Games To Play With Your Dog

Your dog wants to play games with you, make no bones about it. And while dogs at play can look like dogs at war, chasing, tugging, and mouthing are all normal for them; completely discouraging these intuitive behaviors in your dog makes for a very frustrated canine. Fun, active dog games are excellent for him when the play is controlled, and that is the key: the human always starts the game, the human always ends the game. When your dog understands this important rule, he will benefit from years of active, safe playtime with his beloved human and other companions.

The Best Dog Games

From summer to winter, there are a variety of games you can play with your dog, whether outside in the snow or grass or inside in the comfort of your home.

Fetch (Chase and Retrieve)

This is a wonderful, classic dog game, but don’t allow it to become tug-of-war with the ball or toy. Make sure your dog knows a “release” command and walk away from the game if he refuses to surrender the object.

Hide-and-Seek with Toys

Hiding a dog toy in your house and tasking your dog with finding it is an intellectually stimulating game for him, and a superb rainy-day activity. It’s easiest with two people, where one holds the dog while the other hides the toy. Then toss the toy for the dog as a reward when he finds it.

If your dog is unaccustomed to finding and bringing you his toy, begin with a simple exercise, where you place the toy very close to him, say “Find it!” and praise him when he goes near it, even if he does not pick it up. Continue like this, treating him when he picks up his toy; then praise him when he brings it to you, and trade the toy for a tasty dog treat. Place it further and further from him, until you can take it to another room and hide it. This is also an excellent training tool for a dog who is reluctant to surrender a toy that has been thrown for him.

Hide-and-Seek with You

If your dog is competent with “Stay!” you can play this without a second person. Give him the command, and then go hide in another room. Call his name and praise him for finding you. After a few repetitions, hide in more challenging places and reward him with a toy or treat or a game of tug-of-war when he finds you.

Or play with two people: have one person stay with the dog while you hide. When he is looking for you, the other person can hide and call him. Repeat this game only a few times so he does not lose interest.

Find the Treat

Take several opaque plastic cups, hide a treat under one, and ask your dog to find it. Increase the number of cups and distribute them over a wider area to make the game more challenging.

Agility Course

This is an excellent game to play in a family with children. Set up low bars, high bars, and tunnels using dowels, books, chairs, large, open-ended boxes or other sturdy containers, portable stairs, and hula hoops. Ask the dog to follow along as your child navigates the obstacle course, stepping over low bars, crouching under high ones (placed high enough the dog does not attempt to jump over them), and crawling through the boxes.

Alternately, hide treats throughout the course in tough-to-find spots and rub the scent of the food in various places to encourage your dog to find his way to the treats. This game can be played outdoors or inside on a rainy day; it gets everyone involved and intellectually stimulates the canine in your crowd.

Silly Pet Tricks

Encourage your dog to lift his paw and “shake,” by holding a treat very close to his muzzle in your fisted hand. He will smell the treat in your hand and instinctively lift his paw to try to get it. Practice with both the right and the left paw. You can do the same when he is in a down-stay, placing the treat near his nose and then raising it around and over the back of his head to encourage him to roll over or onto his back. These fun dog games also have a practical application for ease of grooming, and present an excellent opportunity for positive interaction between a child and his dog.


When strict rules of play are observed this can be an excellent game and calming tool. Be sure to use a tug toy long enough that your dog can grab his end without coming into contact with your hand. You always initiate the game, never your dog. And you should always be able to “win” a game of tug-of-war with your dog, meaning get him to release the tug toy and sit on command. “Win” the game at least once for every 30 seconds of play. Also mix in short training breaks between games, where you practice other commands. Restart the game as a reward. Make sure anyone else who plays tug-of-war with your dog understands these rules, and these important tug-of-war caveats:

  • If he puts his teeth on you: stalk away, wait 30 seconds, return, ask him to sit, and then practice taking away and giving back the toy a few times before you resume.
  • If he takes the toy before you tell him to: give him a 30 second timeout. Then ask him to sit and offer him the toy again.
  • If he messes up three times in a row: game over.
  • In most cases tug-of-war should be avoided between a dog and a child.

Dog Games to Avoid

These games reinforce undesirable dog behaviors and should be avoided:

  • Chasing Games
  • Play Wrestling
  • Jumping up for Food or Toys (teasing)
  • Tug-of-War, unless strict rules are observed during play, as outlined above.
  • Nibbling or Tugging on socks, toes, or fingers

Endearing though it may seem, this behavior should be discouraged in your puppy to prevent mouthing as an adolescent or adult.

Healthy, active games with your dog are not only fun, they’re essential: he needs playtime with you and with other dogs to exercise his natural instincts, to stimulate his intellect and develop social skills, and to release the bottled-up energy that is part and parcel of living among humans. He wants nothing more earnestly than your time and affection—what better way to show him your love than engaging him with fun dog games.

You may also like:

How to Play Safely with Your Dog

How to Choose Safe Toys for Your Dog

Are You Ready for a Dog? A Guide for First-Time Dog Owners

Dog Training 101 with Melinda Benbow

Dog Safety Guidelines for Kids & Families