What's Your Dog Breed's Play Style?

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Do Dogs Like Games Based on What Breed They Are?

Tell me what breed your dog is and I'll tell you his play style . well, almost. Yes, you can roughly determine play style based on a dog's breed, but as with almost everything dog, there's nothing written in stone.

As Patricia McConnell claims, "Genes are written in pencil," meaning that genes are not carbon copies and breeding is a crap shoot. You can't make assumptions of how a dog will behave based on breed alone, you must consider the nature versus nurture effect. There are any variables. In other words, dogs inherit certain predispositions but one must also consider the effects of the environment and their experiences in their upbringing. There is no such thing as a dog being like another. Just like snowflakes and finger prints, each dog is unique.

For example, my female Rottweiler loves to retrieve. When I have a ball in my hand, her eyes light up and she would play a game of fetch over and over—to the point of exhaustion. However, many Rottweiler owners complain that their Rotties are never up to a game of fetch. Perhaps this is because I have made this game fun from when she was a pup.

Instead, a Golden Retriever that comes for me for board and training could care less about the game. Yes, he might have enjoyed this game and I'm sure there's likely a genetic predisposition, but his owners used to play keep-away with him a lot, so even though there's a will to fetch something you would toss, he would rather run away with the item instead of bringing it back as you might expect from a dog of this breed.

Regardless, there seems to be a certain predisposition for specific dog breeds to play certain types of games. This preference is often linked to what the breed was selectively bred for. In the next paragraphs, we will take a look at certain play styles certain breeds seem to prefer.

Dog Breed Play Styles

As mentioned, these play styles based on breed are just a generalization, so don't be surprised if your dog doesn't fit the bill. Play styles among dogs can vary based on breed predispositions, personality, and experience. For convenience sake, dogs breeds were divided within breed groups. If you do not find your dog breed, it likely falls under the general style for the group. Does your dog have a unique play style you want to talk about? Share your dog's play style in the comments section below.

The Herding Group

The herding group is made of dog breeds who were selectively bred to herd livestock. Border collies and Australian shepherds seem to enjoy play that mimics their natural herding instincts to herd, which includes: staring, stalking, and chasing. Some of these dogs can be also quite controlling, something that not all dogs are willing to tolerate.

Some breeds under the herding group may enjoy nipping heels. These breeds thrive on loads of exercise and mental stimulation are very responsive which makes them excel in chasing balls and Frisbees. These dogs enjoy interactive toys and do well in the sport of flyball.

Generally, dogs in this group enjoy chasing, barking and stalking. Monitor for signs of a dog getting tired of having their movement controlled. Consider that some dogs may not like to be stared at.

The Sporting Group

The sporting group is made of dog breeds selectively bred to assist in hunting. Pointers were bred to locate game, and they are naturally drawn to running and chasing games, and they can have rowdy play styles. Cocker Spaniels and other spaniels were bred to flush game out of bushes. They seem to enjoy searching for things and play "find it" games.

Labrador Retrievers are the goofy dogs who are for all "in your face" greetings which can often irritate the more reserved breeds. Usually fond of water, these dogs enjoy water games and the sport of dock diving. Golden Retrievers like the Labradors were selectively bred to retrieve downed waterfowl, and they may enjoy retrieving a tossed ball.

Generally, dogs in this group enjoy running, chasing, body slamming, and neck biting. Because dogs in this group are highly energetic, it's always good to implement some breaks to allow dogs to rest when playing in groups.

The Terrier Group

The terrier group is made of dogs of different sizes ranging between 2–70 pounds. Several small terriers like theJack Russel Terrier and the Patterdale Terrier were selectively bred to hunt underground quarry. They are feisty, energetic dogs who may enjoy playful digging, and they can be quite enthusiastic about squeaky toys. These feisty little fellows thrive on earthdog trials.

The larger terriers such as Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier may enjoy rougher styles of play such as wrestling and body slamming. These breeds may like to take turns being on top and then on the bottom. When it comes to activities, these dogs may enjoy weight pulling.

Generally, dogs in this group love chasing, body slamming, and neck biting. Monitor for rough play and high arousal level and avoid off-leash playgroups if your dog appears to bully other dogs or shows signs of not tolerating certain types of play. Some dogs do best with only one well-known playmate with a matching play style.

The Hound Group

The hound groups include scent hounds and sighthounds. Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Dachshunds may enjoy play, but they may go missing in action the moment their powerful noses catch an intriguing whiff. You may, therefore, see them playing a moment and then they're gone sniffing, only to come back a little bit later. These dogs are pack oriented and are generally comfortable around groups of off-leash dogs. Entertain them with nosework or hide their kibble around the home. When they play at the dog park, they may enjoy chasing and then neck biting sometimes accompanied by growls.

Sighthounds were selectively bred to use their sight to chase prey. The Greyhound, Whippet, and Ibizan Hound and other sighthounds love to chase and have a high prey drive. Best not to let them mingle with the small fluffy dogs such as those of the toy group. Some sighthounds can be a bit standoffish and may ignore other dogs' invitations to play. They love to play with flirt poles, and they sometimes engage in cat-like play stalking and pouncing on toys. Because many of these breeds have thin skin, best to monitor when they're playing rough.

