The ultimate guide to playing with your Frenchie
Playing with your French bulldog is a lot of fun of course, but it also has other advantages. Playing together provides a good band between you and your Frenchie. It keeps the dog active and gives him something to do so he won’t get bored. It keeps his body and also his mind in good condition. While playing, your Frenchie can improve his social skills, learn how to obey the rules and get to know you better. Play can be a great reward when you are training your French bulldog, a good distraction to avoid troublesome days and it can be used to give an insecure dog more confidence. Play can give your Frenchie an opportunity to perform or mimic natural behavior, which makes him feel better. Enough reasons to play with him!
To actually benefit from all those good upsides of play, it is important that you play consciously with your Frenchie. Not every game is wise for every dog, every game comes with rules and some games shouldn’t be played because they are not safe for the dog or for you. In this post you can read more about playing, you’ll get ideas for games with dogs and you will learn what to look out for.
Safety is a concern when playing with your French bulldog. This applies to both your own safety and that of your dog. What should you pay attention to?
Not every toy is safe for dogs. A safe toy doesn’t break easily, cannot be swallowed, has no sharp edges and is not made of (or painted with) toxic substances.
For many dogs, toys made of soft plastic or rubber, for example, are unsuitable. This is quickly chewed to bits and swallowed. If your French bulldog is a real demolisher then it is better to choose other toys. In addition, sometimes there are loose parts such as bubbles, which can end up in the stomach. So be careful with such toys, always stay there when your dog plays with those types of toys and remove it as soon as it is damaged.
The latter also applies to dog ropes. If a dog pulls wires from it and swallows it, it can cause dangerous blockages. Make sure that the rope stays intact. Cut loose wires if necessary.
Throwing with branches is also dangerous. Dogs regularly damage their mouths, throats or trachea by catching a thrown branch incorrectly, or when they want to grab a branch that has been stuck in the ground after being thrown while they are still at full speed. Therefore do not use branches to fetch but rather use a ball or other suitable toy.
Where to play
The environment in which you play must be safe. If you play outside with your Frenchie, do not do this on a road or urban surrounding. This is not only dangerous for your dog but also for road users. Pay attention to other things such as steep slopes or near water (French bulldogs can’t swim), barbed wire, broken glass and the like. If you play with your French bulldog indoors, do not play wild throwing or pulling games on a slippery surface such as laminate. He will slip on it and although it may look funny, it is very bad for his joints and can cause a lot of damage. Of course, you also have to watch out for fragile items, windows, hard objects and sharp edges and such. Never play near an open fire such as a fireplace or candles, or for example hot water such as a teapot on a low table.
When to play
Don’t do intensive playing two hours after or one hour before eating. If you do this the dog can sustain a stomach torsion (stomach tilt), which can be life-threatening.
On the leash?
Playing on a leash is far from ideal, but some French bulldogs cannot run off leash. If you use a long leash, do not choose games where your dog will end up running at the end of the leash. He gets a big jerk and if he wears a collar it can damage his neck. So throwing a ball is not wise. Optionally, you can use another toy that does not roll away so quickly. Throw it less far than the length of the belt.
In addition, always use a harness so that the pressure is distributed if your French bulldog accidentally gets to the end of the line.
Your own safety
Of course, you must also pay attention to your own safety. This means that the environment must also be safe for you, but also that you must take the dog’s behavior into account. If you have a French bulldog that sometimes shows aggression (this will rarely be the case, as most Frenchies are anything but aggressive), keep that in mind. For example, beware of games with French bulldogs that defend their food or toy, or with dogs that tend to show their teeth or bite.
It is also possible that a Frenchie learns from game situations from which he comes out as the winner. If you allow a toy to be pulled out of your hand or you fail to get a toy back from the dog, he may see this as a “winner experience”. In some cases, this may mean that you may lose some control. This will certainly not be a problem with a French bulldog, but it could be important in a relationship between a dominant dog and a gentle person.
If you are unsure whether a game is suitable for you and your French bulldog, consult a trainer or behavioral expert.
Physical play: good for the condition
Games with a lot of activity are good for the stamina of your French bulldog and he can release his energy with it. It can also be good for coordinating the dog. However, you must take into account any limitations of your French bulldog and his age and physique. Injuries and overload must be avoided. If you do not know if a game is good for your dog because he has physical complaints, is of age or is still a cute puppy, ask your veterinarian.
A game that many people play with their dog is playing fetch. In this game your Frenchie can indulge in its natural behavior, chasing after prey. It is also a form of cooperation: after all, the dog must bring the ball back to you so that he can ‘chase’ it again.
If you want to teach this game to your French bulldog, first teach him to let go of the ball if you ask. The next step is to bring the ball to you that you throw on the floor. This way the dog learns what the end goal of the game is. Only then you can throw the ball a little further and ask the dog to bring the ball back. If you start throwing the ball immediately, the dog may run after it, but then it does not understand that he must bring the ball back to you.
If your Frenchie gives you the ball, immediately throw it away again without waiting so that he learns that he can continue his play immediately and that he has not lost his toy.
