Playing with your dog is one of the best things in the world. There are multiple benefits not only for your dog but for yourself as well. We as humans are always worried about something, however, when we are playing with our dog all of these problems seem to go out the window just for a little while, allowing us to enjoy some good quality time with our dog.
However, if you have a dog and they are not instinctively playing with you then there may be a few reasons as to why. For instance, if you recently adopted a dog that was originally kept in a kennel for breeding they may have little to no positive interaction with humans therefore you have to earn their trust and show them how to play and how fun it is. Other dogs such as rescue dogs may have bad experiences with humans before or they may be a little shy.
Here at The Pet Embassy, we have compiled a step by step guide that will help you get your dog to trust you and to play games with you. We then have highlighted various different games to keep your dog mentally stimulated, allowing you to further deepen the relationship between you and your dog.
Importance of play
Learning to play is very important for the development of your dog as it has may benefits associated with it such as:
- Mental stimulation
- Great way to reward your dog for learning new skills
- It is fun and stress relieving
- Great way to build the relationship and deepen the bond between you and your dog
Your most important skill in all of this is patience. Firstly, it may time some time for your dog to trust you and it will take even more time for your dog to learn the appropriate ways in which it should interact with you. It is important that you teach your dog the best ways to interact with you by setting out rules and certain expectations that you expect from your dog in any play scenario.
How to get my dog to play with me
Start off slowly and surely
There are many potential reasons as to why your dog never learned to play in the first place, with the most common reasons being the lack of early socialisation in your dogs life. Some dogs don’t play because they simply dong know how to play! Other reasons may include instinctual behaviours. Some dogs are more likely to want to run around and herd your children or to dig under fences to chase rodents than they are to play a game of fetch. You must understand your dogs breed and what it is this breeds natural instincts are. Once you understand this, you can develop games in which your dog will be mentally stimulated and want to play.
In any event, we need to introduce some toys to your dog to get them accustomed to the playing. Leaving some toys around the house (not a lot as this might freak out your dog) to get them to sniff and feel comfortable around. If you went all out, some dogs may get a little confused as to what the purpose is and shy away from it.
This part is all about conditioning. You have to condition your dog to believe that toys are a good thing and that playing with toys is a thing which will bring rewards. So, if you catch your dog playing with a toy, either give them a well done and a good pet or even better, a little treat to show them that you are happy with their behaviour. Soon enough, they will make the connection between toys and rewards. As previously mentioned, this will take patience from yourself. Some dogs may pick this up quicker than other dogs but don’t let that stop you.
Start playing with your dog
Once your dog is comfortable around toys, it is time that you stepped in and started to play with them. Please do not go in all guns blazing but go in very slow and steady just like how you introduced the toys. We would recommend standing close to your dog and either rolling a ball to them or offering a toy to them. If they receive the offering well, give them a treat or some praise. Let them know that what they have just done is a good thing and should be rewarded. Again, this will take some time so please be patient.
Teach the commands and rules
Now your dog is comfortable playing with you, it’s time to teach them some games. This is the difficult part as you have to slowly introduce the idea and then add the next steps. Take the game fetch for instance, it’s a favorite amongst dogs and humans alike and has been played for as long as we can remember. There is two parts to this game, firstly we throw the toy/stick/ball and the dog rushes off in excitement to catch the ball. The second stage, which, is the difficult part in this game, is to get your dog to bring back the ball. If your dog is not familiar with the command to “come” we would highly recommend that you teach them this otherwise your game could end up in a disastrous game of chase!
Identifying which games suit your dog breed
As previously mentioned, some dog breeds are more suited to some games than others. It’s important that you understand and recognise the traits of your particular dog in order to maximise the fun and stimulation that your dog will get out of the game. A terrier dog breed might enjoy a game of tug-of-war more than a game of fetch, however, a retriever will probably enjoy fetch more! Herding dogs will prefer more agility related games as well as frisbee!
Fun Game Ideas
If you are struggling to come up with ideas, here at The Pet Embassy we have compiled a few of our favorites to help your with this task to ensure your dog never gets bored.
The obvious one but it’s still a really fun game. We’ve pretty much described it above but playing fetch will help you develop your bond further with your dog. It’s such a simple but effective game.
A very similar concept to fetch, apart from the fact that the dog is usually tasked with catching the frisbee in their mouth rather than waiting for the stick to hit the ground in most cases. This game is loved by many herding breeds as it appeals to their natural instinct.
Hide and seek
Hide and Seek is a fun game to play but it also teaches your dog a real life skill. If you and your dog ever become separated it will teach your dog to remain calm and to trust their senses when they are looking for you. It’s really easy to play, start of indoors by calling your dog and hiding in a space. Once they have found you, give them a treat. Repeat this and gradually find better and better hiding spots until your dog is looking for you around the house. When they are familiar with the game, move this to outside to a larger space and see what they do in this environment.
Tug-of-war is a fun and very engaging game. It’s a great way for your dog to practice their manners too. Its very simple, you and your dog tug on a toy or string until one of you lets go or if if the dog’s teeth touch your skin. This is very important, as it trains your dog into thinking that as soon teeth touching human skin is a bad thing.
Contrary to popular theory, playing tug of war with your dog does not make them more aggressive in any way, it’s simply a game with rules and commands. As long as you are in control, you are the game master.
Find the toy
Find the toy is another fun game that will also keep your dog mentally stimulated. Start off with two boxes, with a toy underneath one. Shuffle the boxes around and ask your dog to “find the toy”, help them out at first by using gestures and hand signs. If they correctly pick the box with the toy, encourage them to turn the box over by pawing it or flipping it with their mouth. Once they have done this reward them with a treat. As your dog gets the hang of it, increase the difficulty by increasing the number of boxes that you use or make it so that the boxes need to opened rather than flipped over.
Proofing Behaviours and Potential Problems
It is important that your dog can perform these games in different environments. Proofing is effectively the process which ensures your dog can keep up their new behaviours in different settings.
To proof your dogs new play skills, you will want to test them in a number of different environments and with a number of different people. For instance, try playing the game in a different park, one that they are unfamiliar with and see the result. If you have a younger family member or friend, who does not have the same authoritative tone as you do, we would recommend asking them to play the game with your dog to see what their reaction would be.
Doing the above will give you an idea of whether your dog has learnt the rules of the game or not. If they haven’t, then we would suggest going back to some of the earlier steps and repeating them until you believe your dog has learnt the game properly.
We also have some other posts about different dog breeds so why not read them below!