Playing With Your Dog Is Very Important

Play With Your Dog

Go out and play with your dog! You tell the kids, you tell yourself, others (like me!) tell you. A lot of times that can be easier said than done. Why? Because if you don’t have an idea what to play, being told to “just go play” is extremely vague. They don’t teach you how to play with your dog in school.

First, what is play?

Websters says “play” is “exercise or activity for amusement or recreation”.  This means anything you and your dog do for fun can be play. A game of Fetch, a wrestling session, even teaching your dog to give you a high-five is play. (Yes, training can be play! It’s time he spends with his human, he gets challenged, and he is usually getting some level of physical activity.)

Play What With the Dog?

Don’t know what to play? Start with your dog’s natural inclinations. Then, get childish. This means, first letting go of inhibitions and getting into the spirit, and second, looking at some of the games we loved as kids as great places to start.

  • Got a runner? Try chasing games where they chase you (but not the other way around, reinforces a bad habit).
  • Likes to pull? Tug-of-war.
  • Hide-and-seek is fun with most dogs.
  • Wrestling is also amusement for many dogs.
  • A version of musical chairs where your dog follows you from chair to chair is fun.
  • Red Light-Green Light is a great game and you can create lots of versions to play with your dog.
  • Of course, games with balls, from Fetch to soccer work with a dog and a motivated owner.

Remember how we made up games as kids. Do that with your dog too! Whatever works to get you both engaged. You can make it up as you go! Play with your dog can be simple or complex. It can be fast and furious or slow and methodical. You can use anything you want from balls to toys to disks to cups to anything. You can be silly, walk, run, chase or tug, outmaneuver or anything you want.  (Note: During play, objects that you use or hold are infinitely more interesting than when they are lying on the floor or in the yard.)

Dog Rules

Play for dogs and play for you can mean different things. For MANY people, a game of Fetch means throwing a toy, the dog getting it and bringing it back. For a dog, fetch may mean any number of things such as:

  1. Let me chase that thing, oh wait a minute, what’s this new thing over here, let me chase that, OR
  2. I’m gonna get that thing you threw and it’s mine and you can’t have it, OR
  3. What, you want me to like, get that or something?

Or some other habit or inclination your dog may have. For people and dogs, playing has a set of rules, and for everybody to have fun, everyone has to know the rules.  You want to train or show your dog the rules (OR your dog will train you and that tends not to be as fun). Once you pick or make up a game, show your dog the rules. Get them to abide by the rules with lots of positive reinforcement (praise, treats, rubs). For instance, if you want to play Fetch, you have to teach your dog to come back to you with the object. Or play could be a simple as a wrestling session, but your dog has to obey when it is time to “Stop”. So if you don’t have a game to play with your dog, pick one, come up with the plan for how to teach them the rules, and spend 15 uninterrupted minutes everyday teaching.

  • Set a timer.
  • No phone, no tv, no distractions.
  • Have your plan if you are going to train or teach a new game.
  • Have your rewards, treats, toys, and praise.
Great Dog Games

A search online can come up with lots of game ideas. I find the best ideas come from other owners. Ask them what they play with their dog. Or check out dog forums and message boards for ideas.

Why Play With Your Dog Is So Important

Sometimes, as dog owners, we need to learn how to play with our dogs and how to have fun with them. First, not only is this time when we are bonding with our dogs, but it is a time we are teaching them how to socialize. It is also an opportunity to work with our dogs and resolve issues with interaction, observation, and consistency. Second, structured games can give your dog a great mental and physical workout. Third, playing with the dog teaches him new skills that can be useful. Fetch reinforces finding items, bringing items to you and releasing them and not becoming possessive. Hide-and-seek can encourage your dog to use problem-solving skills. It helps teach him not to panic when you disappear and encourages him to come when called. Fourth, play strengthens your relationship with your dog. That one-on-one time and personal attention is gratifying and creates a loyal, secure dog. Fifth, play time – real play and vigorous activity – is satisfying and tiring. You can even play fun games inside! A tired dog is not anxious, nervous or destructive.  Don’t worry about the outcome of playing with your dog, how well he did, or how much he learned. Just do what your dog is probably doing, enjoying the time spent together doing something fun.

So this week, if you don’t have a game that you play with your dog, pick one or make one up. If you do have a repertoire of games, pick a new one. Figure out the rules (including how the game begins and ends). Take 15 minutes (or more!) every day playing that game. This time has to be dedicated to dog play – no interruptions, no multi-tasking – but do include the family if you choose.