Any play can turn into a problem if you don’t think through the rules and regular routine of the game beforehand. It’s a good idea to think about what the game is actually ‘for’!
Let’s think of a basic ‘fetch’ game. Simply tossing a ball over and over until your dog falls down, exhausted, might sound like the best idea for a quiet life but can create a serious obsession for your dog. It can also create injury issues as the dog repeatedly lands on the same joints over and over in a frenzied attempt to catch. As we know, nothing is good when it’s excessively repetitive. This can be particularly problematic with some working breeds such as Border Collies, who then constantly obsess about the game and cannot break off from it.
Now let’s look at chasing your dog. I have heard several owners say they love running after their pooch while it gambols about the lawn. This might be hilarious as a mock ‘I am gonna getcha!’ game but it actually teaches the dog to run away from you. This has to be the very last thing you want your dog to learn. It is even worse when the dog also has a toy and learns to ‘keep away’. Before too long you have taught your dog never to return to you and also, that they can hold onto things without giving them back.
How about play fighting, where you encourage your dog to mouth on your hands or clothes. Even if they are gentle, you are teaching your dog that mouthing people is a great game. You might be fine with it, but it may not be the same for anyone else, especially anyone frail or small. It’s not a thing to boast about, ‘He doesn’t hurt me!’. You have taught a dog to play with people using their grabbing and mouthing behaviours, which could be easily misinterpreted as biting. Easily done and forever a problem, so the quick answer is, don’t teach it. Using their mouth on people is a habit we do not want any dog to learn.
This doesn’t mean you can’t play with your dog – far from it! Reverse the above. Ask your dog to bring things back to you, little and often. Vary the game by hiding things for them to fetch rather than asking them to run back and forth. If they need that much running exercise, teach them a send away.
Instead of chasing your dog, invite them to chase you! Easy!
And finally, play with a toy rather than your body. There are millions of dog toys out there, and you only really need to pick one. It’s not hard, and it’s a lot of fun. Enjoy!