As any dog parent can tell you, not all dogs enjoy playtime in the same way. Some dogs will play fetch for hours with their old tennis ball while others are more interested in anything that squeaks. Not only will learning your dog’s play style help you to find the perfect toys for your pup, but it will also give you some insight into the best ways to bond with your dog and build a deeper relationship.
This post is sponsored by Tall Tails.
As adults, we often see ‘play’ in our lives as a luxury. What we fail to realize is that playtime carries many great benefits, both for us and our pets.
Starting at a young age, puppies use playtime as an opportunity to socialize. By playing and engaging with one another, they learn how to act, what basic rules they need to abide by to keep themselves out of trouble, and how to safely interact with others.
What we often fail to recognize is that the importance of play doesn’t end as our dogs grow up. In fact, playtime continues to be a key factor in a happy, healthy life for our dogs throughout every stage of their lives.
Play provides your dog with physical exercise, mental stimulation, and an opportunity to bond both with humans and with other dogs. These benefits aren’t just experienced by your dog either.
Dog parents are often encouraged to be more active thanks to their dogs. We also benefit from reduced stress levels and loneliness. Playing with a dog has even been found to have a positive impact on the management of mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. In short, just loving our dogs makes us both happier and healthier.
Equally as important, interactive playtime with our dog is an excellent way to strengthen our bond with one another. It allows us to connect, build trust, enjoy quality time, and show our dogs that we are always going to be there to bring fun and happiness into their lives.
The four most common types of play incorporating dog toys are tug, fetch, sensory play, and reward-driven play. Each of these styles of play taps into different natural instincts in your dog, and with that, offers different benefits.
While some dogs will focus solely on a single style of play, showing no interest in any of the other options on the list, other dogs will enjoy a wide variety of play opportunities. There is no right or wrong combination!
The Benefits of Play Based on Your Dog’s Play Style
The Benefits of Tug
If you have ever heard the old myth that playing tug of war will encourage aggression in your dog, you can rest easy. It is just that, a myth. Studies of the connection between dog play styles and dominance found that tug of war had no significant impact on a dog’s dominant behaviors. Although, at the same time, they did discover something positive. Playing tug of war DID help to build a dog’s confidence!
Today’s trainers encourage pet parents like yourself to not only play tug of war but to use this game as a great training opportunity. The goal is to help your dog learn self-control by teaching them to tug when you say tug, but also to stop when you say stop (or ‘leave it’). Doing so will challenge your dog physically as well as mentally, as they are carefully thinking through each command and learn impulse control.
Do you have a teething pup at home? If so, there is another benefit to playing tug of war with your puppy. By directing your dog’s attention to their tug toy, you are helping your dog to learn the difference between items that are approved for chewing and those that aren’t (like your favorite running shoes).
The Benefits of Fetch
Another well-known form of play is to enjoy a game of fetch with your dog. This could be as simple as throwing a tennis ball around in the backyard, however, there are many other options depending on your dog’s preferences. Your dog may be more motivated to chase a frisbee, a stick (real or a toy version), or a favorite stuffed toy.
Playing fetch is an excellent way to get your dog up and moving. Not only is this a good way to prevent destructive habits due to boredom, but it can also help the ‘fluffier’ dogs amongst us to lose weight and maintain a healthy physique.
Regular physical activity also helps to improve balance, coordination, and your dog’s joint health. This is important both as young puppies are growing as well as into your dog’s senior years, where they will see the benefits of prioritizing joint health at a younger age.
If your dog isn’t already familiar with the game of fetch, you may have to start at the beginning. Not all dogs instinctively know to grab the toy and bring it back to you. Don’t let this stop you! Training your dog to retrieve and bring back a ball when it is thrown is a fun and engaging activity, challenging their mind and, like all training sessions, further strengthening your bond with one another.
The Benefits of Sensory Play
Sensory play refers to games and activities that engage your dog’s senses, incorporating not just touch and sight into their playtime, but also sound and smell. If you have a dog that is overly excited by the sound of their toy squeaking or the thrilling crinkle of a crunch toy, this is likely a play style that will appeal to them.
When choosing toys for your dog, there are a few different elements that you can consider to keep them engaged including the texture of the toy, the scent of the toy, and any sounds that the toy may make. Having a variety of different sensory toys that you can rotate through will help to keep your dog interested and excited.
One great way that you can use sensory play to boost your dog’s activity level and provide a fun mental challenge is through a game of hide and seek. This taps into your dog’s natural instincts by having them ‘hunt’ for their favorite toy.
Have your dog sit and stay before stepping out of sight or into another room to hide their toy. When you release your dog, watch the determination as they go on the search. Don’t forget to praise them afterwards! This could include giving them verbal praise and affection, a treat, or even incorporating another play style such as tug by then engaging in another game with your dog. The options are endless.
The Benefits of Reward-Based Play
If you have a dog that isn’t sure whether playing with toys is something that interests them, using a reward-based toy is a great option to get them started. These toys use treats, tasty spreads, or even your dog’s food as a reward that they can earn by playing and engaging. Choose healthy treats or reward options and don’t forget to adjust your dog’s meals to account for the food or treats used in their toys to avoid overfeeding.
Many toys designed for reward play are built to be chewed on, as dogs are often excited to get at the tasty surprise. They have a variety of nubs or textures that can encourage better dental health by scraping their teeth clean during play. This isn’t a substitute for dental care (such as brushing your dog’s teeth), but it is a great addition.
Since your dog must work to ‘earn’ their treat, these toys also challenge your dog mentally. They will have to think about the best way to achieve the reward, trying different approaches and determining what will work and what doesn’t.
Reward-based toys are a popular choice for dog owners that are trying to keep their dogs entertained while working from home or getting the housework done. They can even be used to help manage separation anxiety by offering your dog a fun distraction.
When choosing toys for your dog, allow their play style to guide your decision. If you are shopping for a dog that loves to retrieve and tug, you may want to search for a resilient braided toy or a durable leather toy. These options are lightweight for tossing around and highly durable.
If your dog has no interest in anything but endless hours of interactive fetch play, a durable tennis ball or soft flying disc may be the best option.
Dogs that enjoy cuddling and chewing on a soft plush toy will need a toy that can stand up to their constant love. A squeak toy or crunch toy made from reinforced mesh fabric is a great choice.
Does your dog need a little extra motivation during playtime? For some dogs, the idea of working towards a reward is all it takes! For these pups, a strong and flexible rubber toy combined with a tasty treat will get them excited.
Whatever you choose, know that your dog loves nothing more than spending this quality time with you. Take this time to enjoy one another’s company, build a stronger bond and (most importantly) have fun!
Does your pup prefer one or two dog play styles, or are they an equal opportunity playmate? We invite you to share your dog’s favorite games and activities in the comments below!