How to Play With Dogs

Most owners are happy to let people play with their dog, especially if you are at a dog park. Ask permission and approach the dog cautiously, and you can usually make a new friend. If you've just brought a new dog into your house, it's especially important to play safely and respectfully.


[Edit]Interacting with a Stranger’s Dog

  1. Ask the dog’s owner if you can pet and play with their dog. Always get permission before petting or playing with a dog. The dog may be a service animal, or the owner may not want their pet interacting with other people. Once you get the owner’s express permission, feel free to approach the animal.[1]
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    • Similarly, don’t offer a dog any treats until the owner gives you permission. Depending on their diet, the dog may not be able to enjoy the treats you have on hand.
  2. Encourage the dog to sniff your hand. Hold out your hand around the dog’s nose level so they can give it a good sniff. Let the pet smell your hand for several seconds, or until they feel comfortable enough to let you approach. Once the dog is comfortable with your presence, you can pet and engage with the dog more.[2]
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    • Dogs have a very strong sense of smell, and tend to identify things by scent. Letting a dog sniff you lets them give you a once-over, and helps put them more at ease.
  3. Play with the dog without staring at it or making loud noises. Avert your gaze as you play, and try not to stare at anyone’s dog directly. This can come across as intimidating, and the dog may have a negative reaction if they think you’re a threat. Instead, look at the dog while they’re looking in a different direction.[3]
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  4. Watch for signs that the dog is uncomfortable or agitated. Pay attention to a dog’s ears, which can signal when the animal is angry, nervous, or just uncomfortable. Note that lip-licking and yawning are signs of anxiety and nervousness, while flattened ears and a tucked tail indicate fear. Additionally, if a dog’s tail is really stiff while they’re wagging it, then the animal is being aggressive.[4]
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    • For instance, if a stranger’s dog has its tail tucked in, back away since the dog is scared and uncomfortable.

[Edit]Experimenting with Games and Toys

  1. Play tug of war to keep the dog engaged. Invite the dog to pull on the end of a toy. Wait for your dog to let go of the toy eventually, then wait a few seconds before declaring a rematch. Try to instigate this game with the dog so you can stay in control.[5]
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    • You may need to grab the collar of larger dogs if they refuse to let go of the toy. If you’re playing with someone else’s dog, ask permission before you do something like this.
    • Tug of war can be played with a variety of objects, like a rope toy or your pet’s favorite blanket.
  2. Entice the dog with a game of fetch. Toss a flying disk or other fetchable toy around, then encourage the dog to bring the toy back. If you’re playing with your own dog, start by praising the dog for holding the toy. Graduate to running backwards while holding onto a treat so your dog will chase after you while still holding the toy.[6]
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    • Some dogs are more into fetching than others. Don’t be discouraged if your dog isn’t interested in this game right away!
  3. Invite the dog to play hide and seek with you. Find a neighboring room or enclosed area to hide while the dog stays in a separate area. Yell the dog’s name and praise them with treats once they find you.[7]
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    • You can play this inside or outside, depending on your living space.
    • If the dog is really eager, you may need someone to hold them back while you go hide.
    • Impatient dogs may not be a great fit for this kind of game.
    • When playing hide and seek with a smaller dog, you may want to hide close by so the dog doesn’t have to search very far.
  4. Encourage the dog to search for their favorite toy. Throw or hide the dog’s toy somewhere in your living area or out in some open grass. Unlike fetching, invite the dog to sniff around and search for the toy. Use an excited voice so your dog is really engaged and inspired to keep looking.[8]
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    • Always hide toys in safe places where you don’t mind your dog poking around.
    • Any kind of dog can play this game, though some pets may not have a long enough attention span for this activity. For impatient pups, hide treats or segments of their meal instead of a toy.
  5. Supervise while the dog plays with a squeaky toy. Some dogs like to entertain themselves by throwing their squeaky toys in the air and pouncing over them. Keep an eye on dogs as they do this to make sure they don’t eat or destroy their toys.[9]
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    • Sometimes, dogs will try to remove the squeaker from the toy.
    • Any dog can enjoy a good squeaky toy—just keep in mind that stronger, rambunctious dogs may rip into their toys more quickly than a smaller, mild-mannered dog.
  6. Engage the dog with a flirt pole. Find a park or other open area where you can run around with the dog. Hold out a flirt pole, which is a long pole with a lure attached to 1 end. Encourage the dog to change after the lure.[10]
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    • You may be able to find this at a pet supply store.
    • A flirt pole may be a great option for a high energy dog, like a Golden Retriever.
  7. Blow bubbles to entertain the dog. Take a normal bottle of bubbles and blow a few in your dog’s general direction. Some pets will be really entertained by this, and will chase after and try to eat the bubbles.[11]
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    • Always use a non-toxic bubble solution that’s recommended for children!
    • This is a great option if the weather is too overcast to play outside.
    • Any dog can play with bubbles, though it likely depends on their personality and interest level, and what kinds of games they usually enjoy.
  8. Set up a pool and other water games in your yard. Find a kiddie pool and fill it with a few inches or centimeters of water. Encourage your dog to splash around and enjoy the water, especially if the weather is hot. You can also turn the hose on and encourage your dog to splash around with the water.[12]
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    • Some dogs aren’t a fan of the water, which is totally normal. You can play a different outdoor game with them!
    • This is a great outdoor activity for dogs of all sizes.
  9. Stuff a dog toy with treats to keep your dog amused. Find a dog toy with a lot of cracks and openings for dog treats. Let the dog sniff the toy and start rolling and chasing it on their own. The dog may burn a lot of energy just from chasing the toy![13]
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    • If you’re playing with someone else’s dog, always ask permission before giving treats.

