How Do You Play with Your Dog?

Surely our mutual love of play is one of the reasons that dogs and people get along so well. As Karen London and I write in Play Together, Stay Together, “Play is powerful stuff. It influences so many things, including development, motivation, emotions, physiology, communication and behavior. Wow! That’s an impressive list.”

After years working as Applied Behaviorists, it was clear to Karen and I that play has the power to strengthen one’s relationship with a dog, or alternatively, to destroy it. You can use play to teach self control and good manners, or to inadvertently teach a lack of frustration tolerance and a lot of rude behavior that ends up getting a dog into trouble. You can use play to allow a dog to release tension, to learn a behavior incompatible with a problematic one, or to become wound up and hyper-reactive. The list goes on and on. Play is so important that one of my favorite seminars is one I did on play (Dog Play DVD), talking about both between dogs and between people and dogs.

So here’s the question, How do YOU play with your dog?

Willie and I have several different ways to play that have become incorporated into our daily routine. After the chores are done (dogs, cats, sheep and birds fed), Willie and I play with one of his favorite toys, usually an old plastic disc. Because of his shoulder we can’t play his favorite game of all, which is a classic run and fetch game (he’d love NOTHING more than to catch the frisbee in the air but those days are long over), so we’ve evolved into either 1) he runs around in silly circles with the frisbee in his mouth while I clap and encourage him, 2) I put him on a stay and throw it and then release him to go get it once it’s landed (but this only if there is a lot of snow on the ground, and only 3 to 4 times at most) or 3) he goes on a stay and then I hide his toy somewhere in the front yard. We always play some hide and seek games, because it gets him running around without stressing his shoulder.

Later in the day we play lots of object-related games in the house. Our favorite are tug games. It’s great exercise for him (and me) and we combine it with lots of exercises in self control like “get back” and “drop.” Then we’ll usually do a round of tricks, also in the evening. Usually earlier we’ll have been on a walk up the hill, and in better weather it might include working him on sheep, but that’s just not possible right now.

As I write this I realize that Willie loves two kinds of play: Object play with me (which he also plays by himself, tossing objects into the air and running around the house) and playing chase games with other dogs. Willie doesn’t like rough and tumble play or any kind of play with lots of contact with other dogs: he wants to run and run and run and run, and sometimes I think nothing in the world makes him happier. I wish I could run as fast as he. If I could, we’d dash around the pasture together like foals in springtime. Alas, I’m built like a sturdy hiker and not a runner, so that’s just never gonna’ happen.

I’m not the only one interested in how you play with your dog. There’s an interesting study ongoing at the The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Columbia University (Barnard College) about how people play with their dogs, and they (and I!) would love it if you would participate. The study, run by Alexandra Horowitz (author of The Inside of a Dog) and Julie Hecht (author of the fantastic blog, dogspies, will investigate interspecific play between people and dogs by collecting videos of people playing with their dogs for future analysis. You can learn more about it by going to a brief description of the study and what you have to do to participate.

I’m going to send in a video of me and Willie playing tug, because we both seem to enjoy it so much. It’s hard to choose though, because we do have so many different ways of playing. By the way, I’m focusing on Willie because Tootsie simply never plays with anything. At all. I don’t worry about it for a moment. She wants food and cuddles (in that order), and loves sniffing around outside now that she’s discovered she’s a spaniel (and eating cat poop now that she’s discovered she’s a dog). It would be lovely if she and Willie would play, but then, it would be lovely if I had arms like Angelina Jolie, and both of those have about equal chances of happening and both Tootsie and I are pretty happy anyway.

Here’s the video I’m sending to the Horowitz lab:

 

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Snow snow snow snow. Did I mention it’s snowing? It’s snowed here almost every other day, although yesterday it began as rain. That’s the worst possible weather scenario you can get this time of year: first it gets everything wet and super slippery, then it freezes into ice and then snows on top of it. It makes everything extra dangerous (the hospital emergency rooms were full to the brim from falls), and creates a hard coating of ice between layers of snow. But I’m still happy we are getting the moisture and that we have a real winter this year. I will admit I’m getting a little cabin fever-y, but I’m so glad that the earth is getting back some of the moisture that we missed last year. We were 12 inches down and in “severe drought” through fall, so I hope that all this snow will soak into the ground come mud season. But right now it’s all about the snow. We didn’t get the huge storm that is probably hitting the East coast right now, just got 3-4 inches yesterday, but it’s still basically a white and blue/grey world out there. I love the way the snow tops off the fence posts, like whipped cream on a sundae:

 

 

Comments

  1. Erin James says

    I’m glad you mentioned that your Tootsie doesn’t play. At anything. I have a two year old JRT, Tulip, who does not seem interested in play. No toys. No balls. She won’t tug. Won’t chase. She does like to chew on Nylabones, and is interested in playing with some other dogs. Not all dogs, she seems choosy. I thought perhaps we just hadn’t found the ‘right’ toy yet. I do play with her, on the floor. She likes it when I slide her across the carpet, and she seems to love rolling over and over. So we do have some play time, but my other JRTs always loved fetching and chasing. I still worry that it’s my fault for not providing the ‘right’ toy.

  2. Eve says

    Speaking of which, some friends and I are wandering what we can do to “work” our dogs. We know that ours dogs would love to work like yours do, but we are city folk with jobs. Some of us work from home and could take turns play working with the dogs, but we don’t know how…

    Ocasionally someone with huskies would go out on a winter week-end where they have the chance to pull sleds, but that’s an ocasional thing and requires a lot of preparation. We’re trying to think of things we can occupy them with durring the week and in the city.

    One idea was to build them mini sleds and load them with a small weght and have the run around the park chasing balls, LOL… But then again, not all dogs are pullers.

    Any ideas on ways to “work” city dogs?

  3. Frances says

    When Sophy was about 6 months old and still an only dog I realised that life had become rather too serious – lots of classes, socialising, training, emphasis on good manners – all reward based, but not much that was simply fun. So one day I got down on the floor and did a play bow, and then encouraged her to show me what she wanted to play, rather than trying to get her to play the games I thought she ought to enjoy. It was very revealing – she does not really like fetch, plays tug briefly but not with real intensity, but LOVES finding toys hidden in heaps of cushions and rugs, and games of pretend wrestling. She is also a creature of habit – she likes to play the same game at the same time in the same place with the same toy… and all her games involve me down on the floor at the right level for a Papillon!

    Poppy, on the other hand, rarely plays with toys at all. Her favourite game is Scrobble, when I pretend to turn her every which way on my lap and tickle her (I say pretend as I am careful not too make her feel too trapped), and “I’m coming to GET you” played going up the stairs, which also ends with a cuddle. She will play with sticks briefly while we are out walking, but if I try to turn it into a game of Fetch she will quietly lose the stick in a hedge or long grass – the fun is in finding new treasures, not in chasing them.

    But both of them love running madly in huge circles on grass, playing chase and tripping each other up and pretend fighting. And chasing rabbits down holes and squirrels up trees. And the almost unbearably exciting game where Tilly-cat hides behind the chair valance, and pounces out at them unexpectedly. And any toy or game that involves food!

  4. Trisha says

    To Erin: Don’t worry for a minute that it is your job to find the ‘right’ toy for your dog. Some dogs are NEVER interested in objects. I had a Border Collie who wouldn’t even follow the track of a moving ball or toy. But she loved to watch birds, even tracked them flying above her. Out of curiosity I worked on teaching her to be interested in objects by putting food inside, and eventually taught her to go pick up a ball, but she never really became that interested in the ‘game.’ The only thing I’d ask about your terrier is whether you’ve used squeaky toys… that always worked best if I wanted to get a client’s terrier’s attention. But if you have and she doesn’t care, then you shouldn’t either! Teach her tricks and let it go at that.

    And Eve, that’s my answer to for working dogs who need something to do. The more mental exercise the better. If you can add nose games in even better: There job is to find the hidden object, and they get to do what dogs do best to win the game! I find it is great mental and physical exercise for lots of dogs. Tried it?

  5. says

    Playing with your dog is lots of fun and great for both of you.

    When we rescued Jack, he was a 105lb lab on Prozac and basically un-adoptable due to his size and behavioral issues. Using some math, we figured out how much we should feed him based on his daily activity level (we could feed him more on very active days). Within 3 months, he was down to 85 lbs and off the meds. Check out slimdoggy.com for more details.

    Playing was a big component of Jack’s “rehab” because it provided both mental and physical stimulation for him. Although Jack didn’t care for fetch, we played a lot of games in the back yard including sprint/stops, simon says, and lot’s of “find the food” (in which case we needed to account for those extra calories). There is no doubt that this activity was critical in turning Jack into the wonderful dog that he is today.

  6. Lisa W says

    Play has been an important topic in our household lately, well, the lack of play to be more precise. Since Olive injured the ligament in her knee 10 months ago, and has been on strict but successful conservative management, play has been only in the dreams of the two humans and two dogs who live together. The day we got the diagnosis, we had to come home and remove all toys (most of which are still in closets) and restrict all movements associated with how these two dogs play. They play hard. They play hard with each other, and they play hard with us. Olive is also a shy/anxious/DWI dog and play had become a great way to release tension, redirect, and engage.