If the dog doesn’t come to you with the toy, you need to run the other way yourself while, for example, clapping your hands quickly or using your voice to lure him after you. If your dog does come but does not want to let go of the toy, you can initially use two toys. As soon as the dog with the first toy is near you, show the second toy. As soon as the dog lets go of his toy, you immediately throw the second toy away. Never try to pull the toy out of his mouth. If he refuses to let it go, you just walk away.
Playing fetch is fun and active, but also stressful for your Frenchie’s joints. A ball bounces in all directions so that the dog must run, brake and turn quickly. That is why you should not do this game with puppies and older French bulldogs with a predisposition to poor hips or sensitive joints.
Puppies have muscles and joints that are not yet completely ‘ready’ and not yet strong enough to keep everything neatly in place. Continuous braking and turning causes the joint parts to collide, which can cause damage to the joint and cause scar tissue and osteoarthritis. It can cause or worsen conditions such as hip dysplasia. So it’s best to wait to play fetch until your Frenchie is old/big enough. If you want to learn to play fetch to a puppy, do not do this with a ball but with a small piece of rope or plush toy for example. First, stop the puppy, then throw the toy a small distance and only let the puppy go after it has landed to pick up the toy. This way you prevent the game from becoming too wild and the puppy has to slow down. Also, do this not too long and not on a slippery surface.
When playing fetch, make sure that you keep control. Don’t keep throwing the ball endlessly because the dog keeps asking for it. Your French bulldog must learn that he no longer has to insist (for example, by barking at you) if you say that it is enough and the ball is tucked away. This is how you determine the end of the game.
Playing tug of war
Playing tug of war together on a rope, an old rag or other toys is a fun game, but you must pay attention to the rules of the game.
Only let your Frenchie grab the pull toy if you have indicated that it is allowed. After all, you do not want him to pull it out of your hands while you take it out or walk around with it. It must be clear to the dog that it is a game. Think of a word that means that the game starts and use it every time you begin to challenge the dog to grab the toy (for example, “grab”).
Teach your Frenchie from puppy to be aware of where he puts his teeth: IE not in your hands! If you feel his teeth, shout ‘auw’ and stop playing immediately. Try it again later. If he hits you again with his teeth, stop the game and put away the toys.
Teach your Frenchie the command ‘let loose’ (or a similar word) before you play pulling games or teach him this command while playing. During the pulling game, occasionally ask the dog to let go of the object, and if he does it properly, then reward him with your voice and maybe a treat and by continuing to play. This is a good exercise for your Frenchie to continue to pay attention to your directions, despite the excitement of the game.
Playing tug of war is not suitable for children. The chance that the dog will bite a child’s hand or pull so hard that the child will get hurt or even fall over, is too big. So it’s best to let children play other games.
Beware playing tug of war during the period that the puppy changes his teeth, on average between 16 and 20 weeks. That can hurt him, so choose other games at that time.
Do not move the toy up and down in a wild manner but rather only back and forth so as not to damage your Frenchies spine. Do not play tug of war if your dog has neck or back problems. Use a sturdy toy made of soft material (dog rope, a rag or sturdy rubber) that is large enough to hold both your hand and his teeth securely. Do not use toys with hard edges or toys that break quickly.
It is often said that one must always win in draft games because otherwise the dog can become ‘dominant’ and think that he is the boss, but research does not show that.
Probably winning or losing is only important if the relationship between the dog and his owner is unclear. If you follow the rules and make it clear that the game is only a game, the dog will learn that he must listen to you in order to play. If there is no problem behavior that could indicate uncertainties about the ranking, you can let the dog win the game regularly. Also make sure that the game remains fun and do not make a competition of it, do not correct your Frenchie while playing, except by stopping play if he does not follow the rules. At the end of the game, use a command to end the game, such as “done” or “stop”. After playing, put away the pull toy.
Fooling around with your Frenchie is not always a good idea. You must know what you are doing, be able to read your dog well and in the first place have a good relationship with him. Dogs fooling around with each other give all sorts of signals during that game which make it clear that they do not mean their ‘attacks’ seriously. It is more difficult for us as humans to make this clear to the dog and the dog must be sure that you are just playing a game, otherwise dangerous situations will arise. In addition, your Frenchie can learn wrong things while playing, such as being allowed to grab your arms with his teeth. A dog can also get too excited and get aggressive (just like children who are very busy sometimes suddenly get into a real fight).
If you want to fool around with your dog, pay attention to a number of rules. In the first place, you must clearly state that you want to start playing. After that, you can invite your Frenchie with fixed words or gestures to play. Do not make any growling noises or use a low or angry voice. Do not approach the head of the dog from above, he may find this unpleasant or scary. If you notice that your Frenchie quickly becomes too wild, if you have scratches or bruises afterward or if it is difficult to stop the game, then you should no longer play frolics.
It is not wise to lie on the ground while fooling around. This can be confusing for your Frenchie: you will make yourself small and he may think that he is now the alpha dog. In addition, your face is within reach of his teeth, and if he gets too excited it can go wrong. So make sure you stay taller than your Frenchie while playing.
Make sure you have some knowledge of dog language and pay attention to whether the dog shows stress signals. That could mean that your Frenchie is not sure about your intentions, and that could deteriorate rather than promote your relationship with him.
