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Humans have spent centuries domesticating dogs and developing different breeds, many of them bred for a specific task. Border collies are bred to herd sheep outside all day, huskies pull a sled for long distances, and hounds spend hours sniffing and hunting in the woods.
While there is still a working dog culture, most dogs are lucky enough that despite what they were bred to do, they get to live inside and their playtime is structured around their owner’s schedules. However dogs still miss being around their people all the time, and when their owner gets home, they are going to want to play, and some dogs seem to want to play all the time.
So play is important, but why does my dog want to play all the time?!
Dogs want to play for the social and bonding aspect with their owners and other dogs. It is an outlet for their energy, especially for puppies and high-energy dogs. Dogs that want to play all the time might be under-exercised, bored, or the behavior inadvertently reinforced. These dogs might need more physical and mental stimuli.
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 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 or Young Dog
Dogs who are young and dogs of certain breeds are going to be more playful than other dogs. 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 there are certainly exceptions to that!). Puppies hit peak energy levels between 6 and 12 months old, and seem like they are always bored and need constant stimulation.
A dog that is naturally more high-energy might not grow out of the puppy “want to play all the time” phase and is constantly bugging you to play with them. If a dog is bred to do a job that involves lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise, they will easily become bored if their needs are not being met.
Think about how busy dogs like border collies, German Shepherds, Huskies, or even bigger working breeds like Rottweilers are. 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 might be a common occurrence.
Reason 2: Not Enough Exercise
If your dog wants you to play with them all the time, there is a good chance they are not being exercised enough. Napping in your living room all day while you are at work is not enough physical stimulation, especially for working breeds. When you get home they are ready to be with you; they have been by themselves all day and are ready to play all the time!
There is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of how much exercise a dog needs every day. Different dogs have different physical needs depending on age, breed, and health.
Certain dogs are more prone to joint issues which make daily exercise important, but maybe not for the distance a sled dog might crave. Some dogs might be happy with a quick jaunt around the park, but 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 this is why they want to play all the time.
Reason 3: Not Enough Mental Stimulation
Sometimes exercising your dog is not enough and they still want to play with you all the time. 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. A bored dog not only wants to play all the time, 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.
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. They are so excited that we are finally home and they are ready to interact with us! 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!
A lack of mental stimulation causes boredom, which will result in your dog wanting to play all the time.
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 if they want to play all the time.
By engaging with your dog every time they want to play, you have been unintentionally rewarding your dog’s behavior. The dog has been trained that it is okay to want to play all the time 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. Find the best fit for your dog to help them curb boredom and stop wanting to play all the time.
Exercising your dog more will help them not want to play all the time. 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 to your dog wanting to play all the time, 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. A long-line (a very long leash) is a good tool to have if there are no off-leash areas. This gives your dog a little extra room to run, while still having control of them and keeping your dog, other dogs, and people safe.
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. Practice sits and downs while your coffee is brewing; go scatter treats in a blanket or on a rug while your pasta is boiling.
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, 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. 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. There are a plethora of toys that can be interactive and wear your dog out mentally, making them less likely to want to play all the time, 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!
If your dog wants to play all the time because they are suffering from separation anxiety, you might need a solution other than just more exercise and behavioral modification training games. A dog with separation anxiety might want to play all the time because they want to be near you and are stressed about the next time you might leave them.
If your dog has severe or even moderate separation anxiety that is causing them so much distress that they cannot relax, it might be time to make an appointment to talk to your veterinarian. Several different types of medication can help your dog, making life easier for both of you.
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!
Your Dog Just Wants to Spend Time With You
One of the biggest reasons a dog wants to play all the time is that they enjoy being around their owner and they want to spend time with you. 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. Teaching your dog that is okay for them to relax and just be cuddled and pet rather than play all the time is just as important for bonding as the playtime.
It is important to remember that it is our job to teach our dogs when it is time to play and when it is time to relax. If we always engage in playtime and then get frustrated that they are constantly bothering us, then our bond will suffer. We will not enjoy our dogs as much and they will not trust us. So from the moment you get them as a puppy, 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 the 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.