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Why is Play So Important for Your Relationship with Your Dog?

Isn’t playing with your dog just the best? Playing with your dog is something that can be done anytime, anywhere. We can use play as a great way of bonding with our dogs, and also use it as a motivator for training. 

Bonding with Your Dog Through Play

Here are our thoughts on why play is so good for strengthening the relationship between you and your dog: 

  • It gives your dog a workout. Play is a great way to exercise with your dog, help them burn off some energy and keep them fit.
  • Play builds trust. It takes two to tango, and playing with your dog often involves trust that you won’t tug too hard, or fling the toy back at them. It also teaches your dog that you’re safe and fun to be around.
  • Having fun creates positive associations. Play is fun for your dog, and can be used to give your dog confidence in situations or locations that they may have had negative experiences in previously.
  • You can inspire each other. You can play with toys, of course, but they’re not required to have fun and play games with your dog!
  • Play releases endorphins. You can help to raise a dog’s mood and put them in a positive emotional state, which helps them be happier day-to-day.
  • Play can be a great motivator and reinforcer. You can use play as a training reward, and many dogs actually enjoy play as a reward more than food.
  • Play may improve your dog’s memory. Yep, research has indicated that a play session at the end of a training session can help dogs retain that information better, and perform better in the next day’s session. 
cartoon of dog playing with a tug toy being held by a person's hand
What your dog wants most is your time and attention, so set time aside to spend together. ©Zigzag


How to Play with Your Dog

Here are some ideas for bonding with your dog through play:

  • Pick the right toys. Different dogs like different toys! Terriers often like shaggy prey-like toys that they can rag and chase, whereas border collies prefer toys they can stop moving, like balls. Spaniels and retrievers have wide mouths to pick things up so they tend to like a larger soft toy they can carry around, or even just a tennis ball tied up in a sock.
  • Choose the right game. After all, retrievers are gonna retrieve and terriers wanna chase. Bull breeds like quite hands-on wrestley-type games, but we don’t recommend this with puppies, and go gently! Bullies are super sensitive dogs, no need to be too rough.
  • Give your dog plenty of time to play. What your dog wants most is your time and attention, so don’t scrimp and do set time aside to spend with them. 
  • Be careful how you play. Don’t get too rough or get your dog twisting around, or slamming on the ground, you can really hurt them if you’re not careful, and that will make your dog trust you less, not more. 
  • Be silly! Play should be silly, perhaps you want to play ‘catch me’ or ‘chase me’ – then reverse the roles and see if your dog likes to be chased. Get low on the floor and just enjoy playing with your dog. 
  • Remember to take breaks. Making sure you take regular breaks, where your dog can calm down, is important so that you’re not constantly keeping them at high arousal.

Play is often overlooked for food rewards when we’re creating a bond with our dogs through training or building a relationship, but it really is worth carving some time out to do things just for fun! 

About the Author

Petrina Firth is a Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behaviorist of over 10 years who now mainly specializes in Separation Anxiety (CSAT) and also creates content, lessons and articles for the Zigzag puppy training app and website. Petrina is a member of the Pet Professional Guild, the head of marketing and board member for the APDT UK, and a member of the CAPBT committee. She is also a tech and gadget enthusiast who enjoys city living with her rescue French Bulldog and partner.

The Zigzag logoZigzag is a puppy training app with a difference, rather than focusing solely on obedience we take puppy guardians on a journey through Life Skills and important developmental stages, to hopefully give them happy, confident and well-behaved puppies, with an understanding that puppies and dogs aren’t robots, they have big feelings, and that’s ok!


Zigzag is a Pet Professional Guild Corporate Partner.

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