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How Do Puppies Play? Facts, Signs, Toy Suggestions & FAQ

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on June 26, 2024 by Dogster Team

beagle puppy biting a chew ball

How Do Puppies Play? Facts, Signs, Toy Suggestions & FAQ

Puppies are among the cutest creatures on Earth. They’re small, cuddly, and always ready to play. Other dogs are a puppy’s best friend, and together they can have hours of fun. From chasing each other around to playing fetch, puppies always find a way to have a good time. This is why puppies make such great pets. They bring happiness and laughter into our lives.

In every home, there are rules that the family must follow. The same goes for when you bring a new puppy home. Whether you have one dog or multiple dogs, it is important to introduce them properly so they can learn to get along and co-exist peacefully. Usually, you can tell that playing went too rough when one of the puppies is trying to disengage. Fighting is an instinct for dogs, but with proper guidance and socialization from their owners, puppies can learn to play nicely—with you, with others, and with other dogs.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-01-TESTWhy Puppies Play

Puppies are born learning. From the moment they open their eyes, they are taking in information about the world around them. Playing is an important part of this learning process. It allows puppies to explore their environment and figure out how to interact with other dogs and people. Most puppies start playing around three weeks of age. This is when they are starting to get a bit more mobile and are beginning to explore their surroundings. Puppies typically play by themselves at first, but as they socialize more with other dogs and people, they learn how to play together.

Puppy playtime is important for socialization, physical development, and mental stimulation. It helps puppies learn about bite inhibition, appropriate levels of roughness, and body language cues. Puppies who don’t get enough playtime may end up being afraid or shy around other dogs and people.

puppy playing on the grass
Image Credit: webentwicklerin, Pixabay

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Signs That Puppies Are Playing

Puppies are so cute that it’s easy to forget they’re also animals with their own set of behaviors—including play. When you see your puppy playing, it can be tempting to join in or to try and stop them from getting too rowdy. But how can you tell if your puppy is truly playing or if they’re just being disruptive? The first thing to look for is your puppy’s general body language—are they calm, their tails wagging, their overall posture loose and relaxed? If so, then they are probably playing.

The second thing to look at is your puppy’s facial expression. Puppies that are having fun usually show it on their faces with soft expressions like a big-mouthed soft grin; they also tend to exaggerate their movements and look silly.

How Puppies Play

Dogs and puppies have developed a universal signal, like a handshake, that lets them tell another dog that what comes next is play and not something that will end up in a fight. This signal, the “play bow”, is initiated by one puppy where they extend their paws in front, lower their head and raise their rear in the air—this is often preceded by a small bounce and a slap of the front paws on the ground leading directly into the play bow. Often, but not always, the play bow will be reciprocated by another dog.  Once playtime has been agreed puppies are then free to start to have at it, and they will!

Puppy play includes a lot of rough and tumble, with growling, chasing, attacking, barging, and play biting. Puppies will take turns in being ‘defeated’, allowing themselves to be caught, falling, and lying on their backs to expose their vulnerable belly areas. Vocalization is very important with exaggerated growling and snarling that can sound scarier than the real thing. But the real sign that your puppy is having fun is, that no matter what is happening to them, they keep getting up and going back for more.

labrador retriever puppy playing toy
Image Credit: NotarYES, Shutterstock

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How To Play with Your Puppy

Your puppy will want to play with you whenever they are feeling energetic or bored. They may use the play bow and lots of jumping around to show you that they are feeling playful. One of the easiest things to do is get on the ground, join in, and play wrestle with your dog. However, as nipping and biting are a normal part of puppy play you may find your puppy bites you. Whilst this is a normal part of play, it can still hurt, and maybe you don’t want to teach your dog that it is ok to bite you—when your dog is fully grown it might hurt a lot more!

What you can do instead is get your dog a number of different toys for you to play with together.

Toys You and Your Puppy Can Play With

You can start playtime with your puppy by holding up a toy and offering it to your puppy. Rope and tug toys are a great way for you and your puppy to play with. You can exaggerate your play and pretend to pull much harder on the toy than you are. Let your puppy win some of the time so they get the satisfaction of ‘winning’ and the self-esteem that comes from it.

If whilst playing your puppy gets nippy you could re-direct them to a chew toy. A chew toy will give your puppy a way to play with its mouth that doesn’t involve you.  To reinforce this behavior whenever your puppy accidentally bites you or your clothes playtime is over. Get up and walk away. Your puppy will quickly learn that biting you is not part of playtime.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03 Frequently Asked Questions

When Do Puppies Grow Out of Play Fighting?

Playing could be the key to lifelong happiness for your dog, but play fighting at the intensity that puppies engage in, is not. When puppies engage in play fighting, they are imitating the aggressive behaviors that they may need to use as adults. This play provides an opportunity for puppies to practice those behaviors in a safe and controlled environment. Puppies typically grow out of play fighting by the time they are six to eight months old. While some adult dogs may still engage in play fighting, it is typically not to the same extent as puppies.

How Can I Tell if Puppies Play is Too Rough?

The clearest sign that puppy play has got too rough is that one dog will be trying to disengage and get away. It may actually be the bigger or older dog that wants to end it and get away because they are either tired of playing or they have found that the younger dog is taking it too far and is missing the cues to calm it down. Other signs that you might see are displays of fear or discomfort such as yipping or crying, or aggression such as growling and the hackles on their back standing up.

If you are in any doubt, break up the play and redirect the puppies to something else. If your puppy or dog was not in genuine distress, you will probably see that they want to re-engage with the play.

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Puppies play for many reasons: in order to learn, to have fun, to burn off energy, and of course to relieve boredom.  You can tell a puppy is playing through their body language and the way they interact with you and their toys. Playing is characterized by exaggerated energetic behavior with loud sounds. For several months your puppy will engage in lots of play fighting with biting and nipping. When playing with a puppy use toys to replace your hands and fingers as objects for your dog to bite.

Featured Image Credit: tetiana_u, Shutterstock

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