The Working Group

The working group includes dogs who were selectively bred to assist humans in a variety of tasks. These dogs like to have a job to do and must be kept mentally stimulated. Their play styles may vary from one breed and another.

Boxers and Doberman may enjoy vocalizing with play growls, and they often may use their front paws during play. Pinning down other dogs may be a favorite hobby. Great Danes, mastiffs, and Samoyeds may also join in games of body slamming, chasing and neck biting.

Siberian huskies may like to be vocal like to use their paws and mouths and love to play chase games. Body slamming can be part of their play behavior repertoire. Newfoundlands were bred to haul fishing nets and love to play in the water; whereas Saint Bernards may engage in body slamming.

Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Akitas can be quite confident and serious dogs, some enjoy body slamming and neck biting, but some may not tolerate certain types of play. Monitor for dogs getting overly confident and intimidating other dogs. Remember; if the other dog being chased seems to be running away, tail between legs, it's time to stop the game. When dogs have fun, they will entice the other dog to resume to play.

The Toy Group

The toy group comprises several petite dogs who were selectively bred as companions. Toy breeds include Poms, Maltese, Pugs, and Shih-Tzu who generally crave attention and do not like to be left by themselves. These lap dogs tend to engage in what is known as "cat-like" play, which consists of cute bats with their paws directed to their playmates' faces. They may also be seen spinning and making goofy, exaggerated moves that are quite entertaining and endearing to watch.

Yorkies are feisty, energetic players who enjoy a game of chasing small balls (they might take off with it tough instead of bringing it back) and with a past as vermin killers, they tend to like squeaky toys and chasing small balls. These dogs do best with appropriately sized playmates with similar play styles.

The Non-Sporting Group

The non-sporting dog group is a very diverse group consisting of dog breeds of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It's difficult to assign a play style to this group with so many different breeds among this group who were selectively bred for different tasks.

Generally, Dalmatians are high energy players who love to chase and may occasionally body slam too. Despite their sophisticated looks, Standard Poodles are bouncy dogs who are always up for a game of play. Shar-Pei and Chow Chow may enjoy body slamming and chasing; whereas, French Bulldogs and bulldogs play in a similar fashion, but make sure they don't over-exercise, especially in warm weather and are given frequent breaks.

The smaller breeds in this group such as the Boston Terriers, Bichons, and Lhasa-Apsos enjoy cat-like play, which involves pawing, but they also may enjoy chasing and neck biting.

What About Mixed Breeds?

Most likely, these dogs will inherit a mix of predispositions from their parents. As mentioned, these are just a few of the play styles seen in certain dog breeds, but they must be taken with a grain of salt as each dog is an individual morphed by his genetic potential and influences of the environment in which he's raised. What's your dog's favorite play style? Feel free to share it in the comments section.


Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun. Robin Bennett, CPDT and Susan Briggs, CKO

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on September 10, 2015:

This hub is very informative. You are right, breeds do play differently.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 10, 2015:

i don't have a pet dog but their plays are sure cute

Length: Long
Characteristics: Straight
Colors: Varies depending on variety, ranging from solid (black, cream, tan, red) to combinations with white and tan markings
Overall Grooming Needs: High

AKC Classification: Sporting
UKC Classification: Gun Dog
Prevalence: Common

Males are about 15 inches tall and weigh about 28 pounds (13 kilograms) females are about 14 inches tall and weigh about 25 pounds (11 kilograms).

The cocker spaniel has a round, graceful head and a broad, square muzzle. The ears are long and feathered, and the back slopes toward the tail, giving the dog a regal appearance. Perhaps most notable, however, is the cocker spaniel's long, silky coat with feathering not just on the ears but also on the legs, chest, and underside. The tail is usually docked.

Cocker spaniels can have a variety of colors. Some are solid black, red or tan. Others are bi-colored or tri-colored. Some of the mixes you might see are black and tan, black and white, or black and white with tan flecks. The AKC divides them into three varieties for show purposes: black, parti-color and ASCOB (which stands for Any Solid Color Other than Black).

The life expectancy of the cocker spaniel is good, about 14 to 16 years.


Cocker spaniels are known for being gentle, easy-going and affectionate yet lively. They are generally considered good with children. They tend to be non-aggressive toward other animals and people, but that also means they are not particularly good watchdogs.

One note of caution is warranted. At one time, cocker spaniels became so popular they were overbred, which resulted in some high-strung dogs and dogs with health problems.

When it comes to housebreaking and obedience training, reports are mixed. Some sources say that cocker spaniels rank average when it comes to ease of training. Others say these dogs are very obedient, but others say they can be stubborn, particularly about housebreaking.

Living With:

Cocker spaniels enjoy attention, so this is a breed for people who like to lavish affection on their pets.

They are average shedders. They do have an elaborate coat, which requires grooming at least a couple of hours weekly to keep it in good shape. Some professional trimming from time to time is needed. Avoid exercising cocker spaniels in places with burrs and thickets that can tangle the coat.

