Dog playing with a tug toy

The Power of Play

  -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.

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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

A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.

Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son.

He has also enjoyed 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.