    Over these long months of no play, I have noticed several things: Phoebe, our non-injured, also DWI, did not want to play much with me outside away from Olive. She would catch the ball a few times and then stop. She wanted to play when there was some competition and chasing, and without that, didn’t have her heart in it. Olive and Phoebe eventually learned not to play with each other, but that has been replaced with less affection and some snarkiness between them. Olive has been more of a resource guarder (with so few resources, one can’t blame her) and much of what she had learned as coping skills were removed when she could no longer chase the ball or tear apart a stuffed toy. You could see her body react when trying to cope without play or toys, and she has now learned other coping skills, but she is not as happy. Sure, we can do “find it” and new tricks and other things to relieve her mind, but they can’t compare with a rousing game with either the other dog or one of us.

    Our dynamics have entirely changed, and now that she is coming out the other side, I have started a gentle game of toss the rubber stick into her mouth, and she catches it, and we do have gentle, rhythmic play times in the morning and evening, and she can have her favorite thing in the world – a bright orange, chuck-it ball – on a limited basis now. I hope the two dogs can learn to re-engage at some point or else I fear they will not be so simpatico and much micro-management is in our future.

    I’ve always loved playing with my dogs and watching them play with each other, but I never realized how darn important it is to our health and well-being and gross national happiness. We won’t be able to go back to our past levels of play, but I hope there is a satisfying substitute for us all.

  7. Eve says

    Trisha: Yes, we all incorporate various fun and constructive activities like hiding the toys in bushes and snow, ahve them snif for them for a while, dig, chase etc.. But that’s still only for an hour max per day. We’re thikning of somehting more involved… like, we humans come home from work pooped, but find them well rested and ready to go for hours, LOL

    Day care centers ofer only companionship and some play, but really, for many dogs taking them to day care can range from stressful to borring, or just slightly more fun than being home and waiting for us.

    Now, if let’s say instead of that, one of us took 5 dogs 3 times a week and went all day to do stuff (what stuff, we can’t figure out), and then bring them home… THAT would be something! We’re thinking about starting a co-op / club that offers its members day programs, but can’t think of the programs.

    My grandparents back home in europe had a that going on with the village’s sheep and goats. One persona would take all the villagers sheep and hurding dogs out for the day. Of course that’s real work for the dogs and the sheperd. We have to do fake work (or do we?)…

    something like that. i don’t beleve it exists as a concept, or at least i cannot find any ideas online…

  8. Kat says

    As usual you’ve made me think. We play together all the time but I don’t remember the last time I really considered what we play other than training. Both of them think training is a fun game.

    My dogs do love to play with each other mock fighting and chasing but they love it best when I’ll cheer them on. They’ll stand side by side wagging tails (OK in Finna’s case stub) and looking at me intently until I tell them “Have at it” then they wrestle and race and tear around like mad things for five or ten minutes as I cheer then they’re done. Interestingly though, Finna will not play with Ranger until she has first played with me. She would be an obsessive fetcher if I hadn’t taught her from the beginning that out-of-control behavior ends the game and that she must wait patiently for me to decide to throw the ball and the absolutely wonderful “finished” cue that means we’re done now. She’s invented her own interesting version that I call *catch* she sits at the top of a little slope and rolls the ball down to me. I gently chuck it back to her and she catches it. All play sessions outdoors must begin with at least one round of catch and usually she must catch the ball before she can go relieve herself. She’s my seriously damaged dog with a long way still to go before she’s mentally sound. Still step by step we’re getting there and honoring her unique play rules is one step in the process. She has a lot of control over the games we play because that is a safe area for her to practice control. I remain, however, the ultimate boss and when I say “finished” we’re done with that activity.

    Ranger’s two favorite games are herd the cat and cracker dog. Ranger is firmly committed to the idea that all cats belong indoors and The Great Catsby is convinced that he should be an indoor/outdoor cat. I find it highly amusing. Indoors The Great Catsby can literally take Ranger’s food away from him and Catsby rules the house. Outdoors Catsby is livestock and Ranger treats him as such herding him all around the yard but from Ranger’s perspective the best is when I get involved and tell him what I want him to do with Catsby “hold him there”, “don’t let him up the tree,” “put him in the house” etc., that’s the best. Cracker dog is a game played on a walk. Ranger will prance and dance begging for permission to go cracker dog. Given permission he grabs his leash in his teeth and proceeds to act like a totally out of control dog; that is unless you notice that the person holding the leash is never pulled off balance and the arm holding the leash never extends beyond the elbow bent and the upper arm in line with the body. Spinning in a circle crying “oh, no he’s lost his mind. He’s completely cracker dog” adds immeasurably to everyone’s enjoyment of the game except the occasional bystander that doesn’t realize it is completely controlled but Ranger is so very well known in the neighborhood that we seldom worry anyone.

    Finna loves to play with toys, Ranger will play with them to be polite. They both love food puzzles. Both will play tug, Finna, in fact starts her day with a few seconds of tug–I started giving her a tug toy to distract her from over enthusiastic morning greetings and now it’s the routine. And both love find it. Ranger is quite expert and I actively try to fool him. Finna is still learning so it’s kept easy for her as a confidence builder.

  9. says

    What a lovely video of your play session! I love this play study and definitely need to get a video of myself and Dahlia playing together.

    We play a lot and play is super important to me. I think play has made her a more confident and happier dog. When she first came to us she didn’t even understand play.

    Tug is our major game. I have tons of tug toys, mostly various fleece things but also stuffed animals that bite the dust one after another. We play it sort of “no holds bar.” I shove her around, I pry the toy out of her mouth and hold it up and make her leap for it. I swing her around by the toy. Sometimes when I get it I run away and make her chase me and the toy. We’re sort of crazy with it, but that’s mostly because (a) she has great bite inhibition and (b) she is a super mellow dog and I want her to get more excited.

    Other games we play are “get the glove!” She loves gloves. Especially fleece ones. So on walks, I pull off my glove and say “Dahlia’s what this?!” and she gets all excited. I toss the glove, she races after it, grabs it, shakes it, and shoves it into the snow. Then she sort of hovers over it and I make as if I’m going to grab it, so she pounces on it and runs away with it and shakes it and dumps it into the snow again. We play that until the glove is too snow covered for her to want to pick it up.

    We also play agility, which is obviously a bit more of a structured play, but is so much fun for us both.

  10. Donna in VA says

    I will have to get hubby to video me and my sheltie playing “grab my paw”. I get on hands & knees on the floor, play bow, and then use a hand to gently grab one if his paws. He responds with a jump back or up to release the paw, and uses his mouth to gently make a grab at my hand or wrist. I know many will think this is scary/bad. However he is very gentle, never breaks the skin and will stop or suspend play at the slightest indication from me that we are stopping. He seems to enjoy this game a lot, gets happy whenever I initiate it. Whenever I want to stop, I usually just lay on the floor and he spoons himself in next to me to relax for a while.

    He likes to run and fetch a tennis ball or foam frisbee (or sticks but I feel sticks are too dangerous.) But his favorite game must be when I leave the tennis ball on the ground and treat it like a soccer ball, feign in one direction and another (he will bounce from side to side anticipating the kick or run around me if I put my back to him) and finally kicking it away for him to catch and retrieve. He becomes *intensely* focused on the ball and does NOT want to stop playing this game when I am tired of it.

    He occasionally wants to jump and grab/tug the leash loop (free end) while he is on leash. Sometimes we play a game where I drop the leash and keep walking. I look back and motion him to catch up, he picks up his leash in his mouth and runs to catch up before dropping it and repeating the process. I should try to video that also, people think it’s funny.

  11. Jenni says

    The toy in your video, the holee roller, is my Australian Shepherd’s most favorite toy in the entire world. He would fetch it off the moon if I could throw it that far. Chevy seems to enjoy two types of games: fetch and tug. Even better if they are both combined in the same game. Most importantly, it must be played with me. He has a basket full of toys of all types at home, but he almost never plays with them by himself. The same is true with other dogs. He has very little desire to chase and run around with other dogs. He would rather play fetch with me. His all time favorite game would be fetch, chase, and then tug. I throw the toy, then pretend to chase him for the toy, then when he brings it to me, we tug until I tell him to release it. Then repeat until I tire out. Chevy enjoys all varieties of fetch toys and most tug toys.

  12. Marion says

    Interesting post (and I love the Dog Play DVD! I’ve watched it a couple of times already.)

    When Riley was first surrendered into rescue, he didn’t know how to play with toys. Slowly he started to play fetch and he had a couple of favourite toys when he was sent up here when his foster mom (who had adopted him) sent him to Canada because he has severe thunderstorm phobia (PTSD-induced) and he was from Florida.

    He likes playing fetch, and sometimes he likes to play tug, though he preferred to play that with our other foster. He started to bring us a toy when he wants to play. One of his favourites right now is the cats’ stuffed rat (it looks like a real rat when he’s holding it).

    Interestingly, we tried playing fetch with him outside in the park, and he didn’t seem to know what to do. It’s something that we’ll have to work on.

