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My dog doesn't want to play: why and what can I do?

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

Just like us, there are dogs that do not like treats, others are absolutely not interested in playing. You can find dogs that only have eyes for their ball, and others who will watch it roll away without even thinking of moving to get it back.

This is not serious and it is not considered a behavioural disorder or an undesirable attitude. Often dogs who do not play are simply dogs that have not learned how to play or who have never had the chance to do such an activity with people.

You can incite your dog to play 

Of course, it is possible to encourage and motivate a dog to play, this is the whole purpose of this article, but in no case must you oblige a dog to perform an activity that does not suit them. If playing does not interest him and despite your efforts he still does not want to play a game, do not insist on it as this will only lead to the dog disliking toys and games even more.

However, when your dog is not greedy and does not necessarily like to play, it can be hard to find rewards that please him. Because as well as being a fun activity with your canine friend, games can be a good way of rewarding him for good behaviour.

On a personal note, I have a dog who loves treats but digests them very badly (I'll skip the details...). As a result, I had no choice but to encourage him to play and to love it so that his reward is playing games. Of course, a reward must be something that your dog appreciates. It's not enough to give him his toy and say "good boy!" for him to equate this with a reward.

Note that a dog will always reproduce a behaviour that has earned him something nice in the past.

So, if a toy is not his list of “nice things” you can still try to reward him with it, but he's not likely to replicate the behaviour because it will not get him something he particularly appreciates. It is therefore very important to teach the dog that playing is something very positive before offering him this as a reward.

Here are some of my tips to help your dog appreciate playing:

Tip #1: Play with other dogs

If your dog sees you playing with other dogs (who like playing), this could lead to him imitating the behaviour of his canine companions.

Tip #2: Find the right toy

Sometimes you just need to be imaginative when looking for what your dog will enjoy: a toy that makes noise? A toy that gives treats? A rope with a knot? A ball connected to a string? A piece of tire? A piece of pipe? An old shoe? Etc.

Tip #3: Find the right game

Some dogs will prefer fetching games, others tug of war, or some tracking. It's up to you to test and observe what interests your dog the most.

Tip #4: Make the toy very interesting

Before teaching your dog to play, it is important to teach him that the toy = pleasure. Why not give the toy in question a very palatable smell for example? Believe me, the smell of ham left on a Kong type toy with more treats inside = mission accomplished! Moreover, I advise you at the start to play fetch because his instinct of natural predation will push him to follow a moving object rather than a static one.

Tip #5: Be positive

It is not a question of throwing a ball and waiting with crossed arms while your dog brings it back. This can happen once your dog loves his ball more than life, but to begin with, you need to be very enthusiastic and motivating so your dog will copy your emotion.

Tip #6: End the game

Once your dog is interested in his toy but does not want to give it back to you, you have two options: swap it with a treat or ignore the dog and show him that this leads to you ignoring him. It is important not to run after your dog because it will only have the effect of reinforcing his behaviour as he will consider you chasing him a form of play, and if you learn nothing else from this article: your dog will always run faster than you.

Tip #7: Reward

As previously mentioned, playing can be a form of reward, so do not hesitate, at the end of each training session or following a successful exercise, to play with your dog with a positive manner so that he imitates you.

Tip #8: Short but regular play sessions

Give your dog short but regular play sessions. The goal is that he associates play with something that is fun, not boring.

Tip #9: Play on frustration

You can also play on your dog's frustration once he or she is interested in playing (it doesn’t matter how interested). Throw the ball, and get it back before he can whilst maintaining the positive playing attitude (body bent, legs and arms spread, high-pitched voice). You can also play “piggy in the middle” with a friend, throwing the ball between you so the dog can’t catch it. However, this should not last too long and your dog should eventually be allowed to recover his toy. You can use this to work on his obedience at the same time, by asking him to do something (like sitting, lying, rolling etc.) before giving him his ball: a great way to link fun with training.

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