How to play with a dog: Enjoy safe and fun bonding time with your pup

How to play with a dog
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you looking for new ways to play with a dog? Play time is an important part of your dog’s daily routine – it not only helps you bond with your dog, but also alleviates stress, burns calories and even teaches your dog new behaviors. If you’re looking for toys to make play time more fun, read our guides to the best dog toys or the best puppy toys.

Dogs that don’t get enough stimulation may become anxious or destructive, so it’s important to set aside time for active play every day. Most experts recommend aiming for at least an hour of play and exercise with your dog each day.

Need help keeping your dog busy during play time? Check out these tips to keep your dog interested, active and safe every time you play. 

Don’t play with a dog using your hands or body

Have you ever met a mouthy puppy, or an adult dog that was a little too nippy during play? This can often happen when a dog learns to view people as an acceptable chew toy. Puppies naturally like to initiate play by nipping, pulling on clothing, or biting, but it is best not to encourage this behavior. This type of play is definitely not cute once your dog is fully grown!

To discourage your dog from nipping, avoid games that involve using your hands and body, like wrestling or rough-housing. This type of play can send mixed signals and may encourage your dog to go after your hands and legs whenever he wants to play. Instead, teach your dog to play with appropriate chew toys. You can do this by rewarding good play behavior with treats, petting, and lots of praise.  If your dog does get nippy during play, put your hands behind your back or simply get up and walk away.  If you practice this consistently, your pup will learn that play time ends when he gets too rough.

Incorporate a variety of toys to alleviate boredom

Your dog will quickly get bored with the same old toys just sitting on the floor. Try splitting the toys into groups and rotating them every few weeks so your dog always has something new to play with.

Each group should include a variety of toys, such as the best chew toys, plush toys, and the best rope toys. Make sure you also set aside time every day to participate in active play time with your dog. Most dogs prefer playing with their owners over playing with toys alone. You can even make up your own games and activities to keep your dog on his toes.

Remember, play time isn’t just about getting exercise. You also need to stimulate your dog’s brain and give him something to think about. Adding puzzle toys to your rotation is a great way to provide mental stimulation for your dog. Fill the toy up with your dog’s favorite treats or even his regular meal. He’ll have a blast working to get all those tasty snacks. If your dog has never used puzzle toys before, pick something fairly simple to start so that he can easily get the treats. Once he gets the idea, you can graduate to more complicated puzzles or even build a few of your own.

how to play with a dog

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Choose toys that are safe and fun for your dog

One of the biggest concerns with many dog toys is how they will affect your dog’s teeth.  Many toys and bones are too hard and may cause damaged or broken teeth. A good rule of thumb is that if the toy is too hard to indent with your thumb nail, then it’s too hard for your pup’s teeth.

Tennis balls can also pose a risk to your dog’s oral health, especially if your dog plays with them regularly. That yellow fuzz is highly abrasive and may cause excessive wear and tear on your dog’s tooth enamel. If your dog can’t live without a good game of fetch, try switching to smooth balls instead to keep his teeth healthy.

Make sure you also check your dog’s toys regularly to look for any damage or small pieces that could be swallowed. Small bits of plastic or fuzz may seem harmless, but if ingested they can cause digestive upset and intestinal blockage, which is dangerous for your dog and costly to fix. 

Stick with toys that are specifically made for dogs and discard any that your dog has damaged. Our guide to the best durable dog toys offers some great ideas.

What type of play does your pup prefer?

Every dog has their own unique quirks and preferences, especially when it comes to play time! This is a great time to experiment and find what works best for your dog.  You can encourage your dog to explore and play with new toys by offering him a tasty treat any time he shows an interest or demonstrates appropriate play. Making the experience fun and positive for your dog will encourage him to continue trying new things. Whether your pup loves balls or chew toys or just wants to shred his favorite plush friends, he’ll love spending the time with you.

Does your dog ignore every toy you bring home? There are still plenty of ways for the two of you to have fun together. Instead of using toys to exercise and stimulate your dog, try activities like nose work, agility, or herding. Many dogs prefer these more active pursuits over toys. You can also come up with your own games for your dog to try, like searching for treats hidden in the house or following scent trails that you’ve placed in the yard.  

how to play with a dog

(Image credit: Kong)

How long to play with a dog

Your dog needs active play time every day in order to have enough exercise and mental stimulation to keep him healthy. Ideally, you should aim for about an hour of active play time every day for most dogs. This can be broken up into multiple short play sessions throughout the day, especially for young puppies who need lots of rest in between their brief bursts of energy. Adult dogs may be able to sustain longer periods of play. High-energy breeds and working dogs will likely need even more exercise and play time to burn their excess energy, so you’ll need to tailor your play schedule to meet your dog’s individual needs. Most importantly, remember that play time is supposed to be fun!

Play with your dog for health and happiness

Playing with a dog has many proven benefits. Not only does it keep your dog stimulated and happy, but it can also reduce stress and improve your mood, too. Be sure to set aside some time to play and bond with your dog every day. Your dog will love you even more for it.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at and at