How to Make Your Dog More Playful

If you've got a dog at home who just doesn't seem interested in toys and games, it's completely natural for you to want to encourage some playful behavior in them. Play enriches the lives of dogs by stimulating their minds, exercising their bodies, deepening their relationships, and just helping them have a bit of fun, too. Fortunately, there are so many easy and effective ways to get your dog to see just how great play can be! In this article, you'll find tips and tricks to help make your dog more playful.


[Edit]Use praise and high-pitched voices.

  1. Positive cues can help teach your dog that you're happy they're playing. Dogs know how to interpret cheerfulness in their owner’s voice. High-pitched tones will help your dog associate playtime with positive consequences. Though it’s still not totally clear how dogs process human language, it’s widely understood that they respond well to praise.[1]
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    • Feel free to throw in a “Good boy!” when your dog is enjoying play. This will encourage them to seek out the behavior more in the future![2]

[Edit]Leave dog toys around your house.

  1. Dogs are more likely to enjoy play if they're comfortable with their toys. This is especially important if your pup hasn’t necessarily had experiences with toys yet, like for some rescues. Leave a few toys around the house for your dog to smell. Put a couple toys in their dog bed to increase their comfort quicker.[3]
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    • After a while, your dog should show signs that they're warming up to their toys. If you had pushed them to play before they were ready, you'd have run the risk of spooking a nervous dog or confusing an unsocialized dog. Instead, you let your pup develop an interest in their own time!

[Edit]Start with 5-minute play sessions.

  1. Increase playtime length gradually so your pup doesn't get bored. In order for your pup to learn to love play, playtime should only be associated with excitement, stimulation, and reward. To make sure your dog doesn’t start associating play with boredom, keep your playtime short at first.[4]
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    • Keep sessions no more than five-minutes long when you first begin playing with your dog.
    • Wait until your dog is clearly enjoying playtime and seeking out playtime without your encouragement before you increase your session length.

[Edit]Limit your dog's time with special toys.

  1. By making some toys a rarity, you'll make your dog's play more exciting. When you get a sense of which toys are most exciting to your dog (a food puzzle, a squeaky toy, etc.), you should limit your dog's exposure to them. Then, during playtime, you can add to your pet's excitement by bringing those special toys into the mix.[5]
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    • Creating moments of major thrill for your dog will help them associate playtime with the most fun they've had in their lives. This will encourage them to seek out playful behaviors more often.

[Edit]Keep your toys on rotation.

  1. Replacing your dog’s toys every week will help keep things fresh. Dogs are especially enthusiastic about new things. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to buy your pup a brand-new set of toys each week. Instead, leave out just a few at a time and then rotate each set of toys with some new ones whenever it seems like your dog is getting tired of their current lot.[6]
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    • Before your dog really learns to enjoy playtime, it’ll be best to rotate quickly. Once a week should be perfect.
    • Over time, you should be able to stretch this out, opting for a month-long rotation cycle instead.
    • Eventually, the constant excitement of new toys will cause your dog to learn to love play.

[Edit]Buy toys you know your dog loves.

  1. Staying stocked up on toys your dog adores will make play more fun. Anything that can help you make playtime the best part of your pup’s day will be a huge help in encouraging general playfulness. So, by learning what kinds of toys your dog likes best, you can also learn how to tweak your playtime to suit their preferences. For instance, if you notice your dog gravitates towards your rope tugs, then tug-o-war will probably be an important activity to focus on when trying to encourage play.[7]
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    • To help you identify which toys and types of play your dog most enjoys, try exposing them to as many toys as possible.
    • Go for varieties in toy function, texture, noises, and even colors.
    • This way, it’ll be that much easier to help your dog see how fun play can be. Draw your pup in with their very favorite activities!

[Edit]Engage your dog in chases and play fights.

  1. Even if your dog hates toys, they can still become more playful. If, over time, you’re getting the sense that your dog isn’t super interested in toys, you can still encourage playfulness all on your own. Try chasing your dog around the room, play fighting, or, if your dog is well trained, you could even try hide-and-seek.[8]
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    • Stop-start motions can be really engaging for dogs. Try jumping forward, stopping suddenly, and then starting again to get your dog riled up.
    • To play hide-and-seek, tell your dog to sit and stay. Then, hide from your dog. Next, call out from your hiding spot. When your dog finds you, provide a reward.

[Edit]Train your dog to use their toys.

  1. Your dog may not understand their toys at first, but they can be taught. There are tons of different types of toys and accordingly, tons of different methods for teaching dogs to play. For instance, you can show your dog how to use their fetch toys by first throwing treats across the room, then calling them back to you. Reward this behavior repeatedly and eventually, you can swap the treats for a tennis ball (dabbing some peanut butter on the ball speeds up the process, too!).[9]
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    • Flavored chew toys can teach your dog to enjoy gnawing on their toys for play.
    • Dab a tug-of-war toy with peanut butter every day. When your dog gets used to chewing on the end of it, start shaking the other end around. After a while, your dog should get comfortable tugging it back from you.

[Edit]Play when your dog is most energized.

  1. Your dog should enjoy play, and they'll need to be awake for that to happen. This will add to the overall positive associations that your dog will have with play, because they are actually energized enough to enjoy the game. By trying to force your dog to get playful when all they want to do is take a nap, you could be accidentally creating some negative experiences now associated with their playtime.[10]
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[Edit]Give treats and affection to encourage your dog's play.

  1. Giving your dog a reward tells them you approve of their behavior. To encourage more playfulness in your pup, you should always be looking for ways to reward playful behaviors. If you see your dog pick up a toy from across the room, run over and give him a treat or a scratch behind the ears. Any time your dog engages in play (without breaking any of your house rules, that is!) you should try to follow up with some kind of positive association. This will teach your pup that playing leads to good things.[11]
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[Edit]Help an anxious dog relax before playtime.

  1. Nervous dogs will need to bond with you before they enjoy playing. Before you can jump into encouraging playful behavior in your dog, first, you need to make sure that the two of you have a comfortable relationship. To develop a bond with your nervous dog, don’t invade their space. Instead, throw treats into your dog’s area from the opposite side of the room.[12]
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    • Eventually, your pup will probably come to investigate the treats in your hand. Let your dog sniff around rather than trying to engage with your pet right away.
    • This will establish a level of trust between the two of you. Wait for your dog to send the signal that they’re ready to play. Usually, this will come in the form of a “bow,” meaning that they will duck their heads and lay their arms flat on the ground in front of them.
    • Let your nervous dog set the tone for your play and don’t be too rough. By developing some trust, you’ve opened the door to future play with your dog!

[Edit]Be patient with your dog.

  1. For some dogs, learning to love play will take some time. If your pup was never socialized, the idea of play may not click for them naturally. Don’t stress if the process takes a while. Between getting your dog comfortable with toys, finding their favorite ways to play, teaching them, and finally, rewarding them for play, this could very well be a long process.[13]
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