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Dog playing
"Want your dog to love you more? Play with him!"

Caring for Playful Dogs

All pet owners enjoy watching the playful antics of their pets. In fact most pet owners consider this one of the most enjoyable aspects of pet ownership. If you have ever wondered why your dog loves to play, what you can do to encourage your dog to play or what makes a good toy for your dog, read on…

Why do pets like to play?

We have bred our pets to have juvenile personalities all their lives. So while puppies especially love to play, even adult animals will play given the chance. Mature aged pets can also be encouraged to partake in a little gentle play.

When young, play is practice for life. Most breeds of dogs traditionally had jobs to do, such as hunting and retrieving prey. These jobs have now been replaced with games and interactions that our dogs can enjoy with us.

The benefits of play

  • Play can help keep our dogs’ bodies and minds healthy. Chasing balls, tossing toys in the air, finding toys under the rug and interacting with us all encourage our pets to exercise.
  • Dogs are now suffering from unprecedented levels of obesity (yes, just like us!). Play is an excellent way of encouraging your dog to keep active. Of course, a balanced diet is also good for your dog.
  • Just as our bond with our pet benefits from interaction, so too does our pet’s bond with us. Want your dog love you more? Play with him!
  • Play can help prevent behaviour problems. Giving your dog the opportunity to chase balls and chew toys can stop him barking or annoying you or even escaping and roaming the neighbourhood.

How can we encourage our pets to play?

  • Play with the toys yourself. Toss balls in the air, and throw them to one another. Your dog will want to join in. Reward him when he brings a toy to you by giving him praise, a pat or interacting with him and the toy.
  • Use a toy that dispenses treats to get your food-motivated dog interested. Fill this toy with treats and let your dog seek them out. Toys such as these are great if your dog likes to play when left alone.
  • Many people state they have backyards full of toys that their dog never plays with! Time to change. Rotate your dog’s toys around on a daily or weekly basis. If they don’t see a toy for a week, it’s like getting a new toy. Also, remove your dog’s toy after a play session. This will keep him interested (just like kids get bored, so does your dog!).
  • Keep your dog’s favourite toy for occasions when you need their best behaviour. For some people this is when they go to work. For others it’s when they have visitors. Your pet will devote his attention to the toy.
  • If you don’t really enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, you can play with your dog around your home. Hide toys under a light towel, rug or plastic cups and encourage your dog to seek them out. Throw a ball from the comfort of your armchair (remove all fragile objects first!).

What are good toys for dogs?

  • A good toy is one that your dog enjoys playing with. It does not need to be expensive but it does need to be safe.
  • Check for loose cords and stitching. Sadly some pets hang themselves on the ropes and cords of toys and others choke on the stuffing of soft toys. Thin plastic can also splinter hurting your dog’s mouth.
  • Remember your dog has sharp teeth and strong jaws and may rip apart toys that you thought were safe. Always supervise your dog’s play with the toy until you are sure he is safe.
  • Investing in a well-designed and made toy can actually cost less in the long run. You will be replacing cheaper toys regularly.


About Dr Joanne Righetti

Dr Joanne RighettiDr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at

Last updated: 24 April 2015 at 05:03 PM
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