    In the meantime, he has learned how to work the Kong Wobbler. At first, he didn’t seem interested (Bella was a pro at it!), but with some encouragement and some yummy treats, it’s one of the first things he goes for when I set things up before I leave for work. When we are home, I have to supervise while he plays as one of my cats is extremely food motivated, and would just empty the wobbler herself.

    We are going to try a variety of classes to see if we can determine what he likes best. Tomorrow is the last recall workshop, then next week we start with Agility intro, and I think after that Scenting. We go to a really nice training school and he loves the classes.

  13. layne says

    Very interesting to read about how other folks play with their dogs.

    My Sweep loves to play any game involving a ball and she proudly carrys her ball while “helping” me to carry out the trash & recycle to the bins. On the way back for another load I toss her ball and she fetches it. She is absolutely obsessive about her ball! I think this is because my previous Border Collie was totally uninterested in balls and I played this game with her as a puppy before I realized she was a potential OCD. I’m afraid I caused her to be this way. Because she is now a senior with ankylosing spondylitis, I send her on an out run and toss the ball so she runs toward it and grabs it on her way back toward me. Eventually she gets bored with the straight forward catch and ‘seals’ the ball on a wild course by snapping her teeth closed at the point where she ought to catch the ball. This causes the ball to car·om and she can scramble wildly off after it. It also ends the game because I am concerned she will injure herself.

    Her other favourite games are tug (with anything tug-able) and finding things. The game usually goes until I call time because she would go on far past her abiltiy. She NEVER gives up. She had the same intensity working sheep so this is no surprise to me.

    My previous Border Collie was completely uninterested in games beyond tug. He loved running circles around me and running in for a quick cuddle if I opened my arms. (I taught him to “come” by doing that) He was absolutely reliable working stock and happy as a clam if he could just go everywhere with me. If I tossed a ball (or stick or anything else toy-like) he looked at me as if to say “if you wanted it, why did you throw it away?”

    Just different personalities I guess…

  14. Margaret McLaughlin says

    Lia is all about fetching–she may have a limit, but I’ve never got there. Nirvana is a tennis ball. She will fetch tug toys, but never tugs. Her absolute “best thing” is retrieving from water, & she will even dive for things–she’s a flat-coated retriever. With Nina, my 15mo flat-coat, I have been trying to build variety, especially as she is not yet retrieving. She will chase toys, & sometimes carry them, but does not usually return them to hand. I have been teaching her to tug–realized I could shape that behavior the same way I do any other, started with c/t for just looking at the toy. She will now jump for it, & pull back briefly. I suspect all those generations of breeding for a soft mouth are against me. I have also found out that she really likes it when I push her away–she bounces, I shove, rinse & repeat. I’ve been putting effort into finding other forms of play beyond fetching, because I want something I can use right outside the obedience & agility rings to focus & reward, & bouncing a tennis ball can get you lynched.

  15. Trisha says

    More tomorrow (bed time!), but quickly to Lisa W: My heart goes out to you. Willie couldn’t play for over 12 months, and I honestly believe it was as hard for me as it was for him. I had no idea how much joy I got from watching Willie play and playing with him myself. Somewhere around month eight I realized I was actually becoming depressed, no play, no long walks, no watching Willie run with other dogs, no sheep work, etc. Even though Willie will never be able to play like he could before, we have found ways for him to be happy happy happy again, and it is as wonderful for me as it is for him. Now it seems so long ago that he couldn’t play at all…. so hang in there, this too shall pass…

  16. says

    My guy is CRAZY about tug games. It’s the only kind of play that he’ll really instigate on his own; he’ll often signal that he wants *something*, but I have to guess whether he’s after food or a trip outside or something more lively, and usually I’m the one who starts up any kind of game. But for tug my guy will actually start playing with a toy himself… and any sort of tug-worthy toy, including plushes, are the only toys I can get him interested in. (He doesn’t even want meaty chew toys, which is a shame because his teeth need the help!) I had to teach him how to fetch, and he enjoys the running and chasing, but the only way to convince him to bring anything back and make an ongoing game out of it was teaching him he could trade the toy for a treat. :D I do think he’s got a lot of play drive, but a lot of it seems to be wanting to socialize with other dogs… which is an absolute shame because I can’t trust him with it. :( Sometimes he gets on great with other dogs and sometimes he’s very dog-aggressive, which means with our current city life I can’t even take him to dog parks and the only way he gets to run is when I take him running or biking with me. Kind of a downer. :(

  17. says

    Mental play has been an important part of my dogs life, and even more so now that she is recovering from knee surgery and having back problems at the same time. She’s been on very limited activity for the last 3 months and still has a way to go. Several of her favorite toys now are interactive treat puzzles, which I load and reload for her, and cheer, and encourage her on. She has one water bottle toy that I can allow her to play with, with me, for a few minutes at night. And all the physical therapy exercises and trick training we do are just fun games to her. She also LOVES when I ask her to bark at me. It’s a big way that she can release a bunch of pent up frustration and tension at not being able to run around. So, I ask her to bark at me for play, and whoa boy, does she like to tell me all about it…it really gets her tail a-waggin’ and I can see her tension just melt away :)

    Of course her favorite game in the whole world has to wait until she’s fully healed…that’s a her own version of kickball. She loves nothing more for me to kick her soccer ball across the yard (she lets the ball zip past her), and when she catches up to it, she lets it pass through all 4 legs and barks at it at the same time. Then she whips around and bites it. It’s a game of her own making, and she goes NUTS when she sees the soccer ball come out.

    She prefers “chase me” games when playing with other dogs…however she does not often choose to play or interact with other dogs. She has her own version of the “chase me” game with me. It’s another game of her own design…and super cute. I stand still in the yard and she makes laps around the yard…when she passes me within arms reach, she wants me to try and touch her, or make any motion towards her. Most of the time I ‘goose’ her side with my fingers as she zips by…gah, she loves that game :) And for anyone thinking this might be a bad game to play, don’t worry, I do not have any recall issues with her as a result of playing this game, and we’ve been playing it together for years.

  18. Beth with the Corgis says

    I find this topic interesting because Jack has a game of ball with rather complex rules that he came up with himself.

    It started simply with me playing “soccer” up and down the hallway with a Jolly Ball. I would try to kick it, and Jack would try to block it. If I got it passed him he was thrilled because he could chase it.

    It has evolved into this; the rules are all his and I’ve learned them by watching him.

    Jack must always have a smaller ball in his mouth; his first choice is the round ultra-ball from the Chuck-it toy, but a tennis ball or even a stuffed toy will do.

    He then uses his nose to push Jolly Ball (at some speed, I might add). Play growls are mandatory.

    If the humans are sitting watching tv or reading (and only half paying attention to the game), he will push Jolly Ball with his nose as close to the furniture we are on as he can get it and growl invitingly. We then throw the ball up the hallway. He gives delighted (thankfully muffled by the ball in his mouth) barks and runs (sometimes skidding on purpose) toward Jolly Ball.

    He then pushes it with his nose back to us. He will maneuver skillfully around things on the floor (like shoes). If he gets it stuck in a corner, he will use his nose to push it up the corner of the wall (seal-like) and then toss it back over his shoulder.

    He is NOT allowed (his rule, remember) to drop the ball in his mouth and use his mouth to get Jolly Ball, unless Jolly Ball gets stuck somewhere that he cannot possibly push it out of (behind the pedestal sink, or behind the bathroom door).

    If he DOES pick it up with his teeth, he can only move it about 6 inches from the obstacle. He then drops it, picks up the ultra-ball, and resumes moving the Jolly Ball with his nose; I call this “the miniature golf rule” since it matches the rules of that human game.

    If I stop playing, he lies quietly, with his chin on the floor and both balls lined up hopefully, and tries to guilt me into resuming the game. If my husband stops playing, he barks at him. (Quick, guess which one of us does all the dog training!)

    Rules are slightly different if the humans are on their feet and fully engaged in the game. In that case, we use our feet to kick the ball. He positions himself in such a way to try to block the ball, but he will sneakily slide out of the way just enough for us to get it past him most of the time, because really he wants to chase it. In these cases he sometimes brings it all the way back to us and sometimes encourages us to move around a bit by only bringing it halfway. The rules about using the nose only are the same as the first version.

    If my husband (bless him!) is standing ironing, Jack will push the ball right up to my husband’s feet so he can kick it without stopping ironing. All other rules are the same, but this version is played more like the “humans sitting on the couch” version.

    What I find most interesting is how carefully Jack follows the rules that he made up. He has expectations for us, and rules for himself, and he will work away diligently for a minute or more trying to get the ball out of a corner with his nose and never drop the ball in his mouth, unless there is no real way to maneuver it out with his nose.

  19. Beth with the Corgis says

    Oh, I forgot to mention that if we are playing the “kick the ball” version and we hop up and down, Jack will also hop his front feet (both together) up and down several times. It’s quite funny, and a clear case of a dog imitating people since he only rarely hops on his own but will hop 100% of the time if we do.

  20. Pike says

    Pixie, the elderly Pom, never plays either and is not amused by any other dog playing around her (even if there is no danger of them stepping at her).

