How to get the most out of play with your dog

Are you really utilizing play to bond with your dog and create impulse control?


Play can be such a wonderful way to bond with your dog.  Unfortunately I see it happen in a way that is hurting the human-dog relationship, rather than building it.  Fetch at its core centers around one thing, catching prey. 


Since dogs are predators, they often enjoy when things squeak for a very specific reason relating to how it would sound if they caught an animal. 

That is why some dogs can’t even be around squeaker toys because of the intensity it causes.  Also, I have noticed many homes with small animals mixed with dogs will not have squeaker toys around and for good reason. 

You must realize that is what you are nurturing, so it’s important to take that dogs natural instinct and work on some serious control, which will help you in other situations.  


Below I go into some details for do’s and don’ts when it comes to playing with your dog at home. 




Do work on DROP IT first.  From the time your dog or puppy will pick up a toy and grip it, you need to teach drop it before focusing on the throw.  Tug toys are best for this.  A ball is more advanced when it comes to teaching drop it.  Teach it with a tug toy by first actively moving your arm round when you want your dog to tug.  This tells the dog with your body language that you want to play.  Then, tuck your arm in to your rib cage and hold still and be boring.  Wait for your dog to settle and they will let go and you can start to name it with “drop it”, or you can hold still, then add food to speed the process along.


Always have a release word when you want your dog to know they can have the toy.  When I’m holding the toy, it’s mine.  That way the dog doesn’t think he can jump on me, nip at the toy, nip at my kids holding toys, etc.  They have to wait for their release word like fetch, go play, break, etc.  Say the release word and put the toy in front of the dog to grab or toss it a short distance. 


Gradually work on distance.  At first you want the toy just thrown a foot or two.  Build to tossing a chuck it (which launches a ball) clear across the field.


Teach your dog place or go to your bed, where they target a dog bed to settle down.  That way, when you teach fetch and come and grab the toy, the dog doesn’t just go into chase mode and keep away mode.  Say come and place.  Let the dog settle, then grab the toy. 




Don’t let the dog win if they are an intense player, have really high confidence and are trying to keep the toy from you.  In the beginning, until a bond and understanding is established, you win by having the dog drop it.  If you have a great relationship and no behavioral issues, letting your dog win and prance around with the toy is perfectly fine.  It’s also okay if your dog needs confidence building.  


Don’t play chase with your dog unless you have an amazing off leash recall around distractions and no issues around kids.  Don’t let kids do this either. 


Don’t let an intense dog tug for a long time. Mostly focus on drop it.


Don’t use a squeaker toy until you have mastered a simple rope tug unless you want to build excitement with a calmer dog or puppy.


Don’t leave dogs with soft toys.  They are meant to be interactive with humans, not left with the dog.  That is how dogs get in the habit of destroying things and ingesting things.  


Don’t leave cloth, rope or ball toys around the house.  You want play to be a special part of what you bring to the scenario.  When play is over, the toys are put away.  The exception to that rule is chew toys meant for gnawing and licking like a bully stick (still always supervised) or kong. 


Don’t play till your dog is exhausted if they are under 2 years old or if they have any reactive (barking issues) you are trying to work on.


Keep these tips in mind and research different ways to play fetch with your dogs from other trainers on Youtube.  It’s always beneficial to watch 3-5 videos to get different dog personalities and styles for ideas. 


BONUS is below there are two videos for higher drive dogs that need more challenges when it comes to play.


-Bethany Wilson

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