[Edit]Practicing Safe Playtime with Your Dog

  1. Teach your dog the “take” and “leave” commands so they can play safely. Use treats as a way to encourage your dog to “take” and “leave” toys so they don’t become possessive during playtime. Place a treat on the ground and wait for your dog to stop going after it—once they stop, reward them with an even better treat. To practice “take it,” let your dog have the initial treat after they stop trying to nose it out of your hand.[14]
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    • For instance, try putting a treat in your closed palm, then wait for them to stop sniffing and nudging your hand. Once they behave, open your hand and use a clicker to praise your pet, while saying “take it.”
  2. Encourage your dog not to bite during playtime. If your dog bites you, make a loud noise or yell like you’re in pain, even if you aren’t hurt. Keep your hand still so your dog realizes that biting is hurtful and bad to do. If your pet still isn’t getting the idea, ignore them for 10-20 seconds as a brief time-out period.[15]
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    • For instance, simply turning away from your dog for 10 seconds can count as a time-out.
  3. Make the toy look exciting so your dog wants to play with it. Don’t wave a new toy in your dog’s face—instead, hold it gently in your arms and hug it, showing your dog that the toy is valuable. To get your dog interested, drop the toy near them and then pick it up quickly, which further proves your pet that the toy is valuable and interesting. Once your dog is interested, play tug of war to make them even more engaged.[16]
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    • The tug of war game should only last a few seconds, or else your dog may get bored of the toy.
  4. Hold any dog toys below your waist so your dog isn’t tempted to jump. Keep an eye on where you hold your dog’s toy so they aren’t tempted to jump or leap onto you. Try to do this whenever you play your dog, so your pet knows that they shouldn’t jump around during playtime.[17]
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    • This will also make it safer and easier for others to play with your dog.
  5. Play for 5-10 minutes and see if your dog is satisfied. Give your dog several minutes of undivided play attention and see if it wears them out. Depending on the size and usual energy level of your pet, you may need to play with your dog for longer before they’re satisfied.[18]
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    • Active dogs need around 30 minutes of exercise each day, but the amount of playtime your dog needs depends on the other kinds of exercise your dog gets. For instance, if you take your dog on a 20-minute walk, you can dedicate 10 minutes or so to rigorous playtime.[19]
  6. Enforce a consistent play schedule if you have multiple dogs. Dedicate certain sections of playtime to each dog, so all your pets get to burn their energy. If one of your dogs runs after a toy that isn’t meant for them, call them back and have them sit or lay down. Give that dog a 30-second time-out, then proceed with your usual playtime.[20]
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  • Call a vet if a dog looks hurt or injured.[21]
  • Stay still if a random dog approaches you. Any sudden movements could startle it.[22]


  • Don’t bother a dog if it’s eating or resting.[23]
  • Don’t try to pet a stray dog—it may not be friendly or trained, and could lash out if you try to pet it.[24]
  • Some larger dogs don’t know their own strength, and may knock you over by accident. If this happens, roll into a ball and stay as still as possible so the dog realizes they’ve done something wrong.[25]
  • Always supervise young children and babies when they’re around dogs.[26]

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