    Ronja, the hound, loves any game that involves running, tracking, smacking (with head or paw) or otherwise roughhousing. Toys are not her thing (except for keep-away purposes) – but anything related to running makes her smile all over. Racing up the carpeted stairs, flinging herself down the 17 steps with only one touch before arriving at the bottom is high on her indoor fun list. Hide and seek, especially if it involves racing through rooms.

    Her favorite to play with people is, of course, the forbidden boo-game. Kids of a good friend taught it to her: The person says “boo” right next to her face while at the same time blowing air at her ears or nose. When she stiffens, the game is on. Person keeps booing/blowing air, dog tries to whack the person’s face with her nose. Despite Ronja very hard head and good reflexes, I remember no incident of black eye on the girls. Needless to say that kids and dog perfected this one and I was only half-heartedly trying to stop it as they all so clearly enjoyed themselves.

    Anything that is a little bit – or a lot – crazy, is high on the hound’s enjoyment list. It is always interesting to me, though, that she can switch in an instant from having the zoomies to becoming her indoor relaxed zen dog self again.

    Outside, Ronja is not very interested in playing with humans as she is too focused on tracking all the smells. She will occasionally play with dogs though before running off again following her nose.

  21. Kerry M. says

    I once had a dog who would tug for hours. Seems like such a gift now. Man, how I took it for granted.

    My current dog just won’t tug with me at all. I’ve had him for two years and I’ve succesfully got him to mouth a toy for a few seconds while I’m holding it and, well, that’s it. I clicker trained fetch, but for him, it’s a trick, not a game. The saddest part was when it was just him and my last puppy together and I tried to play with them. I’d get a toy. Tease them to interest them and they would both stare at it as if to “Hey, that looks fun. Let me know when you’re done with it.” They would always keep a respectful distance. Then once I set it down, one would pick it up, the other would join in, and they would happily tug together as long I wasn’t touching it. Sigh. Boring human left out again.

    My current pup will tug and fetch and generally reinforces most of my play attempts. I’m grateful but I know if it’s a choice between me and the other dog, I lose still, so I try to engage her when we are alone or the other dog is being even more boring than me.

  22. Rosemary says

    For the life of me I can’t get my golden to play a reliable game of fetch. I have tried running from him when he gets the ball, making sure I throw it right away when I get it, to making all kinds of noises like clapping as he is running to me ect. All he wants to do is run to catch the ball then lay in the grass and mouth it until he finds a stick to chew on – hes not very fun. And he doesn’t protest when I walk over to him and throw it again. He is a retriever but I don’t think he knows that! In a way I think he has trained me to play fetch more that I am training him =)

    When we play tug he seems to get really wrapped up in it and only wants to shake his head side to side he and doesn’t pull on the toy while his growls get pretty intense. I am pretty sure it is harmless but I have doubts sometimes. We practice “leave it” during tug and he listens, although, sometimes it seems like it is hard for him to let go of the toy – like he really has to try to relax his jaw.

    He absolutely loves the water more than life it self, and when I throw sticks in it for him to fetch he just brings them to the side of the river then eyes are back on the river looking for something else to get out of it. It seems as though he is only concerned about getting things out of the river and cleaning it up so to speak. For instance, if there are rocks or large branches in the river underwater, he will put his head under water and drag them out. It is really funny to watch… he will keep himself busy for hours when we are at the river with no effort from me.

  23. Nancy says

    It’s lovely reading the different ways people play with their dogs.

    All my earlier dogs had always loved to fetch and play tug, so I never realized how challenging it can be to find play that works for some dogs. When we adopted our youngest pit bull from the Humane Society, he didn’t much like tugging or fetching, and he doesn’t always play well with other dogs. He does adore learning new tricks (and any interactive learning games), so those have been invaluable. But what really works for him is anything that uses his nose–tracking training, food toys, hidden food, etc.

    Best of all, on days where we can’t go outside, are simple hide and go seek games. I put him in a sit-stay, then I go hide in a different room in the house, and then I release him to come find me. He roars around the house searching for me, and when he finds me in a closet, we have a big party and he gets a liver treat. Rinse and repeat, over and over–it’s good exercise for both of us, and it’s a simple, fun game that reinforces useful impulse control.

    We’re spending a year in Sweden, and our wonderful house sitter relies upon this game to keep everyone happy while we’re gone. She’s not comfortable teaching our dogs new tricks, and she’s not terribly fond of this winter’s weather (she’s from Louisiana), but food games and hide and go seek games are great for building strong relationships and getting exercise in the cold.

  24. Frances says

    I watched a BC by the river the other day, playing a game she had obviously invented for herself, while her owner patiently stood by and waited. She had a large, rounded rock, which she had carried well up the bank to a flat bit, where she proudly guarded it for a while. Then she pushed it with her nose till it rolled down the bank, and chased it, rolling it over and over in the sand for a hundred yards till it splashed into the water. A few moments of hunting in the shallows, then she found the rock and carried it back up the bank… It was pretty obvious that the game would go on for as long as her human was prepared to stand and wait!

    I tend to differentiate between training games, which my dogs love, but which are played to my rules, and purely fun games, which are (within bounds of health and safety) played by their rules. We have a human equivalent of a play bow (“Ha ha!”) which signals that it is a game and not to be taken seriously, and a human equivalent of the posture/slight growl that signals I don’t want to play (“I’m BUSY!”). That means I can say yea or nay to “naughty” games like pulling off socks, nicking knickers, or jumping up and play biting hands, all of which are usually on the not-allowed list!

  25. Nicola says

    I’ve tried for years to get my short-haired border collie to play. He would play with toys by himself, and occasionally with other dogs – a very trusted german shepherd, but mostly he liked herding other dogs.

    A friend recently got a long squeaky toy, and I bought one too. For the first time ever, I’ve got a couple of tugs with my border collie – he is also now on meds to help with his anxiety – I’m really excited, the meds are making a huge difference, he’s keeping weight on better, and less fuss with the other dogs, but playing with him is something I’ve wanted to do since I got him 8 years ago.

  26. Katy says

    My female dog has never been interested in fetch – she gives you the look that says, “If you wanted the ball, why did you throw it away?” – but she loves, loves, loves to play tug. But she will not play tug if there is another dog around, which became a problem when I got my hound boy. I could play with both by tugging with one hand and throwing a ball for him with the other, or we could just put him outside and play tug. Now, though, my girl has bad arthritis and while it does not seem to slow her down too much, it means no more tug. So we are trying new things. She still thinks fetch is stupid, but hide and seek is a fun game (I hide while she’s in a sit-stay in the laundry room and then she finds me) and she loves to learn new tricks.

    My foster dog, a terrier mix from a hoarding situation, had no idea how to play with people when I first got her. If I tried to play, she’d run away in fear. Gradually, though, she has decided to trust me and now when I give her my version of the play bow, she’ll bow back and we chase each other around the house. She also likes to play what I call tit for tat – she’ll bat at me with a paw and I do the same back. It usually ends up being a very mild wrestling game. She has absolutely no interest in toys, though, other than to chew up and destroy hard plastic ones.

    Sometimes, with three of them in the house, though, when I start to play with one, I end up with 3 of them playing with each other and no one playing with me anymore.

  27. Lori says

    My lab does not really play toys or me. He was trained as a service dog and people have told me it’s because of his training to be a service dog. He doesn’t fetch anything either as far as a toy or ball, but will retrieve things for me (which is was trained for). He loves to play chase with other dogs and loves to get another dog to chase him with a stick. I felt like too like I was doing something wrong or not finding him the right toy, but was glad to hear from Patricia not to worry if dogs don’t like to play with toys. He likes to find treats I hide, play with interactive toys that have food in them (food is his favorite past time). He can find me when I hide, he can go “find” someone that I have over if he knows them. He learns new tricks super fast, so we do that a lot. Have you ever seen a lab limp? LOL! That’s one trick that gets everyone to laugh.

  28. Maryk says

    My corgi Gracie loves tug of war with those twisted ropes. She will shake & growl and pull like mad. She holds on so tight that you can pick her up by the rope. She also loves her stuffed squeaky toys. She can entertain herself by throwing them all around and running thru the house (zoomies) with one of them in her mouth.

    But her absolute favorite toys are her tennis balls. She has a bucket full & somehow manages to bring one home on almost every walk. I don’t know how she finds them.

    One favorite game is where she sits on the landing at the top of the stairs and I soft toss the tennis balls up to her. She loves to catch the balls, where & whenever I throw them, and will do that until my arm gives out. Most times she’ll catch it, but sometimes she’ll hit it back down to me. She’d do this for hours, if I let her. If she’s really bored & I can’t play with her, she’ll take a tennis ball up to the top of the stairs, drop it down & chase it. Then run it back up stairs and do it again. This lasts until she’s tired out.

    But smart corgi that she is, she’s not big on fetch. She figured out really quickly that if she brings it back to me, I’ll just throw it again & she has to run after it. What’s the point, she thinks, of chasing the same ball, over & over again. Corgis are a little too smart for their own good sometimes. So now after the first throw, she’ll run out and retrieve the ball then turn around and lie down, giving me that intense herding stare, waiting for me to throw another one. She’ll catch it or chase it down & lie in wait for the next one to be thrown.

