Your dog won’t play even though you bought him the nicest toy? Instead of happily chasing after it, does he just look listlessly after the ball? He ignores all your attempts to get him to chase him and doesn’t seem to enjoy playing in general? Many dog owners have this problem. The good news is: You can learn to play!
The Game is Not the Same Game
There are many different ways of playing among dogs. Many dogs like to play with each other (social play) and have racing games or fighting games. Objects such as throwing a stick among dogs are sometimes included in the game (object game). Of course, every dog prefers a certain way of playing. Some love to play catch, others prefer to tug on a rope. The favorite way to play also depends on what your dog was introduced to as a pup and what opportunities it had. Dogs that have had plenty of toys from the start are capable of playing a wide variety of games. Dogs that haven’t been introduced to toys as puppies don’t learn how to play with them either.
This is also the reason why, for example, many foreign dogs hardly play with toys and don’t know what to do with them.
Proper play with the toy
What actually is gaming? Many people like to throw a ball for their dog to catch and bring back. However, this is often not really play but just learned behavior. You throw the ball, your dog chases it and brings it back. Feel free to watch your dog. Does he get stressed? For many dogs, throwing the ball activates hunting behavior, leaving them alarmed rather than relaxed and happy during the ball game. Real play, on the other hand, is characterized by both parties being relaxed and enjoying the activity together. When playing with a toy, sometimes the human has the toy, sometimes the dog (change roles). You can pull with the toy, chase each other or even throw the toy away.
Make the toy interesting
If the dog isn’t interested in the toy at all, there are a number of ways you can make the toy interesting for the dog. In the first variant, you address the genetically fixed hunting behavior of the dog. To do this, you move the toy in a targeted manner like a prey animal. It is best to move the toy away from your dog on the floor. Slow and jerky fast movements can be alternated to make the toy more exciting.
Another good idea is to tie the toy to a string and use it to move the toy so your dog doesn’t see you moving the toy at first. Many dogs become uninterested in the toy once they grab it because it stops moving. Here you can encourage the dog to play a tug together to keep your dog having fun.
Alternative: Feed Bag
Many dogs who don’t find toys interesting in themselves can be encouraged to join in with a so-called food bag. A food bag is a kind of dummy made of solid material that can be filled with food. The food bag is closed with a zipper so that the dog cannot get to the food on its own. When working with the food bag, the dog learns that he gets a reward from the bag when he brings it back to his mistress or master.
- Let your dog watch you fill the food bag and then let him eat something straight from the bag. This is how your dog learns that the bag contains food.
- Hold the bag out to your dog and encourage him to touch the bag with his snout. As soon as your dog touches the bag with its snout, be happy and let the dog eat out of the bag again.
- Take a few steps backward with the bag and encourage your dog to follow you and put the bag in its snout. If he puts the bag in his snout, praise him and then let him eat from the bag.
- If the dog takes the bag firmly in its snout while you are still holding it yourself, you can let go of the bag for a moment while walking backward and then take it again straight away. If the dog keeps the bag in its snout, it gets praise again and is allowed to eat out of the bag.
Keep practicing until the dog can carry the bag on its own. Then you can start throwing the bag away for short distances and encourage the dog to bring the bag back.
What to consider: At the beginning, practice in a place without distractions, preferably in the apartment. If you are afraid that your dog will steal the dummy and try to get it open yourself, secure your dog with a leash during the exercise. Use high-quality food, especially at the beginning, such as meat sausage or cheese, so that your dog is really motivated.