A dog playing with young boy in a field

Games for dogs: how to play with your dog or puppy

Part of the fun of owning a puppy or dog is the time you get to play with them. We take a look at the benefits of play, and some of the playful activities your dog will love.

The benefits of playing with your dog

There are many reasons why play is good for your dog:

  • It helps to create a bond between you and your pup
  • It’s good for mental stimulation
  • It helps him to burn off energy (and keeps you fit!)
  • It’s a great way to reward your dog for learning new skills
  • It can improve quality of life… for both you and your dog!
  • Above all, it’s fun!

Dogs use play to communicate. They use it to learn about the world, to interact with humans and other dogs, to develop instinct, to develop instinct or to defend their territory.

Setting boundaries, and creating a play schedule for your dog

It’s a good idea to structure play sessions to get the most from them. And as the way you play with your dog lays the foundations for your relationship, it’s important to establish boundaries – what is and isn’t allowed – such as how rough you’ll let your dog be during play sessions. These guidelines are useful for your dog’s development, so be firm and consistent. They also help set ground rules for any obedience training in the future.

Dogs are creatures of habit, who like to know what’s what, and routine is a great way to establish set play times with your pup. Having a set routine can also help with toilet training your dog – once he realises that he can play once he’s been to the toilet, he’ll soon get the hang of it.

Begin with a few short, fun sessions at home – either indoors or, preferably in your garden – and gradually change the location of your playtime so he gets used to playing and interacting with you in any environment, and staying focused despite distractions.

Bear in mind that your dog won’t instinctively understand the rules of play, and may need to learn some basic commands for your play sessions to work well.

Fun games to play with your dog or puppy

Puppy play tends to fall into three categories:

  • Fetch or retrieve-based games
  • Tug-based games
  • Play that involves chasing food

It’s not essential to play set games with your dog or puppy – he’ll appreciate any playful attention that comes his way – but these tips can help you get the most out of these types of play.

Fetch-type games

dog playing with ball

Most people play games that involve retrieving an object, whether that’s a ball or a toy. These tips can help fetch-based games more interactive:

  • Throw the object just a few feet away, and start running with your dog to retrieve it.
  • Once he has it in his mouth, encourage him to return to you. Give him praise and encouragement, then take a couple of steps backwards, encouraging him to chase you.
  • When he reaches you, remove the object from his mouth and repeat the action.
  • Use one reliable word when training your dog to let go of a toy. Whether it’s ‘drop’ or ‘leave’, make sure you’re always consistent and that everyone in the household uses the same word.

Tug-type games

A game of tug is a great way to interact with your dog, and can be played with a toy or even an old towel. Play it sparingly (and gently!) with puppies younger than six months as it can be uncomfortable on their jaw before they’ve changed their puppy teeth.

Chasing food

This is one of the best games you can play with your dog. Grab some treats and encourage him to follow and run with you as you keep changing pace and direction. This simple game is crucial in establishing a good relationship with your dog, and can easily be adapted to incorporate basic commands such as ‘down’ and ‘sit’.

 “Not all dogs like all games, but you’ll soon get into a play routine with games that suit his personality, age and physical condition.”

Make sure that your dog always has access to toys. That way, he can keep himself entertained when you’re not around and will feel less dependent on you.

Want expert advice on all aspects of dog behaviour?

For information and advice on play and dog behaviour, get in touch with your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.

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