How to Play with your dog THEIR way

August 18, 2013 at 4:32 am 4 comments

One of the first things I ask students to do in my foundation classes is play with their dogs so that I can see the interaction between the dog and the handler. Playing with your dog sounds easy right? I thought so too at first, but after teaching dog training classes for over 10 years I have seen first hand how much people struggle to get their dog to interact with them.

It doesn’t take long to see that the dogs would often rather play with the other dogs than play with the humans. Often I see people trying to convince their dog to play with them while the little puppy over there in the corner seems like a much more suitable playmate in dog’s mind.

This can be very frustrating for the humans who then pull on the leash and push a toy into the dog’s face while looking to the instructor for help. This frustration often leads to excuses like “oh well he doesn’t really like this toy,” or “He just doesn’t have much attention today.” Therefore most people have given up even before they’ve even begun and all I’ve asked is for them to play with their dog!

Does this situation sound familiar?

After having this situation happen frequently in my classes I realized that people don’t know HOW to be exciting to their dogs. Why? Because they are trying to get their dogs to play like humans, not play like dogs themselves.

Brilliant! We’ll play more like dogs…umm but wait. How do we do that?

The first step in playing like a dog is knowing what type of play your dog enjoys. Yes, there are different types of play. Not every dog likes to play the same way. To be the best playmate possible you need to know your dog’s play style.

Throughout my years working in doggy daycares and boarding kennels I learned that there were two main play styles for dogs. The rough players and the chasers.

Rough players do just that. They love to rough house, push each other around, tug, etc. Think of a rambunctious labrador retriever puppy that bounds over to another dog and wants to mouth and wrestle with them. This is dog that has a rough playing style. When combined with other rough players it’s a match made in heaven!

Some dogs are not interested in physical play at all. They don’t match well with a rough playing style and are often intimidated by it. If that same lab puppy approaches them they will likely be scared and not want to play at all. Instead, they love to chase or be chased!

Dogs with a chasing playing style often use slow deliberate movements to create anticipation or convince other dogs to chase them or run to be chased. These dogs often get eye contact with another dog before slowing stalking towards them, hesitating in a ready to pounce pose until one of them takes off running!

Although your dog may exhibit traits from both of these play styles, they likely will have one that they prefer. You can use this dominant style to help you play with them their way.

So how do we play like a chaser or rough player dog?

My sheltie is an example of a chaser. She loves to run and bark but does not like physical contact at all. If I try to be in her face making her play (like the lab puppy) she will act nervous and uninterested. If I move slowly towards her building anticipation before running away I’ve instigated a chase game just like another dog would!

My border collie on the other hand is more of a rough player. Although he likes to chase he gets more excited about physical games. Pushing a toy at him and doing things like grabbing his paws, pushing him with my hands or feet, and just general rough housing makes for a game he really gets into!

Ready to start your play session? Great! But lets try to set you and your dog up for success for their first session!

When you are first trying to engage the dog in their type of preferred play, start at home where there are minimal distractions. This will help you both get comfortable (and you won’t be worrying about how silly you look playing like a dog!). I even get down on my hands and knees with my dogs and play with them that way! You not be comfortable doing this in a class full of people so it’s a good idea to start somewhere where you can be as silly as you want. Afterall, it’s about playing the way they want you to!

By learning to play with your dog THEIR way you are much more likely to genuinely have fun, and your dog will realize that you are just as good of a playmate as their doggy friends!

Happy Training,

Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Angie  |  August 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks for this info! trying to make my dog into a border collie or non-pusher has been failing for me. THANKS for giving me permission to try something other than tugging!

  • 2. Em  |  August 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for this! Although my girl plays with me, I’ve not yet found the “thing” that makes her go crazy and get really into the game. i’m hoping by playing a new kind of chase game, this will help. It’s amazing how in the agility world you’re almost made to feel like a failure if tug isn’t your dog’s #1 thing!

  • 3. Lumen and the art of playing | Life, iLumenated  |  August 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    […] morning I was reading a blog I’ve recently subscribed to, and she wrote about ‘playing with your dog their way‘. Yeah, yeah, I thought. I know. But I read it anyway and to sum it up: some dogs play rough […]

  • 4. Debbie Dust  |  August 22, 2013 at 2:20 am

    I am just beginning to learn that it’s okay if tug is not the be all and end all for my dogs – we can still have fun and even do agility 🙂


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