Tuesday, June 30, 2015

5 easy ways to tempt any dog to play

Boston terrier dog playing ball
Some dogs are just born playful. If you just look at them in the right way, they'll spring into action, hopping, leaping and doing all sorts of wonderful dog-play things.

But there are some dogs that are a little more leery of play, particularly when they're asked to get into a game with strangers.

Sinead is one of these dogs. She'll play like crazy with me, but she rarely feels comfortable interacting in a playful manner with people she doesn't know all that well. And until yesterday, I thought that picky habit had to do with her and her innate thoughtful nature.

But then I stumbled across a study.

Researchers looked closely at the play habits of a bunch of dogs, trying to determine what sorts of human things were the most likely to get these critters in the mood to interact. And, as it turns out, we humans have been getting the dog thing all wrong.

These are the top 5 proven ways to get a dog to play, per this research:
  1. Chase the pup for a second, and then run off to let the pup chase you.
  2. Tap your chest to get the pup to jump up on you. 
  3. Grab or hold a pup's paws.
  4. Play bow.
  5. Lunge forward. 
And here are the least-effective ways to get pups to play:
  1. Touch or pat the floor.
  2. Clap.
  3. Scruff the pup. 
  4. Stomp your feet.
  5. Kiss the dog.
Fascinating stuff right? Especially considering that a lot of the behaviors that don't inspire dogs tend to be the behaviors humans throw out there very frequently. And those habits associated with happy pup play can look (to me) a little like inspiring aggression or bad behavior. For those of us spending weeks of training time on the "down" command, it seems weird to encourage it.
 Pug and whale dog toy
But here's the thing: It's good to know what behaviors inspire dogs, so we can use them judiciously in the right circumstances. If I really want Sinead to play with someone new, for example, because I want her to get over a new and sudden fear of someone I really like, I might encourage that person to do a play bow or chest tap. It could help to break the ice, just once.

And, knowing what makes dogs tick could also help me when I'm meeting dogs I don't know all that well. These tips could help me to entice those pups to play just a little faster (which could make me look a little more dog awesome).

If you'd like to see another summation of this study, click here. But also, if you have opinions about these results and how they apply to dog play, I'd love to hear them! Drop me a note and tell me what techniques work for you.


  1. Interesting post. My favourite games involve treats and puzzles. Especially sausages!
    Muffin x

  2. What a great article. I have had those dogs that maybe are visiting and I've tried to get them to play and they won't. I was doing all the wrong things. I will remember your tips.

  3. Hi Y'all!

    I don't have a problem, I like to initiate play or attention from guests. My Human has to be strict with me so I don't make a real pest of myself. A 100 lb retriever leaning into someone's lap and face is not always welcomed.

    If you tired to initiate play with a play bow, I'd probably pounce all 100 lbs on top of you! I've done it to my Human. She says "no fun"!

    Guess you have to reserve those tactics for more reticent dogs, and maybe smaller dogs.

    Y'all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    1. That's an interesting point, and I agree with you. It seems the researchers of the original study were more interesting in enticing play than they were in cultivating good manners, so some of the tips do seem a little off. Liam is only 24 pounds, for example, but I wouldn't want him leaping on me!

      But still, the idea that these are universal play signs in all dogs intrigues me. I think it's a good point for rescues, in particular. If we're doing play all wrong, maybe we're hitting up playful dogs with an unplayful tag, just because we're not initiating the play quite right.

      Weird, huh?