Understanding Your Dog’s Play Style: Competitive vs. Cooperative Games

play Jun 18, 2024
Silver lab tugs fleece toy

Do you know what kind of play style your dog prefers? Understanding whether your dog enjoys competitive or cooperative play can enhance your bond and make playtime more enjoyable for both of you. Here’s a closer look at these two different styles of play and how you can identify and cater to your dog's preferences.

Competitive Play: The Desire to Win and Possess

Competitive games like tug are all about winning the toy. In these games, there is a clear winner - the one who possesses the toy. When playing tug with your dog, you'll notice three common moves they use to gain possession:

  • Head Shake: Your dog shakes their head vigorously to create more force.
  • Pull Back: They pull the toy away from you with their full body weight.
  • Regrip: They adjust their grip on the toy to get a better hold.

These moves are natural ways for your dog to add extra power and gain the upper hand (all of these moves are ways in which they would capture and kill prey). Competitive play is excellent for building confidence and continued engagement with you, as well as provide your dog a proper outlet for their genetic drives.

Cooperative Play: Teamwork and Trust

Cooperative games like fetch and frisbee (when not combined with tugging) focus on collaboration rather than competition. In these games, there is no contest over the toy. The principle is simple: your dog brings the ball or frisbee back to you and drops it, waiting for you to toss it out again. This back-and-forth exchange fosters a sense of teamwork and mutual enjoyment.

However, some dogs may initially want to run off and possess the ball. To teach them the concept of bringing it back, it's important to use a leash. We prefer using a retractable leash for this purpose, as it gives your dog some freedom while allowing you to guide them back and reinforce the behavior of returning the toy.

Identifying Your Dog’s Play Style

Understanding which play style your dog prefers can enhance your interactions and provide a more fulfilling experience for both of you. Observe your dog's behavior during playtime:

  • Competitive Play Enthusiast: If your dog loves to tug and uses their head shake, pull back, and regrip moves frequently, they likely enjoy competitive play.
  • Cooperative Play Fan: If your dog happily brings the ball back and waits for you to throw it again, they probably prefer cooperative play.
  • A Blend of Both: Many dogs enjoy both styles and will switch between competitive and cooperative play depending on their mood and energy level.

Enhancing Playtime

Once you know your dog's preferred play style, you can tailor your play sessions to match their interests. For competitive play, invest in sturdy tug toys and engage in regular tugging sessions. For cooperative play, stock up on chuck it balls, bacon balls and frisbees, and practice the bring-back routine with a retractable leash to ensure success. You can find our recommended list of toys here. 

Once you have a solid play foundation built, you can begin to add obedience into your play sessions as well. This will increase your dog's engagement and speed, while ensuring learning in fun! You can also add in fair penalties during play, this will teach your dog rules and boundaries within the games that will also transfer over into other life situations.

Do you know which play style your dog prefers? Or do they enjoy both? Understanding and catering to your dog's play preferences can lead to more enjoyable and fulfilling playtimes. By recognizing whether your dog thrives on competition or cooperation, you can create engaging and exciting play sessions that strengthen your bond and keep your dog happy and healthy.

Want to take your play relationship to the next level? Enroll in one of our training packages for hands on coaching or one of our online courses!



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