Humans have spent centuries domesticating dogs and developing different breeds, many of them bred for a specific task. While there is still a working dog culture, most dogs despite what they were bred to do, get to live inside and their playtime is structured around their owner’s schedules.
Dogs are dependent on their owners to provide them with a good time. Naturally, they miss being around their people, and when their owner gets home, they are going to want to play, and some dogs seem to want to play all the time. Sometimes, to the point that it’s exhausting for the pet parent. So what’s going on here?
Your dog might want to play all the time because they enjoy being around their owner and they want to spend time with you. Playing is an outlet for their energy, especially for puppies and high-energy dogs, dogs that are under-exercised, bored, or don’t get enough attention can become clingy and want to play more.
We can acknowledge that we should play with our dogs because it strengthens our bond with them and helps them navigate this world. However, even after a long walk and a good game of fetch, they might still want to keep going and play all night. It can be disruptive to your day and frustrating for you and your dog.
Let’s figure out why your dog might want to play all the time and explore some solutions that might help!
Reason 1: You Have A High Energy Dog Or A Puppy
Compared to puppies, senior dogs are probably not going to want to play all the time; and the average three-year-old husky is going to want to play a lot more than the average three-year-old pug, although I’ve certainly seen exceptions to that!
It’s also quite normal for your puppy to want to play all the time. Puppies hit peak energy levels between 6 and 12 months old, and seem like they are always bored and need constant stimulation. If your dog is naturally more high-energy they might not grow out of the puppy “want to play all the time” phase and will constantly bugging you to play with them.
Dogs that are bred to do a job that involves lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise, will easily become bored if their needs are not being met. Border collies are bred to herd sheep outside all day and I’m sure if I let my collie have her way she would want to play 24/7.
German Shepherds, Huskies, or even bigger working breeds like Rottweilers also want to stay busy. They will need more mental and physical stimulation than a dog bred to be a lap companion and are more likely to want to play all the time.
If you have a young dog or working breed that likes fetch constantly bringing a ball to you in the house, like this young dog in the video, might be a common occurrence.
Reason 2: Not Enough Exercise
There is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of how much exercise a dog needs every day. Not A Bully’s advising veterinarian, Dr. Nita Patel explained that “Typically veterinarians calculate the MER (maintenance energy requirements) for a dog to know if they are at an ideal body condition score. Maintenance includes not only caloric intake but also exercise. The MER varies greatly on life stage, breed, food type, and any underlying diseases with the individual dog.”
If your dog wants you to constantly play with you, there is a good chance they are not being exercised enough. While you’re out for the day working, your dog is at home sleeping or resting which may not be enough stimulation, especially for working breeds.
So, when you get home your dog is ready to be with you; they have been by themselves all day and are ready to play non-stop!
While some dogs might be happy with a quick jaunt around the park, if they still have lots of energy after you have taken them on a walk, there is a good chance they are under-exercised and they will ask for more play time when you’re back at the house.
Certain dogs are more prone to joint issues which makes daily exercise important, but maybe not for the distance a sled dog might crave.
Reason 3: Not Enough Mental Stimulation
Dogs need to work their minds just as much as they need to work their bodies and daily mental stimulation is important to add to your dog’s routine. The stress of us being gone all day along with the lack of mental stimulation is a huge factor in a dog wanting to play all the time.
More so, a bored dog not only has the constant need to release their pent-up energy through play, but their stress can develop into separation anxiety, displaying symptoms like destructive chewing, barking, and pacing.
This barking bored dog clearly wants to play and could probably greatly benefit from some mental stimulation.
Most dogs appreciate and enjoy mental stimulation, but working breeds need to be mentally stimulated whether that is a dog sport like agility or nose-work, or just learning tricks in the house! You might be surprised just how many different breeds can do agility work!
Reason 4: You Have Been Rewarding The Behavior
So your dog still wants to play all the time even though you have properly exercised and mentally stimulated them. What do you do when your dog starts play-bowing at you, whining, and bringing toys?
