A Beginner’s Guide to Playing with Your Dog

Dogs are social, active animals that need lots of time with others. Some breeds require more engagement than others. While we can't always be available to interact with our dogs, the time we spend with them matters. Dogs without stimulation can feel bored and lonely. 

Fortunately, many games and dog toys are available in pet stores and online. You can use these activities to engage your dog in active routines. Play with your dog frequently and daily. These sessions can be at home or on walks.  

Here are some general ideas and guidelines for playing with your dog.

You may have to teach your dog how to play.

Some dogs legitimately do not know how to play with toys. You may need to teach them by getting down to floor level, keeping your voice high-pitched and excited.  

Instead of pushing a toy towards your dog, pull it away and cradle it as if it's something special for you. Keep turning away from your dog, dropping the toy, and snatching it back up. Eventually, your dog will compete for the toy. When they finally grab it, engage in a short tug-of-war with them.

Use food to entice a dog to play with a new toy.

If a dog does not know how to play, don't force it. That said, you can encourage your dog to play by dressing up the new toy with tiny pieces of cheese. You can also spread peanut butter across it. This will entice them to try it.

Some toys are designed to have food added to them. They can provide treats for your dog while playing with them. In addition, reputable brands like Acana dog food have various delicious flavors that will encourage a dog’s appetite.

What are the different types of dog toys?

Dog toys generally fall into the following categories. Tug toys include rope and rubber rings. Chase-and-retrieve toys include balls and Kongs on the rope. Hide-and-seek toys can be played with other dogs or people. Lastly, pounce-and-shake toys are the squeakers we all know and love.

With any toy you give them, ensure there aren't any small parts to chew off. Also, change the toys your dog plays with. Keep your dog interested and mentally active by rotating your toys every few days.

A short play session will suffice.

Short play will keep your dog engaged and won't over-tire them. Play in short bursts of five minutes at a time.

Just like when we play with our kids when you play with your dog, give your full attention and put the smartphone down. If your dog gets excited and there are others around, this will help you ensure they don't start chasing after someone else or accidentally hurt someone or hurt themselves. 

Dogs love excitement.

When you play, use an exciting tone of voice and presence. Give lots of praise and encouragement while playing. This will make your dog feel optimistic about playing and build that connection with you.

Every dog has a personality. See what excites your dog. They may be interested in a particular type of dog toy from the pet store but not another one. Experiment with how you play with your dog and try to follow their preferences regarding what they like or don't like.

Calm your dog before you begin. 

Some dogs, especially young pups, are really keen on playing. Start playing with them when they're doing something you want, such as lying down quietly or answering commands you've given them.  

Keep your toys at waist level or below when holding them to prevent dogs from jumping up. This encourages your dog to wait and be attentive to play.

After playing with toys, tidy them up. Putting away dog toys after each play session is always a good habit. Especially indoors, cleaning up will train your pup to know when it's time to get excited and play. In addition, it will teach them to be calmer when they have the cue. 

You shouldn't play rough-and-tumble games.

When you play with your dog, some enjoy rough-and-tumble wrestling-style contact games. This does more damage than good. Though they are exciting for your dog, they encourage complex games. This could translate to your dog chasing people or children. In addition, it encourages your dog to behave in a way that is problematic for dog owners to navigate in certain situations.

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