Playing with your dog is an extraordinary way to build a wonderful relationship. Numerous studies have shown that a good play relationship also equals a good and respectful relationship. Play before a dog training session also leads to better response time and obedience. Now, that’s some amazing stuff! But playing the wrong kinds of games with your dog can sometimes lead to trouble. The last thing you want out of your dog play and games is bad manners.

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when playing games with your dog:

Do enjoy your dog play games. Have fun, be light, laugh, and be silly. Play is supposed to be fun and pleasurable. If either you or your dog is not having fun, then it is not play.

Don’t get too serious, have too many rules, or think you must always “win.” A big misconception is that the person is always supposed to be the winner during dog play and games. Really? What fun is that? The game would not be fun for your dog. That theory is outdated, and allowing your dog to win does not have an ill effect on your relationship.

Do find games that both you and your dog enjoy. Every dog is different in what dog games they enjoy. Some dogs are touchy-feely, rough and tumble, enjoy thinking games, or enjoy games with objects. Experiment with different games. One of the best things about playing games with your dog is that you have the opportunity to mix things up, to get away from doing the same thing over and over. Try a new game or activity weekly. You may be surprised that your ball-obsessed dog also enjoys a good game of hide and seek!

Don’t allow yourself to be the object. In other words, your hands or pant legs are not part of the interactive toy. Your dog may be playing in his mind, but it is important to teach dogs that we are not objects to be chewed on or slammed against. I know, I know—many people love to wrestle with their dogs and have not had any problems. But, unfortunately, that is not always the case and when those razor-sharp canines dig in too deep or on the wrong player, serious injury can result. Dog play is supposed to be fun, not risky.

Do play with interactive toys with your dog. See if your dog enjoys a good game of fetch or tug. Fetch and tug are very cooperative dog games. Teaching your dog a good drop cue is essential for these games to be successful. Teaching your dog to drop is easy. When your dog has a toy in his mouth, place a high-value dog treat next to his nose. As soon as he drops the toy, reward him with the treat, then reward him with another fetch or tug. It’s a win-win for your dog.

Did you know that humans and canines are among the few species that continue to play throughout their lives? Most species stop playing after their juvenile period.

Dog tug dos and don’ts: Don’t allow your dog to bite your hand during tug. When playing tug with your dog, it is important to have a long, soft tug toy. This allows plenty of space for your dog to grab and you to grab. If your dog “climbs” the tug toy with his mouth, stop playing when he gets past the halfway mark. This will start to show him where the safe appropriate area to grab ends, and allow your fingers and hands to be teeth-free. During a game of tug, ask for a drop and resume play after a ‘get it’ cue. If your dog tries to get it prior to his cue, swiftly swoop the toy to your chest and wait for him to stop jumping for the toy. As soon as he stops and looks at you, say his ‘get it’ cue and play. This is a great way to play tug with your dog and teach your dog self-control. When tugging with your dog, do not hold the tug toy tight, which can cause injury to your dog; instead, allow your hand to move along with your dog’s tugging.

Dog fetch dos and dont’s: Playing fetch with your dog is a great way not only to interact with your dog, but also a nice way for your dog to get some exercise. However, this common dog game can cause a lot of injuries to your dog. Think about how your dog is running, stopping quickly, maybe sliding on a slick floor, doing the same repetition over and over again. Can you see how injuries can easily occur? If you decide to play fetch with your dog, do a few warm-up exercises like bow and spin. Do just a few tosses on a soft surface like grass or carpet. Take the game down a notch or two and ask for a sit or down in-between tosses to help settle your dog.

There are many more ways to play with your dog. Some other games to play with your dog include teaching your dog tricks, scent work games, find it, dog sports, and hide and seek, to name a few. Play is a powerful tool in building a loving and lasting relationship with your dog. Use it often and use it wisely. Now, go out and play with your dog!


Tonya Wilhelm is a dog training and cat care specialist who has traveled the US promoting positive ways of preventing and managing behavior issues with a holistic approach. Named one of the top ten dog trainers in the US, she has helped thousands build happy relationships with their dogs with humane, positive training methods. She wrote Proactive Puppy Care, and other books. Tonya offers group and private dog training classes, provides training and behavior services via phone and online, and does workshops at pet expos (