I'm particularly interested in the role of play because I've been a primary teacher (elementary teacher) for more than thirty years and I know that play is a powerful learning tool for humans - and, I assume, for canines. I'm reading a book by Stanley Coren called Why Does My Dog Act That Way? in which he says that dogs never lose their love of play. (I've got the paperback out of a local libray but I notice it's available as an e-book.) He says, on page 27:
The technical term that describes dogs in relationship to wolves is neoteny, which refers to the fact that certain features normally found only in infants and young juveniles persist into adulthood. In essence, our domestic dogs are the Peter Pans of the canine world. They are perpetual puppies...The most obvious physical differences are the dog's somewhat shorter muzzle, wider and more rounded head, somewhat smaller teeth, and floppy ears (which are seen in wolf pups but never adults)...One demonstration [of the dog's puppy-like behavior compared to the wolf]...is the dog's life-long desire for play.I thought I would browse the Net to see what toys there are that are designed for intelligent play.
On a German site I came across a wooden toy called something like Dog Solitaire (I'm not quite sure of my translation). I think it looks interesting, because it involves the dog looking for a treat under one of a set of colored pegs. However, I thought it would be possible to play this game without buying specific equipment, so I looked further around the Net.
Therefore, I was pleased when I found that two people have set up a site called Fun-For-Dogs.com. It's mostly in German, but there is a welcome page in English that suggests if you browse their site you can learn from the photos. The great thing about it, I think, is that there are heaps of ideas for making your own stimulating toys and games from items around the house. I LOVE the picture of the dog playing with the plastic cash register! (Or some type of pop-up plastic toy, not sure what it is, but I'm off to the op-shop tomorrow to look for second-hand children's toys like this one!)
By the way, from the photos it appears that the play is always with a human - the toys don't seem suitable for unsupervised play.
I also noticed they put grapes in a Kong - as far as I know, it is not good to feed dogs grapes.
They also have the wooden solitaire toy but I can't quite figure out the instructions. Given that the other toys are so good, I'll get my German dictionary out and try to work out how the dogs are supposed to play.
The one that I'm going to make straight away is the one where you take a cardboard cylinder from a paper towel roll and cut a slit. Then you put a piece of paper through the slit so it blocks the middle of the cylinder. You balance a treat on the paper, hold the cylinder vertically and when the dog pulls on the paper the treat falls to the ground. They suggest that if your dog doesn't show interest in pulling on the paper, you can put peanut butter on the paper. If you make the first piece of paper very narrow, any movement will let the treat fall down. (If this explanation sounds a bit weird, the photos make it clear.)
They've published a book that I think I will buy ( in English) called Playtime for Your Dog: Keep Him Busy Throughout the Day.