Does Your Dog Play?


Think back to your childhood for a moment: What was your favorite game to play?

Did you chase your friends in tumbling games of tag or red rover? Did you wrestle with your siblings, only pausing when someone started to cry? or bleed? How about “Let’s see who can climb higher in this tree”?

Whatever your favorite childhood game, think now to the present. Do you play those same games with your adult friends? Do you spend summer evenings chasing other grownups in a roaring game of flashlight tag? Or Marco Polo in your backyard pool?

Probably not.

Unless you’re playing with children, of course. But with your adult friends?

Isn’t it interesting, then, that dogs play their entire lives? As adults, they play as they did as puppies–with their puppy friends and with their adult friends.

Most animals cease that kind of raucous play as they age.

Not dogs, though!

Why? It’s an interesting question, but let’s take a look at puppies and puppy play before we dig into adult dogs’ playful antics.

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Just like human children or chimpanzee infants or tiger cubs, puppies play to learn and to build relationships.

On the Companion Animal Psychology blog, Zazie Todd, Ph.D., sums up a 2015 paper on why dogs play:

Ultimately, dogs play because it helps them learn motor skills, build social cohesion and prepare for unexpected things to happen so they can cope better when they do. Different stages of play may have different functions, with the beginning and end of a play bout especially important for social cohesion, while the main part of play is most important for learning motor skills and preparing for the unexpected.

Source: Why Do Dogs Play? via Companion Animal Psychology

Playing with you, their person is also important for puppies, but finding suitable playmates through puppy play dates and classes makes the biggest impact. Obviously, make sure it’s a closely monitored class operated by a science-based trainer or facility, but then let them have at it. Just like small children, puppies need space to learn what is–and is not–appropriate from their peers.


At some point, most growing animals stop playing. I mean, we might challenge our family to a vicious game of Scrabble, but we’re probably not wrestling in the living room before dinner anymore. At least… most of us aren’t..

Adult dogs, though, keep up chase and bitey-face and tackle until their bodies give up on them, and even then they can rouse for a game now and again. I have a video of 13-year-old Emmett bouncing around the living room in a play bow with Cooper for almost three whole minutes. Of course, he napped for several hours afterward, but he still had the desire to play and wrestle with his brother.


Well, according to a Behavioural Processes article called, “Why do adult dogs ‘play’?” the authors suspect that playfulness of adult dogs has far more to do with US than it does with THEM! Here’s what they had to say:

… in our view, the playfulness of adult dogs could have been selected for during domestication, as an adaptive trait facilitating differential resource provisioning by humans. Dogs may be unique among the animal kingdom in the extent to which they are rewarded by affiliative social contact with humans–and within that context, by play. Repeated play appears to be a major factor in enhancing the relationship between dog and owner, and given that this link seems to be absent in wolves, may have been selected for during domestication.

Source: Why Do Adult Dogs ‘Play’? via Behavioural Processes

So, basically, dogs play because we liked wolves who played! The paper goes on to describe playfulness as appealing to our “cute” factor, among other things. And we already know how playing with dogs makes us healthier, happier humans, so it stands to reason that we domesticated dogs, in part, because they played with us! Interesting, huh?


“Solitary object play”–playing with toys alone–seems to be less fun for your dog than playing with you. So, while he might enjoy chewing or squeaking a toy, he’d probably rather play tug or fetch with you, according to the same Behavioural Processes article. The exception to that, btw, is a stuffed toy (like a Kong or food puzzle), which dogs love to do by themselves AND keeps them engaged and motivated.

However… since playing with YOU might be the very reason adult dogs play in the first place, it’s sort of an evolutionary responsibility that we play with our dogs all through their life, don’t you think?

That also means that adult dogs do NOT NECESSARILY need other dogs to play with. I realize this topic ruffles some feathers. Lots of folks think it’s vital for their dog to have tons of off-leash romping time with other dogs. And it CAN BE but isn’t necessarily true. Every single dog is different. Every single dog is an individual. Yes, dogs evolved to be playful their entire lives, but they do not have to be playful with one another. Playing with you is AWESOME! Sorry for all the CAPS in this paragraph, but it’s so important to emphasize that adult dogs who love to play with other dogs SHOULD, and dogs who do NOT love to play with other dogs SHOULD NOT be forced to.


