Playing with dogs is great fun, both for you and your dog. Most dogs are very playful, especially the young ones. Playing with your dog from the moment you get her/him, will help quickly form a bond between the two of you. And if it's an older dog you want to start playing more with, it might help change their opinon of you to a more positive one!
Playtime will give both of you a good round of exercise, depending on type of toy and intensity of play. (And, of course, the size of the dog!) These play sessions will help your pups' mental and physical health. We've coverd a bit more of the Why we play-part here.
Three different types of toys
There are three main types of toys, and your dog should have at least one or two of each. Some will last a lifetime, while others will succumb to your dogs' teeth rather quickly.
Active toys (like ropes, balls, fetching toys...)
Soft toys (like rubber animals with or without squeakers, plush toys...)
Distraction toys (slow feeders, brain games, chewing toys...)
The different types of toys have very different uses, and rotating types and toys for different
times of the day and different games, will keep your dog interested in the toys for a longer period of time. Very often you and your dog will find a preference for a single toy or a type of toy - and that's ok - that's kind of like you're bonding over the same hobby!
Active toys are the ones for rough play, including running, pulling and jumping. Many of these will be made out of thick ropes or high quality hard rubber. These will traditionally be the toys you use to play with your dog.
Ropes are great fun for playing Tug-Of-War. You should never leave toys made out of rope and fabric with your dog after playing. They might start chewing, ending up swallowing parts of the toy.
Different kinds of balls are also great activties. One of our favorites is a rubber soccer ball from Jolly Pets. You can use tennis balls, or any other kind of ball, but keep in mind that the insides of most balls are not good for your dog. The moment a ball punctures, you should throw it away to prevent injury or choking.
Playing Fetch! is an old classic. Sometimes the good old stick will do the trick, but you'll have plenty of fun by trying out some different toys. The ChuckIt Sportball Launcher is great for throwing balls.
While playing with these toys, take some time to train on commands as well. Make your dog sit, release the toy, or stay for a few seconds before you let them run. This is very good practice for making commands stick.
Dogs love their plush teddies and soft rubber squeeky toys. Toys like these are often treated in one of two ways by dog: either they use them as a comfort toy, and carry them around without making a scratch or tear in them, and often snuggle up with the toy in their beds, OR they attack violently eager to kill and tear up the plush teddy to see whats inside, or to get to the squeeker and dismantle it completely.
Either way, toys they tear up need to be thrown away to remove any choking hazard. The toys they use for comfort, can "live"for years with your dog. Squeeky toys very often become the victim of an attack as the dogs are eager to find the squeeky thingy.
My great dane has a latex squeeky pig she's only allowed to play with when we're at the cabin. It's funny to see how careful she handles it - the pig still lives after two summers!
Distraction toys is what your dog needs to entertain themselves (but still not unattended). Often they are some kind of box the dogs have to bounce around to get a snack out of. Or a more sophisticated puzzle. Some of our favorite distraction toys, puzzles and brain-games are covered in an earlier post here.
When using treats with these toys, you need to be aware of the enormous amounts of calories some treats contain. For further reading on this, I recommend this post by The American Kennel Club.
Although some large dogs might be a little too eager to find the treats in this one, this puzzle by Nina Ottosson is a favorite puzzle in our home.
Dogs Like Different Toys
Dogs aren't all into the same toys, so you should try different kinds to see what works best for your dogs. Most dogs love active toys of some kind, but playing fetch and ending up walking a hundred yards to find the toy they didn't care about just isn't that much fun. Your dog might hate balls, but love ropes. It's his or her choice.
Buy appropriate toys for your breed. A large dog might accidentaly swallow a small toy. Don't let them play alone for too long with a toy - there's no such thing as a completely undestructable toy.
Find five or six toys you know your dog loves, and rotate them to keep him interested even longer. By giving just two or three of them every week, you give the rest of the toys enough of a break to re-spark the interest.
If your dog picks a favorite comfort toy, he should be allowed this toy every day.
Never Use Household Items
If you let your dog play with, or chew on, some old shoes or towels - you're basically giving him a green light to play with, or chew on, all shoes and towels. So be sure to make a very distinct difference between what's a toy, and what isn't.
With kids growing up, this one was a no-brainer for our current dog. We had to teach her this, or have a bunch of kids wanting new plush toys, shoes, cellphones and jumpsuits!