By Chris Pitts, RVT, of Broadway Animal Hospital.
Dogs need to play. Play is a great way for your dog to let off steam and offers him learning opportunities, as well. Play will strengthen your dog's bond to you, improve his health and yours too. Going easy on the quick bursts of speed will also increase the amount of time your dog will be able to enjoy exercise and be less likely to get arthritic as he ages.
For your canine, exercise and play go together like bacon and eggs. Dogs need to get moving to play. The classic energy burners for dogs are walks, throwing a ball and a good swim. Older dogs need the mental stimulation of play as well. My old lab loved to have a ball rolled to her and she would roll it back to me. She had the benefit of interaction, a little energy burn and some fun, all without running her so hard she collapsed from lack of oxygen, or tweaked one of her old dog legs.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is one of the best reasons for playing with your dog. Slender dogs are at a lower risk for arthritis, respiratory issues and diabetes. A good walk twice a day with your furry pal will keep you trim, too.
In addition, a dog who has regular, fun interaction with his people is less likely to exhibit signs of separation anxiety, or other destructive behaviors that have to do with boredom, such as chewing door frames or breaking out of the house. The interaction you have with your dog does not have to look anything like a field trial to qualify as play. Putting you dog through his paces with "sit," "down" and "stay" can suffice. Puzzle toys like Kongs and hidey toys where your dog has to pull the hidden squeaky toys out of a ship, tree or felted beehive can keep a dog entertained for hours.
Here's the required caveat: keeping the play a bit mellow is a good way to keep out of the orthopedist's office. Playing ball is fun, but a dog that goes full speed as he twists and turns chasing a ball is a lot more likely to to tear his ACL (knee ligament) than his friend who goes on nice walks on leash. If you really like your dog to feel the wind in his fur and go full tilt, a good swim is probably the best way to go… provided you let your dog wade in from the shallow end until you know he won't drown.