Play With Your Dog More in 2016

photo-1449439338818-435146fcb833Working on any resolutions this year? What about your dog? Here’s one resolution I can get behind for us both: why not resolve to play with your dog more in 2016? Playing is an important part of your dog’s life. Beyond the daily walk, playing with your dog has a number of positive benefits.

  • It makes you and your dog happier, as play provides a release of oxytocin.
  • It increases the strength of your bond with your dog.
  • It helps you both feel healthier through increased physical and mental stimulation.
  • It promotes better behavior, if you incorporate training into your play sessions.

Play can also help reactive and rescue dogs learn how to interact positively with people and other animals. Not every dog is born with the ingrained notion of “play,” and many rescues might not have any experience with normal play interactions. In this way, play turns into a way of providing these dogs with extra support to help them learn, improving their interactions over time.

Playing with your dog is a little different than a simple walk or run just to get your dog his daily exercise. If you’re already incorporating more stimulating activities like agility, flyball, or other physically and mentally demanding activities, congratulations! You’re already on a good track towards incorporating more play time.

However, if you’re not looking to join or train in such rigorous activities as those suggested above, there are plenty of easy and fun games you can play with your pet in your own home. Here are just a few examples.

Hide & Seek

Playing hide and seek with your dog is a great way to reinforce the “stay” command. Tell your dog to stay, then head to another room and “hide” before calling them to you. While they’ll find you faster than a toddler might, the purpose of the game is to reinforce training behaviors while providing a reward—the fun of finding and loving on you!

Take It / Drop It

Victoria Stilwell has a great video on how to teach your dog the Take It and Drop It commands, which can easily turn into a game for the two of you!

Tug of War

The game of tug is a debated one, but when played safely it can act as a fun game for both of you. Playing safely means only you get to initiate tug of war: it should never begin because you’re dog is refusing to release a toy. The game should also be ended at your own discretion, by telling your dog to drop the toy. Use a toy that’s designed for pulling, one that keeps your hand far away from your dog’s mouth.

Finally, don’t let your dog take over the game—if they start growling or getting agitated, they don’t get to play anymore. Dogs that already have issues with resource guarding are not great candidates for playing tug.

Treat Hunt

Hunting for treats or other treasures is a great way to get your dog working all their other senses. This game provides mental stimulation for your dog as they track and sniff out treats. Briefly put your dog in another room, and hide a few treats or kibbles around the room you’re in. Then, release your dog to hunt down his rewards! Depending on how well your dog does at sniffing out all those delicious treats, consider upping the difficulty.

In addition to playing the occasional evening game, here are just a few other ways you can start encouraging your dog to play more.

Rotate your dog toys. Like toddlers, dogs that have access to all their toys are less likely to pick them up and play with them. When you rotate their toys, you create a little more of a scarcity effect, and older toys feel new again after your dog hasn’t seen or interacted with them for a time. Rotating dog toys is also a great way to inspect toys, throwing away any that are too worn, and can help keep your toys cleaner, giving your more opportunities to wash them and put them away.

Find a playgroup. If your dog is good with other dogs, try to find a way to incorporate play sessions with other dogs into your monthly routine. Dogs are social creatures, so making sure your dog gets time with other dogs (or even people) to play and be social keeps them happier and healthier in the long run. Bonus: it’s a great way to make a few new friends for you, too!

So this year, resolve to play more with your dog. Start a habit, or stick a post-it note reminder up somewhere visible. It might be the one resolution we don’t mind sticking to.


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Positively Expert: Lucy Bennett

Lucy is Co-Founder of Good Dogs & Co., a website celebrating the ups and downs of dog ownership. She's on a mission to help her dog Topher overcome his dog reactivity, after he was blinded in one eye by a dog attack.


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