You’ve probably heard the quote, “The couple that plays together stays together.” Well the same is true when it comes time to you and your dog. Just like humans, dogs are wired for social connection. And just like humans, dogs are also happier and healthier when they have regular times of meaningful connection. When you and your dog play together, you’re strengthening your bond AND you’re also helping your dog get some much needed exercise and mental stimulation.
Additionally, by maintaining scheduled playtime, you’re also keeping your furry friend out of trouble—we all know that a bored dog sniffs out trouble. It’s unlikely that you’ll find your dog sticking a fork in a electric outlet or getting into the medicine cabinet like an unsupervised toddler may do, but who’s to say you won’t find your dog digging in the plants, rummaging through the trash, tearing apart your baby’s wet diaper you left on the changing table, or eating the entire bag of dehydrated deer jerky that you just made and had on the kitchen counter (true story). The bottom line is that like with children, if we don’t give our dogs something to do or don’t engage in play with them, they’ll come up with their own ideas for staying entertained—most of which probably won’t have our approval.
And, there’s direct benefits of play for you too. Aside from having a socially satisfied, more loving, and more fulfilled dog, you are also likely to curb annoying habits like chewing and excessive barking when you play regularly with your dog. It’s socialization! You’re giving your furry child outlets for their pent-up energy and building norms by offering regular times of attention and engagement.
Whether your canine is play-crazed, lackadaisical, or easily distractible, you can find the right playtime activities for your pooch. It might take some experimentation, so don’t be afraid of trial and error. And also remember that it’s good stimulation to mix things up and try new activities together!
Here’s our top 5 recommendations for your canine playtime:
Fetch. Yep, no surprises here, we’re starting with the classic. This is great for those dogs needing lots of physical play. Whether it be a ball, a plush toy, or a rope, fetch can keep some dogs entertained for hours. Sticks work in a pinch, but be cautious because there’s also some health concerns that come along with sticks like mouth lacerations and the potential for internal perforations to the digestive tract if there’s an accidental swallowing. If you use a ball, consider a throwing aide like the Chuckit! Ball Launcher so you can throw the ball two to three times further (and you don’t have to get your hands all slobbery). Stuffed animals or plush toys give the option to play fetch indoors too!
Bubbles. That’s right, bubbles! Of course kids like bubbles, but dogs do too and there’s nothing like releasing your dog’s inner-child! Laugh and play together while blowing bubbles. Your pooch will run after them, pounce on them, pop them, and maybe even try to eat them, which is why we recommend a pet-safe non-toxic option.
Tug-of-War. Another classic game where the fun is in the tension, literally! Since you and your pup are in close proximity for this game, it’s all about the social connections. Find a good tugger like a knotted rope toy, a ragger toy, or a rubber ring and have at it, whether you’re indoors or outdoors. Of course, letting your dog ‘win’ will make the game more fun for you pooch (and encourages them to play more)! And contrary to some beliefs, studies show that tug-of-war doesn’t make dogs more aggressive but actually makes them more obedient and confident.
Hide-and-Seek. The options and variations are endless with this game depending on your dog and their skill-level. Of course you can always start easy and build in difficulty. Choose an object to hide like a favorite toy or treat (you can even choose to take a more classic approach and hide yourself). Have your dog sit and then hide the object somewhere relatively easy (it’s okay if they see where you hide it at first). When you release your dog by giving them a cue, they can start seeking. When they find the object, celebrate big time and build motivation by rewarding them with a treat, a belly rub, lots of praise, or some extra play time like tug-of-war. Eventually you can work up in difficulty and hide the object in harder locations that require your furry friend to rely on their instincts and their sniffer. The bonus? In addition to exercise and play time together, hide-and-seek offers a big boost to positive brain development!
Play Frisbee - Yes, it is similar to catch, but the way the flying disc glides through the air offers ample time for your dog to run and eventually catch the disc. While it is true that certain breeds of dogs are more gifted for games of frisbee, any dog can be taught the art of the game. Whether it’s super soft or extra tough, choose a disc that works best for your dog. You can also invest in a frisbee thrower like the Kurgo Winga which helps you throw the frisbee and stay slobber-free. Use treats as rewards to strengthen the concept of the sport. Start with tossing the disc and reward them for bringing it back to you and then work your way up to throwing the disc and having your dog run after it, eventually ending in rewarding them for catching it. Yes, figuring out the sport will take some time and patience, but eventually they’ll catch on to the concept and it will be just one more option in your repertoire of great games for building connection and maintaining health together!