The right kind of play is super fun for everyone involved. Knowing now that play evolved in dogs specifically because we humans loved it, I hope you take away a couple of key points: First, there is no need to try to mimic your dog’s style of play. Instead, focus on interactive games (tug, fetch, training games, etc.) and social activities (walking, hiking, etc.). Second, mix in enrichment (Kongs, squeaky toys, etc.) for solitary times. It’s still play for your pup! Third, don’t force your dog to play with other dogs just because dogs are playful. Instead, tailor his playtime to his personality.

In the meantime, I would love to know: Does YOUR dog like to play? Does he or she prefer to play with you or other dogs? What’s your pup’s favorite game?

Also, if you want to learn more about dogs, play, and other behavior topics, I recommend two of my favorite books about dog behavior:

And one I’m adding to my TBR pile (has anyone read this one yet??):

If you would like to have your pup’s pic in the gallery on this site, just fill out the form below and I will be glad to add your coolest dog on the planet to the gallery!

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8 thoughts on “Does Your Dog Play?”

  1. Thanks for this article. To answer your questions, my dogs do play. They play with each other but play more with me. They don’t like playing with other adults, but I noticed they enjoy playing with kids even if it is the first time they are coming across the kid. Any reason for this? Do they perceive kids differently from Adults?

    • Hello Dr. Mau,

      I do perceive kids differently than adults, well most of them. As far as a dog, it would be an educated guess but my experience tells me that dogs can see who a person really is. Not saying that in a bad way, I just think they might have a higher sense of awareness that could intimidate them when an adult is around. 

      I have seen those dogs that are like you speak of though and just won’t play with an adult. Could be size, maybe a bit worried when they tower over them. It is known that they are more likely to respond when you get down on their level. I have also seen ones who will not let you even touch them if you make eye contact but if you look away they will come up to you. Curious Critters for sure!

      I am glad your dogs like to play with you and you give them the time to do so! 

      Thanks for stopping in!


  2. Hi and thanks for sharing this insight into something many dog owners probably haven’t even thought about. Well, I at least for one didn’t think about it until I read this. Don’t domesticated cats play all their lives as well though. I can think of many cats I have known that played well into their adult years. Of course, this could be for very similar reasons that humans accepted cats that play more than cats that didn’t play. I’ve also heard that dolphins play throughout their lives as well. I suppose this could be a matter of degree. In other words, adult dog play differs less in degree from puppy dog play when compared with the differences between human adult play and human child play. But I am guessing. Best regards, Andy

    • Andy, 

      Did you say cat! Woof Woof, something to chase!

      I do say that cats are the same if not more playful than dogs in their older years. I have a cat that is 13 years old and we will find her in the kitchen rolling around on the floor all by herself just chasing shadows. Pretty comical really.

      Something I should have made more clear in the post is the effect that dogs playing has on people. As adults, we tend to lose our desire to just play but throw a dog in the mix and I will play with that dog! How do you think that affects me and the dog! Just doggone good for ya!

      Oh yeah, I would play with a dolphin too!

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. I think I understand why dogs love to play when they are pets…It’s because they see no threat looming over the horizon and feel totally safe in their surroundings. 

    They are also given a warm shelter, food and plenty of toys.  So they don’t have to hunt for food or dig a hole to hide in.  Their sense of childhood is therefore heightened because they are just as you say here – ‘domesticated’

    We as humans have a lot to learn from dogs or cats for that matter!

    • Hi Stella, 

      Dogs are a lot of fun! I think that my dogs keep me moving more than I would if they were not a part of my life.

      One of the hidden agendas of this post that can help all of the coolest dogs on the planet is that we, as humans lose that sense of carefree joy you get when you are playing. A dog will help you achieve that again if you let them. 

      I hope this helps someone see they can find great joy in just playing with their dog. It is good for them and you!

      Thanks for stopping by! 


      • Yes, I totally agree with you, dogs are a lot of fun!!!! And she diffentelly keeps me going. My dog Browny is very playful and she loves kids. Her favor toy seems to be the tennis balls. She is my babby girl. She can play all day long if I let her. She loves the water, the lakes and the canals. So far I didn’t take her to the beach nor hiking but I’m sure she would love it.

        • Yes they are! I have two pretty young Doodles. They are full of energy! Cora absolutely loves her tennis balls. We have found in research that with a dog’s vision, they see differently than we do, they can see blue tennis balls way better than the normal green or yellow ones. It is amazing how much more they like to play fetch with the blue ones.
          We all go hiking together, it is cherished moments for all of us! I hope you try and enjoy it too!


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