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Why Do My Dogs Only Play When I’m Around? Surprising Facts!

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

germna shepherd dog playing outdoors with its owner

Although humans and dogs have coexisted for thousands of years, dogs still do things that leave us feeling puzzled. One strange behavior that many dogs exhibit is stopping their play sessions once their owners leave them.

Since our dogs can’t verbally tell us why they do what they do, we can only speculate why they engage in certain behaviors. So, here are some reasons why dogs may not want to play when their owners aren’t around. The most common reason is that you encourage and make play fun, so your dog wants to play with and around you.

Owners Encourage Play

A 2021 study revealed that dogs engaged in more play when their owners were around. Oftentimes, owners would instigate playtime by praising and encouraging their dogs whenever they played. This affirmation from owners would incentivize dogs to play more. So, when owners leave their dog’s presence, the dog may return to its normal state since it no longer has its incentive.

Play Occurs as a Result of Owner’s Attention

Sometimes, dogs can engage in play because they notice that it garners attention. Dogs are very observant and are able to pick up on subtle patterns. They may notice that their owners pay attention to them more if they start playing.

So, dogs may start playing as a means of getting attention from their humans. This means that if a dog feels ignored or needs something from its unaware owners, it may engage in play to catch their eye. Once the dog successfully captures its owner’s attention, it may then exhibit another behavior, like walking over to its food bowl to get more food.

Owners Create a Safe Environment for Play

owner using dog toy to play with his pet
Image Credit: Alena Veasey, Shutterstock

Some anxious or timid dogs may feel safer when their owners are around. Owners can bring a sense of safety and familiarity that dogs need in order to feel comfortable enough to play.

If you suspect that your dog doesn’t play alone because of anxiety, you can try to create and build a greater sense of safety for your dog. If you’re having difficulty getting your dog to feel more comfortable playing by itself, you can work with a dog behaviorist or trainer to come up with effective ways to help your anxious dog enjoy solo playtime.

Play Can Lead To Other Fun Activities

Sometimes, dogs can engage in playtime because they believe another fun activity will follow. For example, if you tend to play with your dog before going on a walk, your dog may try to play with you because it believes a fun walk around the neighborhood will come afterward.

So, if a favorable event, like a walk or mealtime, follows a play session, your dog may engage in more play in front of you in order to bring about the next fun activity.

Playing With People Is More Fun

Dogs are social animals, so they just might not like playing by themselves. It’s more fun to play with others, especially their favorite humans. Playtime with owners is fun because dogs receive attention and praise, and it’s a fun way to bond.

So, if a dog starts to play in front of its owners, it may be signaling that it just wants to spend more time with them.

dog and man playing tug of war
Image Credit: thka, Shutterstock


There are several reasons why dogs may engage in play only when their owners are around. Usually, it’s because there’s an incentive for them to play. They may receive more attention and rewards if they play in front of people.

While this behavior isn’t explainable with complete certainty, one thing we can know for sure is that dogs can be extremely observant. They’re masters of knowing how to get what they want, and they also love spending time with their favorite people. So, playtime can be a great way for dogs to get the best of both worlds of having fun and receiving love and attention from their owners.

Featured Image Credit: Zozz_, Pixabay

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