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Parallel Playing for Dogs: What it is and How to Do it | Pupford

May 1st, 2023

Filed under Training

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More love, more fun, more bellies to rub – having multiple dogs is awesome!

But it also can be tough.

We’re not just talking about more hair and poop to clean up. While that’s definitely an inconvenience, it’s pretty superficial compared to some of the challenges that parents of multiple dogs have expressed to us.

A major concern we’re often asked about is how to strengthen the relationship between dogs. Sometimes, there’s a struggle to adjust when another dog is brought into the home. Other times, there’s a difference in personality and preferences that cause them to not engage in activities with each other.

This is where parallel play may be a really helpful strategy.

Related Reading: How to Train Multiple Dogs

Let’s take a closer look at parallel play so you can decide if it’s right for your dogs, and how to execute it properly.

Fun fact: Parallel play is not just for dogs. Some families find it a great strategy for human siblings too!

two dogs getting ready to parallel play


You probably heard the phrase “parallel” in geometry class, referring to parallel lines.

Parallel lines are lines on the same plane that remain the same distance from each other, never getting closer or farther apart.

Translated to simpler terms: something happening side by side, but never coming together. But enough about lines, we’re here to talk about parallel playing.

We see this term in a lot of discussions about toddlers and preschoolers learning to play in the presence of others without actually interacting, or playing “parallel” to each other.

With dogs, it’s similar. When we talk about parallel play for dogs, we’re talking about two dogs playing next to each other, but not playing with each other or impacting each other’s behavior.

This may sound counterintuitive to some people. After all, aren’t dogs pack animals who benefit from interacting with each other?

Well yes, but there are many benefits of a play style that doesn’t encourage interactions. Let’s talk more about that!

  • Play of any kind is a mood booster for your dogs and helps them meet their exercise needs.
  • Dogs are really good at forming associations. When they're playing and enjoying themselves in the presence of another dog, they learn to associate the other dog with good times.
  • Because they form positive associations and have fun, they learn to trust and be confident in their surroundings – including the other dogs with them!
  • In these scenarios, each dog has their own toy or game to focus on which decreases the likelihood of conflict.

So as you can see, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to not have your dogs always interacting with each other – it can even be a really great thing.


Parallel play can be done in different ways: with you involved and without.

One is not necessarily better than the other, but they help serve different purposes in different scenarios.

tug of war is a good activity for dogs to parallel play

Parallel play with you involved

When you’re involved in parallel play, your role is to be the one each dog is focusing on at the same time.

That may sound tricky, but picking the right activity can simplify things tremendously. Some ideas:

This will work with a lot of activities, so long as each dog is focused on you rather than the other and doesn’t have too much of an opportunity to interact. So for example, an activity like fetch probably wouldn’t be the best for parallel play, but the ideas above are a great place to start.

Parallel play without you involved

You can also set your dogs up for parallel play without your direct involvement.

The key here is to have engaging activities for your dog to want to keep at it regardless of what the other dog around them is doing.

A great option for independent parallel play is enrichment toys. You can fill these toys with loose treats, stuff them with bananas or berries, or freeze them with peanut butter or yogurt inside and let your dog try to get every last bit out.

Here’s a great enrichment toy bundle for parallel play, for whenever else your dog could use some enrichment or a distraction.


dog resource guarding a toy

Remember in the intro of this article how we said parallel play may be a really helpful strategy for getting dogs to bond?

We said “may” because it’s not right for every dog. Here are some situations where your dog would be happier and safer avoiding parallel play:

  • They show aggressive body language when playing. Parallel play should be a safe activity for all dogs (and people) involved. Here’s guidance on knowing if dogs are playing or fighting, including key body language to look for.
  • They have a history of resource-guarding toys. This may make them more likely to engage in conflict with the other dog. If your dog has a habit of resource guarding, the Puppy Resource Guarding Basics article can help you.
  • They are reactive around other dogs. While we want to work towards a better relationship between dogs, there are definitely steps you’ll want to take before you put your dog in a situation with other dogs. The Reactive Dog Course in the Pupford Academy+ is a great place to start!

Like everything, strengthening the bond between your dogs – especially while working through other challenges – will take a lot of work and patience.

While parallel play isn’t a fix-all solution, it can be a really useful tactic to keep in your toolkit.

Have you used parallel play for your dogs? Tell us about your experience!


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