All About Playing with Your Pup

All dogs love to play. 

You can probably think of a few examples yourself. You’ve seen the joy in your dog’s face as they chase their favorite toy across the yard. Or, you’ve watched their tail wag wildly while playing with another pup. Dogs love to play in all sorts of ways and play provides all sorts of benefits for your dog’s overall health. 

Play is one of your dog’s basic needs.

Play allows your dog time to socialize with other dogs or time to engage with you. These interactions are crucial for your dog’s wellbeing and can strengthen your relationship with your dog.  

Many forms of play, such as hiking and fetch, provide physical exercise for your dog.

This helps your dog expend extra energy and maintain a good weight. Dog sports, like agility or rally, can provide physical exercise combined with cooperation and problem solving. In these sports, you and your dog are working together to navigate obstacles or complete a series of tricks. 

Exploring parks or neighborhoods together can be another physically and mentally stimulating form of play. Your dog will enjoy sniffing in new places and you’ll both boost your health by getting outside and moving. You can also use hiking or walking as time to reinforce good leash behaviors or reward your recall. Always pack a handful of cookies before you head out the door so you’re ready to reward your dog.

A good romp in the park is always fun for everyone, but physical exercise isn’t the only priority during playtime. In fact, Happy Dog’s Head Trainer, Piper, often warns her clients with high energy dogs that using physical exercise as your dog's primary outlet for play makes your dog a better athlete. A fitter dog will only want more exercise overtime! 

Thankfully, physical exercise isn’t your only option for playing with your dog. While you might enjoy a game of backyard football or tag with your kids, other activities are satisfying too. Crossword puzzles, a good book or taking a pottery class can all be forms of “play” for you. Other forms of play that are mentally stimulating exist for your dog too. 


Your dog enjoys engaging in natural behaviors, like sniffing, chewing and chasing, which enriches their daily life.

These behaviors can also help alleviate boredom and behavioral issues by leaving your dog emotionally, mentally and physically satisfied. You can incorporate these behaviors into games you can play together! 

Puzzle toys or nosework games, like hunting for hidden cookies around the yard, encourages your dog to use their nose, paws and mouth to solve problems. While you want your dog to be mentally challenged during play, don’t make these games too hard. If your dog can’t succeed in finding their treats, they won’t be having much fun. 

Training tricks can be another form of play as your dog will enjoy being mentally challenged to learn the behaviors you’re communicating. This can be anything from learning to wave back at you to jumping into your arms on cue. Learning how to learn new tricks can also help your dog learn helpful behaviors later on, like how to walk on leash and wait at doorways. 


However you choose to play with your pup, Piper has some play guidelines she’d like to share with you to ensure all dogs enjoy and benefit from playtime. 

1. Play should have structure 

If you play spontaneous games of keep away or encourage biting during play, your dog will have trouble maintaining their manners and other behaviors outside of play. Consistency and rules during play can help you and your dog improve your relationship and training. Structuring “rules” around play helps your dog understand what the game is, like always starting fetch with a sit stay or rewarding your dog for dropping the toy on cue. This also helps your dog better understand when it isn’t playtime. Structured play can improve your relationship with your dog, by showing your dog that they can trust you as a playmate and companion. You’re not going to hurt them, steal their toy unfairly or play too rough. Playtime should be enjoyable and safe for everyone involved.


2. Play should be interactive.

Your dog might enjoy rolling a ball around on their own or chewing on a Kong toy, but these activities do not provide your dog the social benefits of play. Interacting with other dogs through play improves your dog’s ability to communicate. Dogs use body language to initiate play, such as showing a “play” bow or big tail wags. They also use body language to say when play isn’t fun, like tucking their tail, running away or flattening their ears against their head. By playing with other dogs your dog can learn to read and respond appropriately to other dogs. Playing with you can provide a similar benefit; you’ll learn how to read your dog’s body language and they’ll learn how to communicate what they feel to you. This improved communication can help you train other behaviors more effectively in the future. 


3. Play should be stress-free. 

If your dog doesn't understand the game or is afraid of being “wrong”, playtime will do more harm than good for their health and your relationship. To help play be stress-free choose games that incorporate activities your dog already enjoys, like sniffing, and be patient as they learn the rules. Remember winning the game isn’t the goal of playing with your dog. Above all else, play should be a positive experience for the both of you. 

Happy Dogs offers dog sport classes, trick classes and puppy play groups throughout the week to provide owners and dogs the opportunity to play in stress-free and structured environments. Check out our calendar to see what playtime awaits you and your happy dog!