If you are giving in and playing a good game of tug, or throwing the ball, you have taught your dog that you will engage whenever they want to play even if it’s all the time.
Basically, you’ve been unintentionally rewarding your dog’s behavior and the dog has been trained that it is okay to always want to play because you keep playing with them.
But don’t worry, if you have taught your dog that it is okay to want to play all the time, it is still possible to change this behavior! It might just take a little longer to retrain the behavior you want because playing is certainly more fun for them than relaxing!
6 Ways To Manage This Behavior
Once you have determined why your dog wants to play all the time, the next step is to recondition their behavior.
There are a plethora of tools that can help your dog learn to relax rather than want to play all the time. From changing up your walking routine to training a new behavior, to straight up ignoring your dog, there are several solutions to help your dog calm down.
Let’s find the best fit for your dog!
Exercise not only physically wears out your dog, but it is also mentally stimulating. Taking your dog for a longer walk might seem like a good solution, but you might not always have time to take your dog for a long walk. Or maybe it is pouring rain and the temperatures have dropped below freezing.
There are ways to make your dog’s walk more interesting and add more mental stimulation to their physical activity. Walk a different route, let them take their time and sniff more things, or practice obedience heels, sits, and stays.
If there is a safe place to let your dog off-leash (and you can trust them off-leash), you can play fetch or practice long-distance obedience.
I find a long-line (a very long leash) a good tool to have if there are no off-leash areas. This will give your dog a little extra room to run, while still having control of them and keeping your dog, other dogs, and people safe.
I also recommend this to most clients because it allows dogs to sniff, chew, dig, and roll- which are all natural behaviors for your dog that provide a physical outlet and mental engagement. Allow your dog time to sniff or dig at a root or pile of leaves if they would like, as this will help them to release the energy they build up throughout the day and direct it to appropriate things, instead of chewing up items in your home. All of this can be easier on a longer lead.
Depending on the breed of dog you own, they might need more exercise than other dogs. I know my three-year-old border collie requires a lot more exercise than my ten-year-old chihuahua; my border collie is barely worn out after a five-mile run, whereas my chihuahua sleeps after a stroll around the block.
So if your high-energy herding dog or sled dog still wants to play all the time, maybe a simple walk and sniff around the neighborhood are not enough. If you and the dog are physically able, try running, cycling, or even cross-country skiing with your dog!
Train Your Dog
Don’t just train your dog, but play indoor brain games with them as well. Playing games like practicing obedience, playing hide-and-seek, and hiding treats around the house are all fun ways to mentally wear your dog out.
You can easily fit these kinds of games and training into your schedule. I practice sits and downs with my dogs while my coffee is brewing; you can even scatter treats in a blanket or on a rug while your pasta is boiling. This is something I regularly recommend to clients as well since almost everyone has a couple minutes of downtime when it’s just them and their dog.
Trick training is also very good for mental and physical stimulation. Tricks like rolling over can be good for back muscles, and giving paws helps work on their balance.
Fitting short exercises in with your dog throughout your day is easier than you think, and it is a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog. A mentally stimulated dog is less likely to be bored and, therefore less likely to want to play all the time.
Give Him Interactive Toys And Games
Using interactive food toys and tools like snuffle mats is a great way to teach your dog not to play all the time. These busy activities will help them relax and mentally stimulate their brains.
This way you are also teaching your dog to entertain themselves and not expect you to play with them all the time.
In this video, this Novia Scotia Tolling Retriever has to use his mind and paws to figure out how to get treats out of the puzzle toy all by himself.
A lot of interactive games and toys involve hiding food, and your dog has to problem-solve to get the food reward. Sometimes this involves pushing around food dispensing balls, licking for frozen peanut butter, or sniffing and snuffling for treats on a mat.
Dr. Nita Patel also adds that freezing toys with a rewarding treat inside not only allows for hours of playtime as well as any pain relief for dental inflammation or erupting puppy teeth.