Do not allow your Frenchie to bite your hands or arms, even if it doesn’t hurt. Because if he learns that he can put his teeth into people’s arms and other body parts, he will do it to other people too, not amusing if you have guests over for dinner… So stop playing immediately if your Frenchie uses his teeth. Instead, use a toy while playing around, and teach him that he can bite into that toy.
Do not bother with a dog if there is confusion about the ranking in the house. With dogs that are very wild, have little respect for your body or are fast biting you shouldn’t frolic. Even with a frightened dog, fooling around is not the most suitable game, because he can scare and in turn want to defend himself.
Never let children fool around with your French bulldog (or any dog for that matter). They are less able to judge the dog and they can also be less controlled and predictable, and that’s when things can go wrong.
In addition to these well-known games, you can also ‘play’ more organized with your dog: for example, with dog sports such as frisbee, agility, and the like. There are more and more options available so there is something fun for every human-dog combination. There are all kinds of dog training classes where you can be active together with your dog.
Apart from active games, there are also puzzles, search games and detective games that are very fun to do with your Frenchie. Dogs are intelligent animals and therefore need to be thinking and using their brains. Moreover, brain work also works very well to let a dog let go of its energy because concentration requires a lot of energy. An advantage is that brain work is always possible: even when the dog is old and no longer fit, has difficulty walking or needs to recover from an operation and is therefore not allowed to play wild games or walk a lot. And it is also feasible for every owner to do brain games with the dog because in many cases it does not demand that much from you physically.
Hide and seek Games
Teach your dog to find toys that you hide. Start simply: let the dog sit (possibly have someone hold him) and put a toy halfway under a carpet on the floor or under another object on the other side of the room. The dog can see what you are doing. Go back to the dog and ask him to search for the toy (for example, “find the ball”, “find your floss”). In most cases, your Frenchie will immediately walk to the toy and grab it. Tell him immediately that he is very handsome!
Make it increasingly difficult: the toy completely under a stack of newspapers, or just around the corner from the couch. Then choose a few other hiding places (be careful that the dog cannot break anything there). First, make it easy so that the dog is successful and likes the game, and then make it a little harder.
All dogs can track: their nose is many times more sensitive than ours. And almost every dog likes to use that nose. Moreover, following a track is something that requires a lot of concentration and therefore requires a lot of energy: tracking ten minutes is sometimes more tiring than walking for an hour! In addition, the breathing muscles are burdened differently during tracking, which is also physically tiring. An ideal activity for French bulldogs with a lot of energy but also for French bulldogs that are not allowed to run and play too much or too wildly.
You can create a simple trail by walking your feet straight through the grass with small steps. Place a favorite toy at the end. Now go with the dog on the leash to the start of the track and point your finger forward over the floor. Teach the dog to hold his nose to the floor to find the toy. Walk with him as he starts following the trail until he finds the ‘loot’ at the end. If the dog does not understand what to do and does not follow the trail, you can make it a little easier by putting his favorite treats in the trail, approximately every 30 centimeters.
If the dog understands the intention, then you will make it more and more difficult every time: first put the treats a little further apart, then make the track a little longer, then create some curves and later create entire corners in the track. In the end, you use less and fewer treats so that your Frenchie will pay attention to your smell instead of the smell of treats.
You can also trace tracks by dragging something tasty that has a strong smell on a string through the grass (for example a piece of meat wrapped in an old pantyhose). In the end, you then put a piece of the meat as a reward.
There are dog training classes that can help you learn how to track with your French bulldog. There are different forms: like looking for people is a very nice challenge to work on together with your dog. It teaches him to concentrate and he can release a lot of energy in a controlled, calm matter.
There are all kinds of puzzles and games where your Frenchie has to get a treat. That way he has to make an effort for his food and he has to think about how he gets to the food. It is a way to mimic the search for food. There are various forms of such feeding puzzles on the market. With feed balls, treats can be placed in a hollow plastic ball with a small opening. By rolling the ball over the ground, the dog can drop the treats from within the ball. Another form is the sturdy rubber cones with a cavity in which, for example, some treats or fresh food can be put. Your Frenchie is now busy for a while getting his food out and has a physical and mental challenge. There are also various puzzles with sliders under which treats can be hidden, trays that can be pushed or pulled open and other brain teasers of varying degrees of difficulty.
You can also get started yourself. With some creativity, you can make a nice puzzle out of empty boxes or empty plastic bottles. Textile is also a useful material; think of rolling up a sturdy cloth or carpet where you hide treats in so that your Frenchie can roll it with his nose or paws. A simple challenge for the novice ‘puzzler’ is a box of shredded newspapers between which you sprinkle treats. With three empty cups and a treat you play ‘cup and ball’ with the dog: put a treat under one of the cups, shuffle the cups together and allow the dog to browse where his treat is hidden.
Take a look around on the internet for different self-made ideas for games you can play with your Frenchie. This is often fun to do together with the children. French bulldogs LOVE to play with their owners, so play with him every day if you can, this way he will feel loved and be more healthy and an all-around happy French bulldog 😉