Do Dogs Need to Play?

The Animal Rescue Site

Gram and I are sitting here on the patio waiting to the rain to start falling, it is a gloomy dark day here in sunny Florida.

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Gram and I have been playing with some of my toys and that started our conversation about dogs and playing. Playing is a very important part of my life and should be for most dogs. I have Mr, Yule to play with and my mom and pop-pop have many friends who bring over their dogs for me to play with, so I am a very happy dog. However, many people do not realize that play is very important to a dog.

It has been said in the human world “all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.” Well, it is about the same in the canine world, too. It is important that a dog gets to play with other dogs, not only for fun and exercise, but to develop and to keep its socialization skills.

Play sessions with other dogs is important because if the dog does not associate with others of its kind, it will soon “desocialize” and lose its ability to interact with other dogs.

Dogs in many ways are a lot like people, they have their preferences as to who they want to play with. Even the most socialized dog will not want to play with every dog it meets.

Some dogs prefer to play with like colored dogs, that have gentle type play styles, some prefer to play with males instead of females, and some prefer to play with young dogs, while others prefer older dogs. There are dogs that love to play with a large group and some who prefer one on one play.

It is important that you are aware of your dog’s play styles and you learn this by watching your dog as a puppy playing with other dogs.

What are dog play styles? Well, some dogs like cat-like play (pouncing – using their paws, spinning around the other dog without touching); others like chasing (with playful stalking and taking turns chasing one another.) Larger breeds love to body slam each other (which includes hard bumps, shouldering, pushing into walls and wrestling) and then there is the neck-biting group (lying down with gentle neck biting, also on the face and ears.)

Different breeds have different styles of play. Toy breeds seem to prefer the cat and mouse pouncing type of play, sighthounds love a good game of chase, the working dogs like Newfoundlands and Saint Bernard’s love chasing and body slamming. While other working dogs like boxers, Great Danes, Samoyed, mastiffs and huskies like neck biting in their playtime.

How do you know which dog will make a good playmate for your dog? Size matters, the dogs should be similar in size and neither dog should be more than twice the weight of the other.

You need to make introductions gradually. It is important that the dogs meet each other on neutral ground (either through a fence or by walking each dog on a leash.)

If your dog has never been to a dog park it is a good idea is to leave your dog off leash in the holding area until the dogs in the play area have greeted your dog through the fence and have gone back to play. This removes the stress your dog would feel if suddenly a large group of dogs loomed down on him/her and your dog has no place to escape to.

Once your dog joins the group in the play area, keep a watchful eye on the group. Dogs are like children and sometimes playing in a large group ends up with one or more getting mad, upset or hurt. They need constant supervision.

As an owner visiting the dog park with your pet is it wise to keep moving, this keeps the dogs moving and they are less apt to get into a scuffle. It is also a very good idea if your dog and another are playing hard, make them take a ten-second break every few minutes. This keeps the excitement down and prevents any mishaps, as dogs like children get overly excited.

If you notice any sign of stress either in your dog or the dog(s) involved in the play call a halt to the game. Signs of stress can be half-moon eyes, lip licking, a dropped down tail, yawning, and ears pulled back or stiff body language.

It is times like this that you have to listen to your instincts and not to what other people might be saying. Any sign that does not feel right to you is definitely a sign to get your dog and leave. By doing so you may be saving your dog and yourself from a bad situation.

Things to keep in mind:

If you have a small dog it is important that you find a dog park that has a separate area for small dogs only. Medium and large dogs need lots of space to run and play, if your park is not very large, try going at off-hours, if possible.

There are more and more groups being formed for play dates for dogs, you can find a group in your area by going to or by doing a Google search in your area.

One of the best things you can do, is make play dates for your dog in your backyard with dogs of your friends and neighbors. Just be certain to supervise and keep things calm.

If you have a puppy, be certain that it has all its shots before taking it to a dog park and when you are there be very watchful, as a bad experience for your impressionable puppy, could create a life long problem with other dogs.

Playgroups, dog parks and backyard romps with friends is a great way for a puppy/dog to let off steam, get exercise and learn social dog manners. It is up to you, however, to recognize your dog’s method of playing and to keep that in mind, when introducing him/her to other dogs. It is also your responsibility to know when your dog has had enough and needs to stop playing and go home.

It is all about having fun and as with children, you need to know when “enough is enough” when it comes to doggy playtime.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that Gram and I have given you food for thought about the importance playing has in your dog's life. Until next time, I remain,

Your Sadie