August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Playing is fun, but it can also relieve stress, provide exercise, teach self-control and instill confidence. Some dogs may be very playful right away, while others may need some encouragement. Follow the tips below to encourage your dog to play.

Engaging Your Dog

  • Try different toys to see what your dog likes. Balls, discs, plush toys and rope toys are all good options. You can also assess your dog's play style.
  • Have fun with the toy and speak in a goofy high pitched voice (e.g. "Come get it!" or "Let's play!").
  • Play games with your dog like fetch, tug or use a flirt pole.
  • Try Hide and Seek and/or Find It games with your dog, especially if they don't enjoy chasing toys or playing tug. More information about scent games
  • If using a ball, bounce the ball first to get your dog interested and to make sure they see it. Wave the ball or toy around low to the ground. This movement can entice your dog to play with the toy and also keep them from jumping up on you.
  • Throw or roll the ball or toy to see if your dog chases it. Have treats or a second toy that they like ready to persuade your dog to drop the first toy and/or come back close to you. If your dog does not go after the toy, you can try running to the toy with your dog.
  • When encouraging your dog to come back to you, trot backwards so they're more inclined to come. Don't run at or chase your dog.
  • Your dog should know basic training cues, e.g., "Sit" and "Drop It". Once your dog likes to play, ask your dog to "sit" before you give them the toy. Before children play with your dog, an adult should teach your dog training cues and how to play games.
  • Keep your dog from getting bored by rotating toys or having 'special' toys for certain games.
  • Organized sporting games, such as agility, fly ball and disc dog, are also fun for you and your dog.

Staying Safe

  • Make sure toys are safe and size-appropriate. Toys for small dogs could be swallowed by larger dogs. Notice and observe if your dog tries to chew and swallow toys.
  • Don't allow your dog to chase you. This can cause some dogs to become jumpy/mouthy, which can be dangerous for small children.
  • Don't chase your dog while they have a toy in their mouth; this can teach them to play 'Keep Away.' Instead, teach your dog to trade toys for treats or other toys.
  • Don't overexcite your dog, as you don't want your dog to get over-aroused and hurt someone accidentally. Don't play wrestling games with your dog.
  • Take short breaks during exciting games like tug and flirt pole. Give basic training cues to help your dog calm down before playing again.
  • Don't use household items (e.g., shoes, socks, ribbons) as toys. Otherwise, your dog may not understand which items are toys and which aren't.
  • Always supervise when others are playing with your dog.
  • Don't allow children to play tug with your dog and always closely supervise.