How to play with dogs and train your dog to play safely

If you’re a new pet parent and recently adopted a dog, congratulations. You’re embarking on a lifelong journey of friendship with a new companion.

Dogs are capable of much more than playing fetch or lying at your feet. They’re a lot of fun to play with, but it’s important to know how to play with your dog in ways that benefit you both. If this is your first experience with dog ownership, there are a few things to know so you and your dog will get the most out of your new lives together.

dog on the beach catching a frisby

Guidance about how to train your dog to play

Every new dog owner needs to know the facts about what a dog needs and how he interprets the world. Play is an essential part of a healthy relationship with your dog, but there are certain rules that dogs and people must follow. Play must work in conjunction with obedience and behavioral training. It should never conflict with the rules. Play must also be safe for you, the dog, or anyone else playing with him.

Establish the right relationship with your dog and building a bond with your dog

During the first several months, you and your dog are just getting to know each other. While the play is intended to be fun, it can take a while to build trust and to know what might trigger your pet to respond with fear or hostility. This is the best time to work on building a bond with your dog and let your dog know you are the alpha. According to the experts at Orvis Dogs, It’s vital that your dog recognizes you as an authority figure and that you establish dominance.

Using play to reinforce obedience rules is the best to learn how

dog trainer and her dogs

Play can make obedience training easier by reinforcing the rules you set for your dog’s behavior. The key in play is for you to start the game with your dog and you decide when to quit. This important rule sends the message that you are in charge. A dog who tries to start a game may be trying to show that he is in charge, but instead of complying, issue a command like “sit,” then move ahead with the game after he obeys a direct command from you.

Train your dog to be compliant

For safety reasons train your dog to release a toy at your request. You should be able to take a toy or other object from your dog without a fight, or the threat of violence. Train your dog to drop a toy or other object on your command before engaging in games with toys. The reason for compliance training is to lessen the chance of aggression when your dog is at play.

Follow strict rules for playtime with your dog

Play gently with your dog. You must model gentle behavior towards him if you want him to play gently with you. Never force your dog to play if he doesn’t want to. He may be feeling sick, or he may be too tired to play. Play frequently and on a daily basis, but keep the duration of play short, and quit while he is still into the game. This shows that you’re the boss. Praise and encourage him when he is behaving appropriately and performing well during play. 

These are the things to avoid when playing with your dog

Dog and Owner Playing aggressively

Blue Cross advises to avoid rough play with your dog because it encourages aggression. It also sends mixed messages that can lead to confusion about which behaviors are right and which are wrong. Discourage jumping up by keeping toys below your waist height. Never allow your dog to bite you or growl at you when you’re playing with him. Also avoid chasing games because your dog may chase another person and when primal instinct kicks in, he may bite them or knock them down 

How to play with your dog safely

Supervision is necessary to make sure that your dog is safe and that anyone else who is playing with him is safe. You or another competent adult who knows the dog should keep a close eye on him whether he’s playing alone with his favorite toy or playing with children of any age. Canine behavior can be unpredictable, even when you know the dog well. Accidents can happen quickly so it’s best to avoid them altogether by monitoring playtimes with the dog. 

Pay attention to expert advice about dog play

The experts at have some very good tips for playing with dogs safely. It’s best to seek advice from professionals to understand canine behaviors when you want to discover the best practices. New dog owners with little experience can benefit from getting the facts about how to play with a dog versus well-meaning advisors who are actively making mistakes when they play with their own dogs. Not everyone who has a dog knows how to play with them in the right ways. Here are some more tips they offer about supervision and play with dogs.

Why you should supervise your dog’s playtime with kids

Photo of Man Holding His Child While Walking on Grass Field

Toddlers should never be left alone with a dog because there are too many things that can happen. Younger children tend to make high-pitched noises that might frighten the dog. They may poke his eyes or pull his ears and there is always the risk that the child’s behaviors will trigger an aggressive response from a dog. Older kids should also be supervised when playing with a dog. There’s a good chance that either the dog or the child will get too carried away with the game and begin rough play, which can result in danger for both. 

What to advise friends and family about how to play with your dog

You are in charge of the rules when it comes to playing with your dog. If you have children in the home, or if friends or family want to play with him, let them know how to play with him and what not to do. Advise them to avoid surprising the dog with fast movements, and teach the children to never try to play with him when he is eating. Some dogs become territorial and may become aggressive if you approach them while they’re eating. The same goes for trying to take their favorite toy away from them. Even the best-trained dogs can become defensive if a threat of any kind is perceived. 