Cocker spaniels can adapt to living just about anywhere, as long as they are given daily walks on a leash or are allowed to have play sessions in a fenced yard. Remember, they are primarily an active sporting breed.


The cocker spaniel, often referred to as the American cocker spaniel, descends from the English cocker spaniel. The name "cocker" comes from the woodcock, a game bird that these dogs efficiently flushed out for hunters.

Cocker spaniels were introduced to the United States in the late 1800s and were still considered the same breed as the English cocker spaniel. American fanciers selected for smaller size, greater coat, and a rounder head today, the cocker spaniel and the English cocker spaniel are considered separate breeds. The cocker spaniel is smaller than its English counterpart and is the smallest of sporting dogs.

Although still considered a proficient hunter and sporting breed, cocker spaniels are more often family pets. Their popularity soared after World War II. In 1984, cocker spaniels were the number one breed registered with the American Kennel Club.

Breed Specific Health Concerns

Health should also be taken into account. Purebred dogs and specific breeds, due to breeding practices, may be predisposed to breed specific health issues. Boston terriers and bulldogs, for example, often develop allergies at a higher rate than other breeds. A lifelong condition like allergies can be costly if you are not prepared with the protection offered by pet insurance.

It is also worth noting that adopting a mixed breed dog from your local shelter can potentially offset some of these health concerns. There are plenty of lovable mutts that make great canine companions. Depending on the breed mix of the pup, they may still display many of the characteristics of the parents’ breed as well. So asking which type of dog makes sense for your lifestyle can still be beneficial in these cases.

Ultimately, there are many factors to consider when looking for the right pup. Make sure you consider as many factors as possible to make the best decision for you, your family and the dog. Every dog will be different and their age and unique personality will be a factor. By taking the time to consider what breed of dog is most compatible to your lifestyle, you will be taking an important step towards ensuring a successful dog adoption that will lead to years of joy and companionship.

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Totally agree about labradoodles. I have one. She's six. She's maintained her puppy-like attitude and is so gentle. She hardly barks except when we toss the cat down the hall way to get the dog wound up. She's playful and wouldn't hurt a fly. anon235515 December 17, 2011

Rhodesian Ridgeback: intelligent, calm, playful, laid back, rarely barks, loyal and beautiful. anon170684 April 27, 2011

For an apartment a small dog is best if you can't take them out frequently for long walks and runs. I have had Pomeranians and Shih Tzu and both were great. We presently have a Pomeranian who doesn't bark and a Cairn Terrier mix which are both great. My opinion is the best dog for those with families is a Golden. They are wonderful. anon161725 March 21, 2011

What about Newfoundlands? How could you leave this breed out? anon156873 February 28, 2011

you all are wrong. the best dog to have is a english mastiff they are loving and don't bark a lot. i have one named rilea. anon156325 February 26, 2011

are shiba inus good too because they are super cute but do they behave well? could you all so add more small dogs and pugs are a good family dog but they have some health problems because of their short snout. anon146866 January 27, 2011

i have had labs all my life and i have a three year old golden lab right now and he is very good in our apartment.

If you get him or her as a puppy, you will be able to tell them that its OK and as they grow up they will get use to the everyday sounds. even with us, we lived in the bush all his life so the city is a big change but he is still so good. we have been here about a month now and he acts as if he had lived here his hole life.

my black female was more the barking watch dog type. Even if ice fell off the roof she was barking at it. she is getting better now the older she gets.

In my life, I would say labs are the best dogs in the world. they are so very smart. you can train them to do anything. they are loyal and love kids. i honestly couldn't ask for a better dog. you need to walk them for at least a hour every day to keep them in shape and keep their hips moving. the stronger they are the better and the less fat they have to lug around the better, so if you're not willing to do it, don't get a lab. it's not fair for such an awesome dog to suffer because the owner is too lazy or doesn't have the time. they are like kids. they need your love and attention. anon138502 January 1, 2011

A golden is not a guard dog! anon90150 June 14, 2010

That is not true, it is better to get a pure bred because some mix breeds are not a good combination. anon42934 August 24, 2009

Which dog is good for an apartment? I am looking for a dog which would not cause the friction with the neighbors. Of course the dog is not a problem, it needs to bark but people are main problem. I would love to have a dog, but afraid the crazy neighbors would complain about any little noise. anon37390 July 19, 2009

I totally agree. don't go with a pure bred they are unhealthy since their parents are typcially brother and sister. better off going with a mutt. Live longer less health issues and you can get the best of the best. like a goldendoodle or a labradoodle. golden retriever/standard poodle or lab retriever/standard poodle cross. anon28871 March 23, 2009

Can someone tell me the breed of the brindle dog pictured on this webpage? anon27787 March 5, 2009

Please also consider a Great Dane as a wonderful house pet. Do research on the breed and you will find they are gentle giants that do well with other pets and kids. We love ours! cayenne March 29, 2008

Labradors are really good family pets, as they are great with children. Some of these other breeds are also good, but a mutt is even better. If you can get a mutt that is primarily one breed, it will have the great characteristics but not the health problems. For example, Labs have a lot of hip and arthritis problems, but if you get a dog that is mostly Lab, it is often a very sweet dog without the health problems.

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