The Power of Play

Dog playing with a tug toy

  -12   In addition to basic obedience commands, heel, sit, stay, and come, I like to demonstrate the power of play in my dog training classes. I don’t let the dogs run around the training grounds, chasing each other in mad, uncontrolled circles. Instead, I demonstrate with my dog, Harry, how to motivate and reward your dog by playing one-on-one with it.

In my opinion, the power of play is one of the most underrated aspects of dog training and one of the great joys of owning a dog.

Harry and my games are a variety on a simple theme. There’s wrestling (as demonstrated to my class), tug-of-war with a rope tug toy, chasing a ball and bringing it back and chasing Harry who’s run off with the tug toy or ball.

Play creates a strong bond between you and your dog. It’s a great “free” reward during training and it allows you to set behaviour limits. For instance, teaching your dog not to bite you when wrestling!

This raises an important point: Some dogs will use play to assert themselves. Do not play tug-of-war with your dog if you can’t command it to release the tug toy.

Furthermore, children should not play with a dog unless an adult has established limits for the dog and children and is supervising the play.

At eight-and-half years old Harry is as playful now as when he was a pup. And the reason for this is simple: Harry is rewarded for playing because I enjoy our games and he obviously does, too.

© 2007 Robert Fairhead 

Robert Fairhead

Robert Fairhead

Sydney, NSW, Australia.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is an editor and a writer for Tall And True and blogs at He enjoys reading, writing, playing the guitar, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Footy with his son. Robert has worked as an electrician, sales and marketing rep, computer programmer, dog trainer and (wanna-be) writer. He also had a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

This article appeared in the Village Voice Eastern-Harbourside in October 2007 and in my club newsletter, PawPrints, in 2007 (copy available online). I loved playing games with Harry and did so right up until he passed away, four years after I wrote this article.


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