    So to get her some exercise (she loves to run), I stand in the middle of the yard with the bucket of tennis balls & throw one down the yard. Once she retrieves it, I throw another one in the opposite direction & she’ll go retrieve it. It’s funny – for a 30lb dog, she sounds like a herd of elephants as she runs by. We do this, back and forth, until she tires of it. That may take a couple of buckets-full. And she has about 50 tennies.

    We do a modified version of this in the house, if the weather is bad. With tennies all over the house when we’re done, I’ll soft-toss each one back into the bucket. The game there is that she tries to catch them before they go into the bucket. She just loves playing catch.

    Now if I could just teach her to throw…

  29. liz says

    We are a playful group over here, in part due to the attitude of younger Nala who wishes everyone would play all the time. (Lots of work over the years on settling and impulse-control for her!) We include all of the different types of play discussed, and one of the most interesting things to me is how physical changes in the environment are worked into existing games. With all of the glorious snow mounds outside now, fetch and hide-and-seek and dog/dog play all have a freshness that comes with getting to know new terrain. Same goes with indoor games after moving a while ago, and getting to know the layout of the space. Rooms and spaces often dictate the game, like in the smallish bedroom where the only games that fly are searching for hidden treats/toys or “lay on the bed and pounce on the under-the-covers- monster (aka my hand)”. So interesting that each environment facilitates and encourages different types of interaction, I don’t know which one I’d submit!

    Another reason I’m on the fence about submitting a video is because I often sing while playing! Sometimes it’s like a human version of a play growl- just singing an upbeat tune to keep energy up- while others it’s an invitation to play (quite literally- one of my favorites is to softly start “Dear Prudence,” by The Beatles, with my dog’s name substituted in for prudence). Although the dogs seem to be enticed, I think they have just developed an ear for my otherwise ridiculous singing voice.

    Reading about everyone’s dogs and their spectrum of playfulness, and having one who is only mildly playful, I’m thinking a lot about how play seems to be a crucial measure of welfare, even subconsciously. (I keep trying to connect a bunch of ideas to come to some conclusion, though I think that’s a ways off…) It’s just that play is one more precious way to know an animal who doesn’t speak. We can absolutely rely on other gauges, but few as amusing and uplifting! I suppose it’s similar, in a way, to dogs who prefer not to be touched. Through petting/affection, we learn what an animal likes or dislikes, and we can connect. I guess that in the case of my dog who seems happier to be in her own space and only cuddles on rare occasions, her preference still says a lot in terms of her normal state, what motivates her, and what I can do to honor who she is.

  30. Bonnie H. says

    My male lab/australian shepherd mix LOVES his frisbee (so much so we have to refer to it as ‘disc’ if we don’t want to play). He greets us at the door with it most of the time. But he does prefer to play with my husband (I frequently get a look that I swear means ‘you throw like a girl’). Chasing bubbles is his sister’s favorite game outside. She’s our couch potato, but mention ‘bubbles’ and she bounces up and runs for the back door, dancing all the way. That’s another thing we have to use a code word for (soap orbs). Even at 11 years old, those are the two games that still elicit puppy-like excitement.

  31. Shalea says

    Donna in VA: Far from finding it scary/bad, I had to smile at your description of the “grab the paw” game, as it’s very similar to a game I used to play with my previous greyhound. Ours was more active and involved play growls and barks (from *both* of us, I’m afraid) and the occasional shoulder shove, but it never escalated into anything other than Larson breaking into a high-speed spin greyhound and me falling down laughing (at which point we’d go get some water and cookies).

    Gryphon (who is completely blind) and I play a sort of tag/keep-away game where I bounce away from him laterally and he bounces towards me. We don’t play very long (as I type this I wonder if he loses his “map” of where he is in relation to the room and the furniture in it?).

    We also play scent games where we ask him to find a person (my husband asks him to find me, I ask him to find my husband). The person isn’t “hiding” visually, but as Gryphon air-scents and doesn’t track we try to set up situations where it’s not immediately evident where the person is. I’m not sure if this is “play”, but he definitely enjoys it and it’s utterly fascinating watching him figure out where the person is — his posture is fairly neutral until he finds the scent but then he focuses in (ears come forward, jaw tightens, posture is more up on his toes). When he’s found the person, he gets a “heeey buddy” and a cuddle, and his whole body goes soft and wiggly.

  32. says

    It occurs to me that while I initiate training games & food puzzles by bringing out the treats and clicker, Sallie initiates physical play. Three occasion prompt her to engage me, all following significant exercise. After her long afternoon walk, usually at least a mile off leash, she wants to retrieve. She’ll pick up the Kong on a cotton rope we keep in the car & wag like an idiot until we find an appropriate place to throw it a eight or ten times, & then she’s done. Back in from her half mile after dinner off leash walk she’ll bring me a toy: either a tug toy, something to hide for her to find, a soft toy to throw in the house, or a squeeky toy for me to pretend to grab before it drives me bonkers, resulting in much dancing around. I often wonder how she makes the choice of toy. When she comes out of our lake wet from retrieving something or from what we call her recreational swimming she gets the zoomies & wants to be chased. She has great recall so it’s cool. She’ll drop a play bow & I’ll do the monster thing, clomping toward her in a pseudo menacing way, & she’s off, & as long as I do that whenever she comes around she’ll keep running. I do the same thing at the humane society where I train, at least with confident dogs who have demonstrated recall, to get them to run happy laps in the big training room.

  33. Lisa W says

    Thanks, Trisha. I remember when you had written about Willie’s shoulder and it had been 1 1/2 years or more of restricted activity, surgery, rehab. Olive and I had just started our lock down, and I remember thinking we would never make it an entire year like this and couldn’t imagine how you two did it. Well, now it’s been almost 1 year, and not only can I imagine it, I can barely remember what it was like before. Yes, this too shall pass, and we have a lot of work to do to make the future as good as the past just different. If anyone has any play modification tips for a dog that doesn’t know mellow, it is much appreciated.

  34. Jill says

    Kira likes evasive maneuvers. She will wonder close to me with a toy and turn away as I reach for it. She isn’t interested in being chased, just casually evading my hand. She also loves playing fetch in water.

    Rory likes to be chased. When Kira got old and didn’t like playing for long, I felt bad for Rory so whenever he had the toy, I would cry “Rory’s got it! Rory’s got it! Rorrryyyyyyy.” and chase him until Kira got interested and started to chase him. Now she doesn’t even do that so I chase him in circles until I get dizzy and stop. He also goes a little crazy when he rolls on his back. When he does, I’ll cry “crazy dog!” and alternate between vigorous belly rubs and touching his paws (which are flying everywhere). As a pup he wasn’t into patting but I think the crazy dog game made him realise how good scratches are.

  35. KT says

    I am so glad to hear that other people’s dogs don’t really like to play. My guy(shar pei cross) doesn’t like to fetch, will play briefly with other dogs, and won’t tug with anything other than his huge stuffed bear. When he wants to play he brings out his bear and shakes it around in front of me. We usually just wrestle with it because he seems to not really like to tug on it. And he won’t play with it by himself. I have to be an active participant. Sure would love to have a dog that plays but he’s a good hiking buddy so I guess I can’t complain.

  36. liz says

    Play modification “tips” are – for sure- a tricky area since treading in the area between engaging and over-stimulating is a tough thing to do. I use the word “tips” very loosely.
    That said, one passive activity (oxymoron?) that I think helped relax my hyper dog’s approach when on restriction was exploring indoors. For as long as I could find new places inside, each day we’d go through the contents of an area together. A row of low kitchen cabinets one day, the hallway closet the next. She’d stick her head in and smell, then one by one I’d show her the pie tin, the cookie sheet, etc. Obviously couldn’t let her in the cleaning supplies cabinet, and it doesn’t take much time overall, but it became sort of a new routine we could do together that was interesting (however mild) while not leading to her roughhousing in any way. I think any activity that reinforces interacting with the world in a more toned-down way help broaden her range. Definitely a low key approach to play, but it was better than nothing for us.

  37. Dezi says

    To: Erin James:
    Try a rabbit skin tied to a rope, Jacks are hunters… or maybe nose work games.

    About playing with my dogs: I have three, they all play together wonderfully. They are usually playing a loud game of three way tug. When the excitement level gets too high everyone lets the rope go to shake off and take a breather. On rainy days we play nose work games (each dog separately). We play a lot of fetch, I usually take two tennis balls to create rivalry between the dogs. I also wrestle on the floor with them.

    Titan, my Pit, loves frisbee more than anything.
    Zoe, my Rott n’ boxa Shepherd, loves being chased around (by me or other dogs).
    Pip, my Labracollie Heeler, loves fetch.

    Play time is the only way I can keep my dogs well exercised, I don’t always have time to go on an hour long walk… but I can take the dogs out for a 15 minute game of fetch before work. It also helps that they play together so well and that they play with each other ALL the time.

