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How Do Dogs Play? Vet-Approved Facts & Tips

Cassandra Kyser

By Cassandra Kyser

Corgi playing with tech toy dog

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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All dogs need exercise, and playtime is a fun way to accomplish that. But dogs are individuals, and playtime can look different for each pup. How dogs play depends on whether they are playing with other dogs, by themselves, or with their favorite human.


Should I Let My Dogs Play Fight?

Playtime that often looks rough or aggressive to us is fun for dogs. Pups of all ages love to chase each other, tackle, growl, and rough house. How can you tell the difference between playtime and a canine brawl?

Two or more dogs that are playing together can appear to bounce around. They’ll have big exaggerated movements that you don’t see when your dog is scared or aggressive. Pups engaging in play fighting are actually pretty polite. You’ll notice that they take turns chasing each other around. Dogs that are having fun will fall down and expose their bellies to their canine playmates. Dogs will also “play bow” with their friends. They’ll put their heads close to the ground while raising their tails in the air.

You’ll know it’s a dog fight if there’s no give-and-take. The dog being chased runs away and does not return for more interaction. Aggressive or threatened dogs will also stiffen their bodies and make quick or sharp movements. Fight and play vocalizations sound similar to the human ear. In fact, a play growl can sound scarier than a real growl! But low, continuous growling is often a sign of playtime getting out of hand.

Dogs generally do best playing with pups the same size and near the same age. An older or smaller dog could unintentionally get hurt while rough-housing with younger and larger dogs.

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How Do I Get My Dog To Play By Itself?

Shetland Sheepdog playing with ball
Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

All dogs need human interaction and meaningful tasks to do. Some breeds, like border collies, need a job, or they’ll get into trouble! Other breeds, like pugs, are often content to cuddle and look out the window. As much as we’d like to spend hours playing with our pets each day, that often isn’t possible.

Dogs can learn to entertain themselves and engage in solo play with interactive toys. You can fill a KONG with canned food or spread kibble on a snuffle mat. Some pups like toys that squeak, while others favor a piece of rope to toss around. Dogs have individual tastes, so it can take trial and error to find a suitable toy for your pet. Keep a variety of dog toys on hand and rotate them often so your pet stays interested. Some bored dogs will find ways to entertain themselves, like tearing your sofa apart!

Why Won’t My Dog Play With Me?

Did you dream of playing fetch with your new dog, but they’re just not interested? Do they sit and stare at you when you try to get them to play chase after you? Don’t take it personally. Dogs show their affection in different ways.

If you adopted an older dog, it’s possible they never played with humans before. Or, perhaps they were abused or had negative interactions with people. It can take a rescued dog a while to feel at home, so give them room to let their personalities shine through.

Dogs of all ages enjoy interacting with their beloved humans. The problem is, that dogs and people don’t speak the same language. It’s not like in the movies; dogs that want to play may not go and grab a stick for you to throw.

Encourage playtime by sitting on the floor. Let your dog approach you and be near you. Your pet may only want to play with other dogs but turn to you for grooming and belly scratches.

beautiful Labrador dogs playing with a ball in a green meadow
Image by: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

It’s difficult for humans to distinguish between an aggressive dog fight and a fun canine romp. Both scenarios involve growling, chasing, and nipping. Dogs that are playing and having a good time will take turns chasing each other. Doggy friends will also expose their tummies to each other and play bow.

Bored dogs are often destructive, but you can teach your pet to stay occupied with interactive toys. Lastly, some dogs are more playful than others. Don’t let your feelings get hurt if your pet isn’t up for a game of fetch. You can always pet and cuddle your dog or go for a walk together.

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Featured Image Credit: Xolodan, Shutterstock

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