While your dog could technically live its whole existence without playing, your pup would be missing out on one of the best parts of life. Playful interactions require mental stimulation and exercise, making them great for your pup’s health. Playtime is also a meaningful experience for you and your dog, as it helps build a stronger bond.
If your dog isn’t interested in games or toys, don’t fret, as there are ways to teach your pup how exciting playing can be. Here are five ways to encourage your dog to be more playful.
1. Introduce Toys Slowly
Rather than bombarding your pet with dog toys, you should start slowly. Leave a few toys around the house, so your pup has a chance to get comfortable around them. To help this process go smoothly, consider placing toys in or near your dog’s safe space, such as in its bed or crate.
Forcing this process may have adverse effects, especially if your pooch is shy or anxious. Using too many toys or insisting on playing before your pet is ready may result in fear or confusion.
2. Reward Your Dog
To help your dog understand that playing is acceptable, you should offer praise or treats when your pup shows interest in a toy. Consider purchasing a treat-dispensing toy or smearing a little peanut butter on an existing one to show your dog that playing can be a positive experience.
When using verbal praise words such as “good dog,” start by speaking softly, especially if your dog is timid. Once your pup gets used to hearing praise words, you can use a more enthusiastic tone to get your pup excited about playtime. This positive reinforcement should eventually encourage your pooch to come to you first for a play session.
3. Join In
Once your pup is comfortable with its toys, you should involve yourself in playtime. Begin this process by rolling a ball or tossing a stuffed toy near your dog to see if it picks either up or shows interest. If your dog grabs a toy, praise your pup or give it a treat to reinforce the behavior.
Unfortunately, not all dogs are eager to play when their pet parents join in. If you encounter a similar situation, you shouldn’t give up immediately. Instead, keep trying, as the more you engage your dog in play, the sooner it will understand what playtime is all about – fun!
Remember that every dog is different. If your dog doesn't seem interested in toys, try playing games that don't involve toys, such as chase or play fighting. It's also a good idea to research your dog's breed, as different breeds have unique interests. Doing so may help you pinpoint an activity your dog will love.
4. Teach Your Dog
Consider introducing your pup to common dog games, such as tug of war. Teaching your pooch the rules requires training and obedience, both of which are important for building your pup's confidence and creating a stronger dog/pet parent relationship.
You may have to break games down and guide your dog through each step before it can successfully play. For example, if you’re showing your dog how to play fetch, you must train your pooch to chase after the toy, bring it back to you, and drop it.
5. Rotate Toys
To ensure your dog doesn’t get bored with its toys, you should rotate them regularly. Consider swapping them out every few days to keep your dog interested rather than continually purchasing new ones. Your dog’s constant excitement over the “new” toys will encourage it to look forward to playtime.
Safety During Play
While there are many things you can do to inspire your dog to play with you, you must remember to make safety a priority. Keep the following in mind to make playtime joyous yet safe:
1. Prepare a designated space if you intend to let your pup outdoors, as dogs often chase other animals or cars. It’s a good idea to either keep your dog on a leash or dog-proof your fence to ensure your pup can play safely.
2. Stop playing a game immediately if your dog bites you. You want your pup to realize that biting is unacceptable behavior.
3. Hold toys below your waist to deter your pup from jumping on you. If your dog gets too rowdy, take a short five-minute break to encourage it to settle down.
4. Assess your dog’s body language and well-being before engaging in play. For example, if your dog is scratching itself constantly, you may need to apply an anti-itch spray to help your pet get some relief before playtime.
Getting your dog to engage in play isn’t only good for its health. It’s also an important way to stave off boredom and stop your pup from engaging in negative or unwanted behaviors. With a little patience and persistence, you’ll have a more playful dog in no time!
About the Author:
Julia Nikolaus is a content strategist for an LA-based company. She enjoys working with pet brands and writing about pet care. Julia currently shares a dog, chickens, and two pygmy goats with her parents on their joined farm in Columbia, PA.