  38. Laurie says

    Ranger – my English cocoker spaniel has always loved fetch & tug as well as sniff, sniff – he is a spaniel after all) but one of his/our favourite games is “steal the sock (or glove or whatever). He grabs the sock I toss or “steals” the glove while I am putting on my coat & goes to his little crate in the hall & waits for us to make a big fuss about our missing sock & look for it & eventually find him guarding it – and then give him a treat to “buy” it back. I don’t know if it is a great idea but a) we always know where any item he takes is because he only takes them to get us to play this game, b) it buys me the time to get my coat, hat, boots etc etc on before we actually make it out the door , c) he can initiate this game when we aren’t paying enough attention so has some control over his games & d) it amuses the heck out of us all.

  39. Laurie says

    Also forgot that a favourite game is “making the bed; – he gets under the covers while I am making or stripping the bed & we play peek-a-boo.- makes us both laugh

  40. lin says

    Pupper was true to her retriever half when we got her — she would fetch and fetch and fetch. But she wasn’t interested in any other toys, squeaky or chewy or anything (although once we received a stuffed Taco Bell chihuahua, and she was motivated by the mechanical “Yo quiero Taco Bell” to tear it to pieces).

    After we had for about five years, Pupper grew less and less interested in fetch. She didn’t seem to have any issues with her limbs — maybe it was too much work? We think she was maybe about 9 at that time. Finally, the only place she would fetch would be at the beach (perhaps running on the sand was easier).

    Other than fetch, her only other play was hunting for treats. I would shut Pupper in the dining room/kitchen, and then hide treats in the other room, open the door and say, “find them!” I deliberately did not put them in the bedroom because I didn’t want her constantly sniffing around for treats at two in the morning.

  41. jackied says

    My springer spaniel Lucy adores ball games and finding games, she is uninterested in tug. We can’t let her have a ball in the house or she just runs up and down with it for hours, waiting for someone to throw it!

    Twix himself is uninterested in fetch, will play a bit of tug, and likes chasing games and finding games. However his favourite activity with humans is learning tricks.

    Since we got Lucy he has learned some dog language and how to play with her, and that is now his favourite game, even though he’d rather chase and she’d rather play ‘bitey face’.

  42. Frances says

    Laurie – I’ve practically given up on making beds – there is always a cat or dog in there somewhere! Thank Heavens for duvets.

    I’m finding it interesting that my dogs are far less playful in the house since I decided we were all getting too plump, and pushed myself into longer walks. Over a month or so we’ve gone from around 1.5 – 2 hours off leash walking to 2.5 – 3 (my elderly neighbour and I share dog walking, so she does some of that!), and I’m aiming for regular four or five mile walks across the fields if the weather ever improves. I don’t know who wrote the books about Papillons not needing much exercise, but it’s just as well I took their advice with a large pinch of salt – after 4 miles of running, looking for rabbits, meeting nice dogs and people, practising Waiting for bicycles and horses, playing chase with Poppy, and constantly looking back over her shoulder to tell the rest of us we are so SLOW, Sophy is ready to do the whole thing all over again! Does mean she settles once we are home, though.

  43. em says

    @Laurie–My cat loves playing make the bed! She can hear the sheets being stripped from anywhere in the house and is there in an instant, demanding to be ‘made in’ to every layer, zooming and pouncing about underneath each sheet and blanket before wiggling out and under the next one. She loves it.

    On the topic of the dogs, I admit, my first thought when I asked myself, ‘what do I play with my dogs?’, was ‘referee’. In all seriousness, it’s not far off the mark. Both my dogs like to play and play every day, but for Otis, I’d say that 90% (at least) of his play is with other dogs or by himself. He plays near us, if that makes sense, but we are seldom active participants.

    Sandy loves to “wrestle” with people- she play growls and weaves between our legs or wiggles onto our laps if we’re sitting, nudging herself under our arms, chuffing and occasionally stretching her open mouth (teeth covered) toward our hands as we shove her shoulders or grab her paws. She can sound like a wolverine, especially with my husband, who really gets her going, but she is so obviously delighted, wiggling and nudging for more, and so careful with her mouth that we’ve never worried for a moment that she might be getting serious. Still, we don’t do this every day. Her play with Otis and other dogs is much more regular. She likes to run and wrestle with them, too, and she’ll tug with either dogs or people if tugging is an option.

    Otis on the other hand, seldom plays with people at all. Part of this is habit, I think, established when Otis was new and governed by the limits imposed by his size, speed, and strength. Otis was a young adult with very little human experience when we adopted, and though it sounds terrible, our first several months together were all about DISCOURAGING physical play with humans, and reinforcing extreme inhibition in his interactions with people. Given the slightest encouragement, he would get over-excited and try to play with humans as he would with dogs, pouncing on them, mouthing, shoulder-checking. He WAS exercising inhibition, he was never shoving or mouthing hard, by his standards, but dogs have such a physical advantage over people, pound-for-pound, that when dealing with a human-sized dog, teaching the dog extreme care with and deference to people is a priority.

    As it turns out, Otis didn’t need much encouragement to be highly physically inhibited with people. He’s a sensitive, soft-mouthed, and careful dog by nature. We did have to work on the jumping a bit- if someone initiated a chase or wrestle game, for his first several months, he’d happily do a trademark leap up in the air from his back legs and down, paws extended, on their heads. Standing on his back legs puts him at more than six feet tall, leaping makes it a ‘death from above’ moment for basically everyone. This was bad.

    The upshot was that Otis learned the following rules for living: Never close his mouth on people. If a person wants something, he should give it to them. Keep all feet on the ground around people . People do not want to wrestle. In the years since, he has learned to play in very, very inhibited ways with people- lying on his back on the bed, he’ll wrestle a tiny bit with my husband, and he’ll lightly hold onto a toy that we are very lightly tugging if he takes it after we’ve been teasing him with it, but that’s about it for physical games, and honestly, I’m pretty happy with that.

    I did teach Otis to fetch, but it isn’t his favorite thing to do. We’ve found a happy compromise- he asks for his ball when he wants it (he only likes his own ball, an oversized tennis ball that squeaks- anybody looking to encourage a so-so dog to take an interest in fetching tennis balls, check out these- of the dogs at the park, even dogs who don’t usually like tennis balls go for them and ball-lovers go BANANAS.) I take it out and toss it, he pounces on it and runs around like a maniac for several minutes, dropping and pouncing, occasionally rolling on it like a Shiatsu device, then when he’s done, he brings it back and drops it for me to carry. Sometimes I toss it again if he still seems interested when I pick it up, but it’s not all that participation-heavy for me.

    The great, great majority of Otis’ play is with other dogs, which he does every day, with Sandy if with no one else. He loves to run, and does these big looping circles and quick flybys, trying to get his friends to chase and tackle. He loves to bump and wrestle with dogs, too. He doesn’t much care about most objects- he will sometimes play a very self-handicapped version of tug with other dogs (this mostly translates into him lightly holding a stick or toy that another dog has the opposite end of, he won’t actually grip or pull), but he generally won’t compete for them. I’m always present when Otis plays, but my job is really to keep things from getting too wild if they seem to be, not to whip things up. Most of the time, I am just trying to stay out of the way (getting hit by a dog running full speed is always bad, but getting hit by dogs the size of Otis-n-friends could put a person in the hospital- in one of their dog park scrums, the other owners and I once calculated that there were about 500lbs of dog in a ten square foot area).

    Otis and Sandy’s regular playmates are all very careful, very experienced, very inhibited players with a lot of trust in each other- they almost never get hurt, even slightly, and never get upset, but it is still not a game that I have ANY inclination to get in the middle of. We sometimes play ‘find me’ or hidden object games, but Otis has a pretty limited window of enjoyment with them- played too long and he starts to seem frustrated, anxious, or bored. Sandy loves learning and performing tricks, so we do that with her, but again, Otis doesn’t really seem to enjoy it, so we don’t push him.

    So, I guess I’d say that my first response is a pretty fair one- we do play a bit with both our dogs, and we make an effort to give them opportunities to play, but the majority of the activity that they light up for we just supervise, rather than participate in.

  44. Alexandra says

    How do I play with my shelter beagle mix, Romeo?

    Over the past few years, I have finally convinced Romeo that “tug” can be a fun game, though he tires of it after a few minutes and it’s not his first choice for a game. He does like to chase thrown objects (particularly “food” objects like a rawhide, raw bone, or other chewy), but he does not fetch. He enjoys games of keep-away, and also games of chasing me around the house while I have the fun object.

    However, Romeo’s favorite game is rough-housing. When we had access to a decent dog park, and when he was a younger dog with boundless energy and no boundaries about which dogs he’d interact with, he could rough-house for hours at the park. His favorite playmates were bully-breed dogs with whom he’d body-slam and play-bite, often for long stretches of time if allowed. I’d take him home and he would be soaking wet with saliva. Now that he’s an older dog and not universally dog-friendly, he prefers to rough-house with me.

    I do love to wrestle with him, even though everything I read says you shouldn’t. He chews on my arm or hands (with bite inhibition – he’s only scratched me enough to bleed once in 3 years, and then obviously accidentally), I rub his chest, shove him back, and growl in his face. I tug on his ears, he rolls over onto his belly and kicks wildly. I whack him with a pillow, he lunges at me and tries to crawl into my lap.

    I let myself play our favorite game because: one, there are no children in the house, and no children visit; and two, Romeo will stop all the nipping and wrestling if I give the command “Enough!” and walk away.