There are a plethora of toys that can be interactive and wear your dog out mentally, making them less likely to always want to play, and more likely to relax.
Use Positive Reinforcement To Teach Your Dog To Relax
When your dog starts trying to engage you in a play session, use positive reinforcement to teach them a different behavior. A good behavior to replace playing all the time is to calm down and relax instead. My favorite way to teach my dog to relax is to capture the behavior.
When they lay down on their own, I calmly (very calmly, I do not want to make it exciting at all!) tell them they are a good dog, give them a gentle pet, and maybe even a treat. This helps your dog not only learn to relax but also teaches them to relax on their own.
What if your dog is not a natural at figuring out how to relax on their own? Mat training is a really good way to reinforce calming behavior and make it enjoyable for your dog. To mat train your dog, you teach them to lie down on a mat or a bed on cue and reward the behavior.
This is a very good way to start conditioning your dog to enjoy relaxing in the house. It is also a good way to play a training game to mentally stimulate your dog with very little effort on your part.
You can easily do this on the couch while watching television, which is a perfect way to teach your dog that this is a good time to relax!
Kikopup has a great series on Youtube on starting early with mat training to help condition your dog to relax.
Stop Encouraging This Behavior
So what if you have fulfilled your dog’s needs both mentally and physically, but while watching TV they are still bringing toys over for you to throw for them?
Do not throw that toy! If you have been rewarding the behavior, it is time to start ignoring the behavior. This is called extinction; you are ignoring them and taking away the reward of playtime.
There is a good chance your dog might get more frustrated when you take away his favorite reward of playtime. But stay strong and continue ignoring the behavior. Dogs learn quickly that their behavior of wanting to play all the time is no longer being rewarded, and they will likely stop trying.
When they do lie down on their own, you can use positive reinforcement to mark the behavior you want and calmly tell them they are a good dog!
Should I Be Worried If My Dog Wants to Play All The Time?
A dog playing all the time is probably not a sign of a health crisis, but a dog’s over-the-top enthusiasm for playtime can be incredibly frustrating. Being frustrated with our dogs can potentially fracture your relationship with them, making dog ownership much less enjoyable for both of you.
Help build a daily routine with your dog of exercise and mental stimulation, as well as daily relaxation times to combat boredom and wanting to play all the time. If you have exhausted all options and suspect a medical problem, always go talk to your veterinarian!
Why Does My Dog Only Want To Play With Me?
One of the biggest reasons a dog wants to constantly play with you is that they enjoy being around their owner and they want to spend time with you. So, setting up a routine of when playtime is acceptable and when it is time to relax will make your life with your dog less frustrating and more enjoyable.
If however your dog avoids the company of other dogs and people, and they don’t want to play with anyone but you at all times, it could mean that they aren’t socialized enough.
Lack of proper socialization can lead to your dog feeling anxious or uneasy in unfamiliar situations or with unfamiliar people and dogs, causing them to seek the safety and familiarity they find when they are only playing with you.
Providing opportunities for safe and positive interactions in controlled environments is key to broadening their comfort zone, including during playtime. Remember, socialization isn’t just about exposure; it’s about ensuring these experiences are positive and not overwhelming for your dog.
This way instead of having your dog only play with you all the time when you’re at the park, you can get a break and your dog will be able to release his pent-up energy by playing and interacting with other dogs.
So from the moment you get them as a puppy, make sure they learn to feel safe and play with other people and dogs, and remember to reward relaxation as much as you reward energy!
It is important to remember that playing is an important part of a dog’s life. It is enriching for them not only physically, but also mentally. Playing also helps strengthen the bond between an owner and their dog.
However, there is such a thing as playing too much, and a dog that wants to play all the time can be frustrating. Especially if they want to play more frustrating games like keep away!
Whether your dog wants to play all the time because of lack of exercise, mental stimulation, or because they have been taught that it is okay, there are many easy solutions to recondition your dog to relax. Any training to help change behavior will strengthen your bond and make those evening snuggles on the couch that much more special.