professionally spent significantly more time in close proximity to their dogs. They also engaged in higher levels of face-to-face contact with their dogs.

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The top three most common forms of play were fetch, tease and tug-of-war.

But tug-of-war and teasing (defined as play which provokes or bothers lightheartedly, such as pretending to toss a ball) yielded more positive emotions in humans than fetch, which yielded more neutral emotions.

Teresa Short via Getty Images

And in case you were wondering, here's the full list of the most common words we say to our dogs:

1. You

2. Good

3. It

4. Get/got

5. Go/gonna

6. Come/c’mon

7. (Dog’s name)

8. Girl

9. Yay/yeah!

10. That

11. Here

12. I

13. On

14. Oh

15. Are/aren't/'re

16. Ready

17. Boy

18. The

19. Give/gimme

20. Play

21. Okay

22. What/whatcha/what's

23. Me

24. To

25. Yes/yea

26. Do/does

27. Wanna/want

28. Where/where'd/where's

29. Your

30. Drop

31. Is

32. No

33. Ball/bally

34. Am/'m

35. This


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