    This is absolutely his favorite sort of play, and my favorite game to play with him too. If I could get him equally enthusiastic about tug, we’d probably switch to that, but…

  45. Nic1 says

    Thanks Trisha. It’s fascinating reading about this. It’s really interesting that Willie still loves his beat up old frisbee as some dogs seem to get bored with their toys once they have almost destroyed them. Yet, he still loves that frisbee!

    I have a ball freak for a dog but I have to be careful how we play ball as she does seem to get overly adrenalised with too much flat out chasing when playing fetch. Therefore, we vary it – a few throws in the air for her to catch; a few throws with her chasing and then I put her on sit-stays while I hide it and she gets to hunt for it. This sniffing/seeking then seems to chill her out after the chasing and fetching. Fetch still seems to be a bit iof a controversial topic with regard to behaviour and play in dogs – I think it was Turid Rugrass who advocates that the stress hormones can build up in dogs with these sort of games but to my mind, it does seem an excellent way to appropriately channel the prey drive. I just look out for the signs of high arousal (staring eyes, shaky legs are signs to quit!) and then modify to something a bit more relaxing and less energetic.

    My dog has also shaped ME into playing a game that she really loves – she has a tennis ball in her mouth and then she likes me to roll another ball along the floor and she chases it until it stops and points to it with her nose (all the while keeping the other ball in her mouth). She then runs off in a circle and seems really proud of herself – it’s so funny. Sometimes she’ll pounce on it and seems to ‘play guard’ it? She is happy to give it up once I start to tickle her and she makes these funny grunty noises…I swear she is laughing…

    She loves hunting for food and her toys around the house too. I take on old cardboard toilet paper roll, hide some smelly cheese in it and then get her to hunt and retrieve it. She has to drop it and then she gets the treat inside. Great for impulse control as she is not allowed to rip it up to get at the cheese!

    Kongs and Nina Ottosson toys are also fantastic too. I sometimes think mental play is generally more tiring for my dog.

  46. Marjorie says

    I have two Cavaliers and one loves to play tug and and retrieve with her snake and she has a little stuffed squirrel that we play “killer squirrel” where she stalks the squirrel and then I pretend he is bitting her (I have to growel for the squirrel) and then throw it for her. My other Cavalier is not that interested in toys except for their Tornado & Brick, these they love. They also love to play find it with treats either hidden around the house or thrown on the ground.

    One thing about Cavaliers is that they usually prefer more “natural” forms of play. Mine are CRAZY about chasing leaves, butterflies & bugs, and jumping for snowflakes. Cavaliers tend to play more like cats than dogs. Most Cavaliers love these activities, so perhaps Tootsie will too. If I throw a stick or ball my girls look at me like you have to be kidding (they use to fetch when they were pups, but are bored with it now). I think they find the unpredictability of flying leaves & butterflies much more exciting.

  47. says

    What a great thread. I’m happy as well, to hear that some dogs just aren’t that into playing, with anything. Seamus is that way, but he’s odd even in this aspect. He enjoys playing with other dogs, especially black ones and he instigates bity-face games if the dogs can’t run around together, but he isn’t a non-stop play machine either and he’ll end the play and come to me in a few minutes. He loves to hold toys and nothing, nothing in the world makes him happier than to have me pet him while he has a toy in his mouth. I guess it’s the retriever in him because he is just so excited he is doing the retriever wiggle, even on his back. He has several stuffed toys that he carries around the house, a long, stuffless rabit with a squeaker on either end named Ricky, a stuffed hedgehog named Sugar, a stuffed duck named Ducky, original I know, and several nyla bones. He’s very gentle with his stuffed animals and doesn’t ask me to tug with them. He’ll chew on them for a bit, but it’s more mouthing than chewing and so I don’t buy him plush toys anymore because I can’t get rid of them. Like I said, if he can bring you a toy to show you that he has it, he’s happy.
    Torpedo adored tugging games and would ask for them all day long if he could. He was a strong tugger too and so I’d find it hard to tug for long periods with him. I’d usually get a man to engage with him and he could tug until your arm fell off. He was demanding too and would poke me with the toy until I paid attention. He always made me laugh.
    Marlin loved fetch and would chase his ball up and down the hallway all day long. He’d always bring it back to me, but wasn’t careful in his movements and would knock me over if I was crouched down. He also loved other dogs and would play chase and bity-face games for as long as I would let him. All three of my dogs did different things, but all three made me happy to see them play because that made us both feel good.

  48. says

    What wonderful discussions of play!

    At the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab, we are collecting play videos through March 31, 2013. We look forward to seeing your contribution!

    Trisha’s video is a great example of what we are looking for because (1) the video is between 30 and 60 seconds and (2) both dog and human are visible and captured in the entire shot. Of course your job is to also populate the video with your unique way of playing!

    We look forward to seeing how you and your dog play!!

    Julie
    Lab Manager, Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab
    http://www.DogHumanPlay.com
    http://www.DogCognition.Com

  49. Mireille says

    @laura another sock / glove thief! Shadow does that as well, but he carefully puts them on the mat at the back door. He only brings one love though. One thay he brought my wallet, the next evening my sunglasses (ouch) and the day after a shopping bag. I think he is telling us he’s planning to take over the shopping ;-).
    Funny thing, I play much more with these two positive raised pups than with our previous two dogs. I think it also has to with the fact that not being a novice dog owner anymore, I have become more relaxed in my interactions with them. Shadow likes to retrieve, did a perfect retrieve the first time I threw the ball. Nowadays he does nt always bring back the ball, especially his sqeauky’s because he prefers to chew on them. So I throw two balls alternately. Spot prefers tug to retrieving, if I throw a ball for him he will happily bounce after is, pounce on it and look at me askimg me ‘what’s next’ and come bouncing back, without the ball. They both like puzzle’s. Shadow also likes looking for toys (I do not hide treats around the house) but I feel that Spot does not dare to look for toys because Shadow rather claims them ;-)

    Funny thing, two littermate brothers, spend a lot of time playing with each other but play differently with us.

  50. LisaH says

    My 6 year old BC is a playing machine every waking moment – preferably with a person but will play by himself, or tries to engage the younger BC. Loves every toy – plush, tug, balls, frisbees, water in the kiddie pool or from the hose, agility equipment, treat dispensers, sticks, everything and anything. He will play hide and seek, and a favorite game he initiates goes as follows – always with one toy in his mouth he will roll w/his nose or kick w/his paw another toy to me while I am on the floor about 4 feet away, and I roll it back to him & this back and forth lasts until I tire. When really pumped he will bump me with a toy to get my attn, or will slap me with a paw. That move started when I put my fist out, said “hit me” and he would and now does it sometimes just to get a reaction from me. He will retrieve a toy by name (every toy is named & there are currently 35 indoor toys) then run laps around the house w/them & does this more and more as I cheer. He also does laps around the house and garden if I do the 1st lap with him, then cheering will send him on more laps. My nearly 3 year old BC likes to take the older BC’s toys so she’ll be chased then just lies down with them, and she likes to tug. She is too obsessed with water play so that has to be limited. She does not play alone as far as I can tell, and will participate w/me but not initiate play really. Her play is usually chasing a ball and tugging. These two dogs are night and day from one another in their play styles.

  51. JJ says

    I’m a fan of the book Tug More Learn More by Kay Laurence. It is a single-subject book, but full of information I hadn’t thought of before. I highly recommend it.

    What I have found interesting is how my dog’s play behavior has changed as he gets older. He still loves to play, but the game of tug has dramatically lost its place of honor. He used to play tug until his teeth would bleed (which when I found out was a possibility, I learned to stop the game sooner). And as a younger dog, Duke would tug with ANYONE who would play with him – the big guy at the dog park, the 5 year-old-kid, the large dog, the 10 week old puppy. Now Duke will tug sometimes, for a limited time, and only with someone who can provide a real game of it. Duke no longer likes standing there doing nothing while a puppy tugs his heart out at the other end. It was adorable to watch, but I guess Duke didn’t get much out of it.

    Now Duke likes to play with his plush toys. He really likes the kind with smaller plush toys that are hidden inside that he can pull out and I can put back in. I don’t really like playing that game with him. I envy people who have games that they can play with their dog that gives joy to all parties. I force myself to play with my dog in the way that makes him happy because I making him happy is important to me. But it really isn’t that fun for me.

    Duke also likes the kind of plush toy that is very floppy so that when he rigorously shakes his head, the toy slaps him on each side of the face. Since Duke has a very soft mouth, I can get him plush toys knowing that they will last a long time. That’s one thing I like about my dog.

    We do both enjoy training though. And we both enjoy cuddling on the couch. And we both enjoy… I had to add this last bit because I didn’t want to leave the impression that there is little that I enjoy about my dog. There is a LOT I enjoy about my dog and a lot of it is mutual.