Protect your dog and others at the same time

Your dog has feelings and can be harmed by rough play just as easily as kids or even adults can. There’s never a good reason for subjecting your dog to rough play that can result in harm to him. This is why you should consider whether or not to allow him to play with certain people. He depends on you for protection and this is a part of the trust relationship that is an ongoing process. While you’re looking out for the welfare of others, refuse to allow anyone to mistreat your dog by yelling at him, hitting him, pulling his ears, poking his eyes, or any other negative and potentially harmful actions.

Keep an eye on your dog when he plays alone

dog playing alone with ball in its mouth

Most of us supply our dogs with a variety of toys to chew on and play with to keep them entertained and stimulated. Toys are important for dogs, but they can also represent a danger. Some of the smaller toys and balls can become a choking hazard.  Four Paws suggest making sure that the toys you give your dog are safe for him to play with and keep an eye on him when he is playing with them. At least, check on him periodically to make sure that he hasn’t chewed the toy into small pieces that can lead to choking or intestinal blockages. 

You need to know the myths about playing with dogs

According to, there are some common myths circulating about the best ways to play with your dogs. It’s important to know what kinds of reasonable-sounding advice on dog play are totally false, and why. There are three fallacies that we’re going to discuss to give you a better understanding of what kinds of play are okay and the reasons why.

Myth #1: Tug of war games are never okay

There are some experts in the field of dog behaviors that discourage playing tug of war games with a dog because it can lead to the dog challenging your authority. Experts at the bark counter this and explain that dogs can learn a lot from this game and there are a lot of trainers who teach this in puppy training classes.

Canva - Dog Pulling His Toy-min

It can teach them impulse control and also how to instantly obey commands such as “drop it” or “take it.” It’s all about how you go about the game, and the scientific studies on the subject show that when a dog wins in a game of tug of war, it has no significant impact on his relationship with his owner. Instead of being a game that undermines authority, it becomes an amazing training tool that can bring you and your pet closer together.

Myth #2: Avoid combining dog training with play

Some suggest that training and play should remain distinctly separate. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You should incorporate training into play sessions. When dogs see any activity as a game that is fun they will pay more attention and learn more quickly.

Play can be used to reinforce the things that you’re attempting to train him to do, and vice-versa. Play is much like offering your dog a treat because it is a reward for displaying the desired behaviors.

Myth #3: Only young dogs need to play

There are few dogs who don’t love playing with their owners. Dogs, just like people, need intellectual stimulation and physical exercise that goes along with play. According to The Bark some older dogs may not play as much because there are no other dogs to play with or the owner doesn’t initiate games. Dogs can benefit from play well into their adult years if their health permits. 

It’s important to play with your dog

man playing with his dog

Play provides a lot of benefits for your dog. It provides a great way to get exercise, and to burn off extra energy. It also provides mental stimulation and it can enhance the bonds between you and your dog. It’s a great tool for reinforcing training, and it can improve the quality of your dog’s life by infusing some fun into it. 

Not all dogs instinctively play

If your dog doesn’t show any interest in play, although it’s rare, he may be one of the few that doesn’t know how to play. There are a lot of reasons why your dog may not instinctively play. If he is a rescue dog he may be shy, or afraid to play. Unless you buy a young puppy to raise, it’s hard to know how he has been treated in the past, and play may have resulted in punishment from a heartless owner. If your dog doesn’t show any interest in engaging with play, you shouldn’t force him, but there are a few things you can do to encourage him to be more willing. 

You can train your dog to play

Photo of Woman Training Her Dog With a Stick

If your dog doesn’t want to play on his own, here are a few tips to encourage him. According to dog behavioral experts at, it’s best to find things that your dog shows an interest in and start slowly. Praise your dog for attempts at play, become actively involved by spending time sitting close to him, throwing toys or balls to fetch, and encouraging playful behavior.

It may take time, so be patient, but as he learns to trust you, and he becomes more comfortable with the toys you offer, and your responses to his actions, he is likely to respond by showing a greater interest in play activities.

Use this video for training your dog to play

Here is a useful video that gives you some great tips about how to play with your dog. It includes ways to train your dog to play in the most beneficial ways. The video shows you how to stimulate your dog’s natural play responses with easy and fun activities.

Final thoughts

Playing with your dog can be a rewarding experience for both of you. It’s okay if you’re new to this and you don’t have much experience. Your willingness to learn about the right and wrong ways to play with your dog is proof that you’re a caring pet owner and your heart is in the right place. We all make mistakes whether it’s in parenting a child or a dog, but in most cases, these are small errors that can be corrected. The rewards of gaining foresight on the best practices are immense and these tips are things you can apply immediately to have an enjoyable and engaging life with your new life companion. 


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