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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Playing with Your Guide Dog

Let’s have some fun!

Being a guide dog is hard work; the job can include serious physical and mental concentration throughout the day. One of the things that can help your dog stay healthy and motivated as your mobility partner is to provide enjoyable and stimulating activity every day that is not associated with work. A play session lasts long enough for your dog to feel a true release of any pent-up energy – 10 to 15 minutes is a ballpark estimate. Although most dogs’ need for additional energy release declines as they mature into senior years, all dogs need and benefit from play time.

Just as humans have individual ideas about what they consider fun (think roller coasters or going fishing), so do dogs vary in their preferences about desirable activities. One dog might love a rowdy game of tug while another dog would much prefer quieter interactions with its partner. While spending time with your dog in class you will discover how your dog responds to different play opportunities.

Here are a few common play options:

  • Free running in a safe, enclosed space
  • Tug of War or “Tug”
  • Fetch: tossing a Kong® gently down a carpeted hallway.
  • Hide and seek games

Tug is an energetic, interactive game for you to play with your dog. Using an appropriate tug toy, you and your dog can pull back and forth as each player attempts to wrench the object free. Many dogs will vocalize with grunts, growls, or possibly barks while they are playing with you. This vocalization is normal, though if it makes you uncomfortable you may want to pursue a different type of play. Take turns with your dog; be sure that you each have the chance to win. When playing an exciting game with your dog, always retain the ability to stop the play with a “that’s enough” verbal cue, which tells the dog that play is over, and they should release the toy. Stop pulling on the toy; yet keep a solid hold of it. If your dog does not release the toy, try offering them a kibble in exchange for doing so. If your dog accidentally makes contact with your hand while grasping the toy, end the play session and seek advice from your Instructor. Your dog should be aware of avoiding your hand, but this is a play style that involves their mouth being near your hand. Store the tug toy out of the dog’s reach and only present it when you are playing with them directly. Tug toys are not chew toys. Do not allow your dog to hold the toy except during the active tug game. Your dog only needs a few minutes with a tug toy to destroy it and the small pieces can be dangerous.

Some safety considerations:

  • While arranging fun activities for your dog, keep in mind the following considerations.
  • Avoid slick floors as the dogs can slip or fall, which may cause injury or a fear of polished floors.
  • Prolonged running and skidding on pavement may cause bruised or bleeding pads. Avoid areas with sharp surfaces or debris (jagged rocks, broken glass, metal shards).
  • A Flexi-Lead or retractable leash may be an option for play in unfenced areas. Please use caution as the following scenarios may occur. It is easy for the long leash to become tangled or wrap around objects, people, or other dogs. If the dog runs to the end of the leash while playing, the leash can be wrenched from your hand, and the sudden jerk on the collar and dog’s neck could injure both dog and handler. If you are interested in exploring this tool, please ask your instructor while in class. We can also provide additional safety tips at that time.

Do not exercise your guide dog with unfamiliar dogs. Give your guide dog time to develop a positive and established relationship with whom they will be playing. Avoid dog parks since they are dynamic, unpredictable social environments.

Consider the collar your dog wears during play. Be sure it has a quick-release closure, such as your issued martingale or a flat nylon collar. If this type of collar gets caught on a playmate or the environment during play, it can be more easily removed from the dog to avoid a dangerous situation.

To ensure it does not cause behavioral problems in guidework, monitor any play activity that gets your dog extremely excited. (Example: throwing a toy repetitively may cause your dog to become obsessed with thrown objects to the extent that they can no longer focus on guidework if in the vicinity of balls or flying Frisbees®.)

Toys need to be an appropriate size relative to the size of the dog. Avoid toys that fit entirely inside the dog’s mouth since it could be a choking or ingestion hazard. Throw away any bones that have been whittled down in size as well.

Many dogs love to chew. A sturdy chew toy can provide oral satisfaction and mental relaxation for your dog. We recommend Nylabones®, Benebones®, and Goughnuts® as quality products that hold up well to a dog’s strong jaws. Kongs® and West Paw® toys are also a sturdy option for some, but it is possible for dogs to chew off pieces and ingest or choke on them. It will be important to monitor your dog closely when introducing a new chew toy to ensure they are not ripping pieces off. A hollow Kong stuffed with moistened kibble and then frozen can be a pleasant diversion for some dogs. Be sure to compensate for these extra calories when feeding your dog its regular meal. All toys need to be checked after each use for any splintering or sharp edges. All toys should be cleaned regularly, especially if the hollow Kong is stuffed with food. A bottle brush works well to dislodge any remaining food particles, and most toys are dishwasher safe. Discard any toy with significant damage.

The following is a list of chew items that GDB advises against:

  • Cow or horse hooves
  • Pig ears
  • Rawhide bones
  • Real bones
  • Antlers
  • Bully Sticks
  • Greenies

A good way to remember this list is that if it comes from another animal, it is not appropriate or safe for your dog!

Consider any fabric or stuffed toys carefully, and it may be wise to discuss this with your instructor as you are learning your dog’s tendencies. Some dogs enjoy the softer toys and play gently with them. Others may be more rambunctious and enjoy tearing them up. Soft toys are not recommended for strong chewers with a propensity to destroy them. Tuffy® brand dog toys generally hold up well and provide a sturdier option. Keep in mind that soft or plush toys often have a squeaker inside of them. Should the toy be destroyed, the squeaker poses a risk for ingestion or choking, so monitored play is important.

There are numerous accounts of dogs injuring themselves by overzealous gnawing and ingestion of all sizes and shapes of toys meant for entertainment. Often it results in emergency surgery to remove the object, lacerated gums, or dental surgery to repair or remove broken teeth. A ball or toy lodged in the throat can asphyxiate a dog and foreign objects blocking the intestines can have dire consequences as well. Choose toys carefully and introduce only when there is someone present to supervise.

GDB does not recommend dogs playing with the following items:

  • Frisbees® or flying discs
  • Tennis balls, golf balls, any medium or small size ball
  • GDB especially cautions against playing with balls.

The movement of balls can quickly lead to obsessive behavior in a dog. And as noted earlier, they can also be dangerous, as it is easy for a dog to chew up and/or even inadvertently swallow a small ball.

Playing with your dog is good for their mental, emotional, and physical health, and it is great bonding time for both of you. Having your dog as a play companion is one of the perks of having a guide dog in your life. So have fun!


You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.

gdb_official · Playing With Your Guide Dog