  52. Enid says

    I have two boxers – one very old, one 3 and very ill. My dogs LOVE to body slam, I’ve seen then charge each other then a few feet before they’d crash they both jump in the air and……BOOM!! Just to give you a little idea of what they are like. The older dog does not play with us any more. We used to put on leather gloves, put her in a sit stay, the clap of the gloves together was the cue to break and try to get the gloves off our hands. This can only be played for ten min because the human can not endure more than that. Legs are bumping the dog away, carefully of course. Whew. The three year old only can play for five min or less of this same game. It’s great for teaching control. In the midst of the “battle” the cue to “sit” or “down” is given. Dog wants to play, and is wound up. I feel that helps build self control.
    Lots of trick training for the three year old. It’s amazing what he can do. Free shaping mostly. He begs me to train. He can walk in human shoes, on my feet, both front paws, and back. This is NOT a boarder collie. We have so much fun. He also like me to hide his food while is’s in a down stay. I hide it all over the house, his entire dinner. It can take up to three hours for him to find it all. He asks me to do this for him also.
    Sometimes my dogs like to play, “bitie bite.” When boxers play they have a spot on face/neck area that they target. (have no idea if other dogs do this also?) So, I’ll cup my fingers, tip my head to the side like he does, say the words, bitie bite, and do to him with my fingers what a boxer would do to him, he then bitie bites at my shirt sleeve. If his teeth touch my skin, we’re done, “teeth” is the cue that, you’ve gone too far. When I do that with one of the dogs, the second dog is up and coming to join. Now, we have a three way bitie bite.

  53. says

    I was absolutely distraught when I discovered I had adopted a border collie puppy who had zero interest in toys. She would happily rip into stuffed toys as her version of “play,” but had no interest in tugging, fetching, or really any sort of interaction with me that didn’t involve food.

    I obsessively made it my mission to build her interest in playing with me. I swear I bought every type of toy known to man in an effort to find what tripped her trigger — and also because her interest in the beginning was fleeting, so I would have to switch between various toys frequently to keep her interest.

    Most people would think what I went through with her was just too much work — if the dog doesn’t want to play, don’t make her, they would say to me. I really felt it was important to building our bond and increasing her drive to play agility, though, so I kept plugging at it.

    She is 3 1/2 years old now and she loves to play! Sometimes she even gets a little over the top about it! :) She LOVES frisbee, goes crazy for tennis balls and is a ferocious tugger (at home — we are still building up our enthusiasm for tugging at trials). I nearly shed a tear the other night when we were stuck playing inside — I was all prepared to work with our exercise ball with a pocket full of treats, but she wanted to TUG — while I had treats in my hand! I never thought I’d see the day where she would choose play over food. One of my friends said, “Maybe she finally realized she’s a border collie.” lol

    My Lab/Shepherd will play 24 hours a day. He is eager to fetch anything you throw, although frisbee is his hands down favorite. He loves to tug and loves it when I smack his butt when he’s really wound up.

    For some reason it has never bothered me that my Alaskan Klee Kai is not hugely toy driven. His favorite game is to play bite with my hands as I move them quickly around on the floor. He will grab my sleeve (or gloves if I’m wearing them, even better!) and tug like crazy. Yet I cannot interest him in any actual tug toys… I have ripped up several shirts with this game, but he enjoys it so we continue. :)

  54. says

    Our favourite play is hide and seek in the house and we will enjoy it outside once there is enough foliage to hide me. and also tug. When playing tug he is learning to “trade” for another toy or for food. With my other dogs I used a ‘drop it” but “trade” is fun and rewarding for him. I think tug is a great way to relieve some energy (and stress) when in a more confined area.

  55. says

    Inka cannot play with toys on his own. At all. OK, treat toys being the exception, but anything else he will dump in somebody’s lap or at someone’s feet, or somewhere on your body until you throw the toy for him. Oh, wait – I tell a slight fib, he has *just* for the first time a few nights ago started nosing tennis balls around, only gently, and then he just stands and eyes them. If they were sheep, they’d move, I’m sure! He tugs too, but since rules were introduced he’s not tugging as much any more.

    Starr is a tugger too, lives by the rules and tugs like a demon all the same. I love it! Other than that she’s good at playing with her toys on her own (throwing them about and pouncing on them!), and she loves running rings around Inka while carrying her frisbee.

  56. Janet C says

    Thank you for this blog. Obviously I am coming into it late. I have a dog that has severed fear issues. He shakes and shakes. I used to think that he loved his walks but once I realized that he generally shakes the whole time, has his head on a swivel and can’t wait to get home, I knew that wasn’t the case. So I’m trying to think of things to do with him at home that provide exercise. I can’t wait to send Julie the video of our stair run. He loves to just run up the stairs with me and down again. Over and over Good exercise for me too. This way he’s protected from the stimuli that make him anxious but he still loves the movement.

  57. anita s says

    My dog has outside games and inside games. Our inside games are drop the kong, in which a treat-filled bone-shaped kong is put on the floor. Eubie picks it up and starts dropping it on the floor, hoping to dislodge treats. If all treats are not dislodged, it’s time to bring the toy to me to throw on the floor. He puts it right in my hand. After treats are gone we play tug with the bone. Another game is find the toy, in which Eubie sits and stays in the living room, and I hide the toy in another room out of his sight – then it’s ”find it!” He goes and finds it and brings it back to me. Next time I hide it further away. Outside Eubie plays with a tire – which he rolls around and stands on its edge and pushes with his nose. He also plays with a hard plastic dog dish, which he loves to flip over and over. He will play fetch with this dish. I make him sit and stay, throw the dish, and they say ok go get it! Whenever Eubie has a new toy he will put it down and roll over and try to pick it up on the rollover. He is so pleased with himself when h e succeeds. Eubie will play by himself, but only if I’m watching him, he’s so endearing – just like a little kid – watch me!

  58. Nic1 says

    Trisha, my partner recently told me about him being shaped by a couple of Border Collies on a farm he regularly visits. The two dogs are brothers and whenever Mark,my partner, visits the farm Spot and his brother both greet him excitedly. Then the game ritual commences- Mark has not taught them this at all. Spot runs off to find a carrot or a parsnip and brings it back to Mark and drops it with a play bow. Mark then tosses the said carrot or parsnip and then Spot runs after it, his brother chasing him and nipping at his tail. A game of fetch then continues until Mark has to leave – only with Spot retrieving. His brother prefers to chase him. When Mark has to leave, Spot then proceeds to eat the carrot or parsnip.

    These dogs are fairly typical farm dogs. They are untrained, left to roam around the farm and tend to the vermin apparently. Mark

  59. Nic1 says

    Mark thinks that perhaps because they don’t have any toys,they have improvised with what they can find in their environment. Clever dogs!

  60. Kjirsten says

    I have two rescue dogs, a pitbull mix (Kami) and a shepherd mix (Moksha).
    Kami refuses to play with humans. She’s too busy looking at us in an extremely submissive posture (ears back, tail low, head ducked, commissure pulled back into a smile, lots of tongue flicking) in hopes of getting us to pet her. She loves following commands like sit, down, stay, heel, chair (find the nearest chair and jump onto it and sit down). As submissive as she is to us, though, she’s definitely top dog. We do like to “mess” with her, where we call her name and she comes to us all sweet, and then Moksha comes up and Kami starts posturing (ears forward, tail and head high, possibly hackles slightly raised), and then we say her name and she goes back to being submissive, until she realizes Moksha is there, and her physical posturing just cycles between the two…It’s more fun for us than for her. She does love to play with Moksha, though. Tug, chase, play biting, wrestling…anything goes with another dog.
    Moksha only likes one game with us, which is play fighting. I’ve been trying to get my husband to stop, but he grew up with dogs. And even though he’s read several of Trish’s books (as well as being a K-9 handler), he still likes to mock fight with her. They chase each other, he pretends to bite her with his hands, she (at his insistence) has learned to play bite at his pants and feet, they lunge at one another, and if she starts getting overly aroused, he stops the play and she goes back to being calm and sweet. Like Kami, she loves playing with other dogs.
    We’ve tried giving them toys, but other than chewing on various kinds of bones, they’re just not interested.

  61. says

    We play with our shelter rescue Golden Retriever, Kiyo, in many ways – these are just some of them: (1) Hide-and-seek in various parts of our house/ garden and when we’re out in parks (but always in a safe place, since Kiyo has only one eye); (2) Find the toy game – Kiyo’s in a stay, we show him one or two of his toys that contain some treats, hide them behind our back and go randomly about the house, until we finally hide it somewhere (under a chair, behind the door etc). He’s then asked to Find It, and when he does, we run together back to a mat, he gives us the toy, we toss it, he catches it and goes to work, extracting his treats; (3) Agility games – he loves dashing through the tunnel; (4) Fitpaws exercises – these are inflatable discs or doughnut shaped inflatable balls and he really has to have good control of his core muscles to balance on the wobbly items – he can sit, stand and turn around (slowly) on them; (5) Good old run and catch me recalls – especially in the parks; (6) Kiyo has more of a body-kinesthetic intelligence but we also practise more ‘cerebral’ tricks like, pack the toys, learning to pick out the letters of his name, object differentiation; (7) Tug, fetch, catch the balloon (and not burst it), and most recently, we’re learning to skateboard, (8) We practise the APDT C.L.A.S.S. exams (BA, MA and PhD levels) as stand-alone games by randomly shuffling them about to create variety. But most of all, he likes chilling out with us – spending quiet time together :).

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