Play Patterns Between Dogs and Humans

When your dog likes to play, do you ever give thought to how they play? All pets have their favorites modes of play with their human caregivers and understanding each helps enhance the experience, keeps you and your dog safer, and furthers the bond between you and your furry family member. Essentially, there are four patterns of play: toss and retrieve, tug, comfort and security, and chew.

dog playing catch Toss and retrieve – not sure this needs a whole lot of explaining, but it’s one of the most rewarding for dogs. It incorporates exercise and praise and is fairly easy. Some cautions to consider: make sure what you toss is soft enough and not too small that it can be swallowed by your dog as he runs back to return it to you. Example: tennis ball is good; golf ball is bad. Also be aware of your surroundings. Toss and retrieve should never be played near a street nor in a dog park where other dogs might be inclined to want to join in. My preference is to play on a small hill. I throw the ball down the hill. My dog has to run back up. Great exercise!

Tug of war – this is another one that doesn’t need a whole lot of explaining, but it’s filled with cautions. First – your dog wants to win, and they won’t let an injury like a pulled tooth get in the way. Use a toy that won’t chip or break or tear but is also soft enough that it won’t harm your dog’s teeth. There are plenty of good tug of war toys for sale. I prefer a medium hardness rubber device with handles on each side. The key is when your dog starts to pull really hard – release and let them win. If they get too aggressive, stop, and let them settle down. Tug of war played well and safely has a cadence to it, like a dance.

Comfort and security play patterns require soft toys and squeakers which delight dogs as much as they irritate humans. Dogs will engage these types of toys in and comfortable and secure environment – get the terminology. It means they are not in an environment where they feel threatened by another dog or human. The only issue I have with this type of play pattern is that most dogs can’t tell the difference between a plush toy for them and a bedroom slipper or a child’s stuffed animal. I find it confusing for the furry family member so it’s a play pattern I try to avoid.

dogs playing with bubbles Chew play patterns – this is one of my favorites because simply put, most dogs, especially younger ones, need to chew. I’d rather have them chew on a toy than on my furniture. Stay away from bones that can splinter and harm teeth, and stay away from thin rawhide chews that wind up as small pieces at the end and pose choking hazards. I look for medium strength plastic chew toys knowing they will disintegrate over time. Once I see little pieces, it’s time to move on. I love the fully digestible chews that clean teeth and stimulate gums. It’s good for the chewing need and good for the dog’s oral care. Don’t get sucked in by expensive chews that promote added protein. Good quality dogfood provides the best nutrition.

A lot of the above involves buying the right toys and knowing your dog. Play patterns are always a good discussion topic, so seek me out and let’s chat about what is best for your dog. I am always a bark away.


Carolyn Lapps is the General Manager at Fetch Family Pet Resort. Her love and passion for all animals began at a young age and has led to a career. She is frequently consulted on pet socialization, family integration issues, and is highly regarded for her experience with domestic animal management and care.