Teach Your Dog To Play

Golden retriever dogI can’t tell you how many people say “but… my dog won’t play”.

People buy a ball or a toy, present it to the dog or puppy and if the dog or puppy doesn’t immediately engage they think the dog doesn’t like toys.

Or they toss the ball or toy and if the dog doesn’t instantaneously chase it they think the dog won’t play.

The truth is that most dogs will play.

Not ALL dogs.

I have seen the occasional Bassett Hound or Greyhound or (insert breed here) that doesn’t have much prey drive.  Yes, retired Greyhounds can lose their prey drive and become couch potatoes.

And rarely I have seen a dog that simply WON’T engage in play.

But, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Back in the Old Days

Back in the olden days, people used to play, walk, train, and altogether engage with their dogs a lot more often.

Now a days, dogs have to compete with smart phones, social networking sights, computers, Television, children’s sports and everything else that “makes our world easier” (I say that mostly tongue in cheek).

Our dogs are now expected to play with, entertain, and often play with themselves.

They are no longer a priority.

And, less and less time is spent with them and often in the home in general.

So in general there is a lot less ball and toy tossing going on in a dog’s life.

I see more and more dogs who were simply never taught HOW to play.

Some Dog Need to Be Taught How to PlayJo

How exciting is it to chase a thrown object?

For some dogs, it really isn’t.

They don’t understand WHY you keep tossing the thing that they have.

Or worse, they don’t understand WHY YOU KEEP TAKING IT AWAY!

My dogs are very high drive dogs.

They LOVE to play!!!!

But it took time and effort to get them to do it appropriately and on command!

After all, I don’t want them chasing anything that rolls or runs.

And, I want them to happily bring back the tossed toy and release it on command.

But I Understand That Play Can Be Work in the Beginning

Actually anything worth having is work, right?

And, we want our dogs to have appropriate manners.

Getting Started

So, you need to teach your dog to play?

There are some great ways to get started.

The first, is teasing.

I tease my dogs to increase their desire for the toy.  For more on doing that the right way and why, click here.

The idea is, that if you make access to the toy a little bit harder to get, then it increases their desire for the toy.

We often appreciate the things we work really hard for MORE than the things we get for free.  And, dogs are the same way.

I often put a safe harness on my dog and back tie them to something sturdy so that I can put the toy on a string and drag it in front of them, escalating the desire to have the toy.

Once they are fascinated by the movement of the toy dangling and dancing on the string (read the article) then they can have it to play with it.

From here I use an exact duplicate of the toy (you need two toys that are exactly alike) and I (yes I the human) begin playing with toy #2.  For more on teaching your dog to retrieve click this link here.

The fact that my dog thinks I am playing with the toy and having a good time also increases his likelihood to play.

Simply tossing something in a boring fashion, is not play, especially not at this point in the game if you have a dog that needs to be convinced to play.

icanhasinternetsYou Are ALSO Teaching Drop It

Just like if you are eating something scrumptious, or doing something fun, your dog wants to be included right?  So even if it seems silly, pretend to have a private party with the second toy and your dog will want to join you.  And, in order to play with what you have he has to drop what he has (in most circumstances).

So you are getting a 2 for 1.  You are engaging him in play, and you are also teaching him out or drop at the same time.

If taught incorrectly, teaching your dog to spit out his toy, or treasure can cause conflict and cause the dog to want to keep the toy, get aggressive or play keep away.  Especially if he feels like you are constantly taking his things and that he is getting no pay off from it.  To understand more of why that happens and the conflict involved read this article on teaching your dog to drop it. 

Once he learns to want the toy, and is spitting one toy out for the toy that you have and are playing with, you can begin to toss the toy to get more distance and have your dog get more exercise.

This is the point where you can probably begin to just toss (trust me I don’t have to tease or pretend I am playing with my dogs’ toys anymore to get them to engage in play), I just stand and wait for toy #1 to be returned as I prepare to exchange and toss toy #2.

To Add More Fun

To add more fun to this game, and more excitement to your training, I actually run away from my dog once he grabs the toy and begins running back.

This builds my dog’s drive and desire to come running to me during a recall or for the “come” command, and is FUN.  And, it is good exercise for me!

Your dog wants to be where you are at, right?

So if you run in the opposite direction of him, he will put on the burners to get to you!

He will run even faster, and he will be even more excited because it adds another component to the game.

And, it is also a 2 for 1 because if your dog ever gets off leash or you fear he is in danger you can run in the direction you want him to go and he will know the game and join you.

So many dogs run away from their owners, that teaching your dog to essentially chase you and be with you is a great way to add fun to something that is a requirement for safe and good dog ownership.

So if my dog gets off leash and wants to chase a squirrel or another dog, I can turn tail and run the other direction and his instinct is to do what we do while we play, which is to have him chase me!

Remember YOU have to be FUN in order for your dog to want to have fun!  Get silly!  Clap, encourage, run around, tease, play and once you have taught your dog how much fun playing is, you can ask him to do obedience (sit, down, come, heel, watch etc) before you toss that toy in play!



Start Calming Down Your Over Excited Dogs Today!

Your First Lesson’s FREE:

Sign up below and we’ll email you your first “Training For Calm” lesson to your inbox in the next 5 minutes.


  1. Sam Ivy says:

    Teaching them to drop their toy is especially important in families with children. Children love playing with their dogs. It’s better to train a dog to play ”right” rather than have it accidentally hurt a child’s hand while they try to force the toy from the dogs mouth.


  2. joe says:

    Hi, so I adopted my pup almost a year ago, she was somewhere between 6 and 7 at the time. The workers weren’t exactly sure, all they knew was that she’d been there longer than them. She had been at the shelter pretty much her entire life. She is the sweetest pup, obviously she has a couple minor issues from being in a cage for so many years, but overall she is great. But I can’t get her to play with toys with me. I had to teach her pretty much everything, like how to walk up stairs, how to walk on carpet, she didn’t understand the concept of soft things. A lot of other stuff her puppy sister taught her, she only started chewing on bones and toys when she saw the puppy do it. But she won’t play with me, not interested in fetch or tug of war or anything else, no matter how much I act excited with the toy or offer treats to grab it. Any advice on how I get her to enjoy playing with me would be greatly appreciated, thanks.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *