In preparation for adopting a couple dogs in the next month, I decided to learn more about why dog toys aren’t actually something they want to play with. My last rescue really never liked playing with dog toys - I wondered why, so I did some research.
There could be other reasons including, a very negative and disruptive past, which would only serve to inhibit your dog's ability to feel free to play, or enjoy the dog toys you bought.
Let's dig into this further and find out what this all means in further detail.
I had a Weimaraner, Cosmo, mentioned in previous articles, who was just a serious dog. He looked at toys as if they were something mundane, and just never felt the need to play with them. If you don’t see any of the above traits to ring true with your dog, and still there is no interest in playing with toys, you might consider that the dog just might never have an interest in playing with toys.
Try experimenting with building up some anticipation, and talk enthusiastically to your dog about where the toy is - then go and get the toy. Toss it back and forth in your own hands. Show your dog that this is something to enjoy and have fun with. After a few minutes put the toy away. If he seems interested, bring the toy back out and start to introduce the toy to him slowly.
Your dog just may never have been trained to find toys rewarding. You can introduce your rescue to the fun of playing with toys. One of the best methods I’ve used was with my Labrador Retriever. While training her to play with a toy, I would place the toy on the floor, and mimic her behavior in approaching it, in a very slow step by slow step - almost in slow motion as if you’re approaching prey. Then once I got within two feet of the toy, you rear back and pounce on the toy.
That little play method could go on for quite a long time and she never tired of it.
Experimentation and patience are key ingredients to helping your dog feel comfortable and making play more enjoyable, no matter what toy you decide to play with.
To understand why this is, it’s helpful to go back to ancient wolf DNA. There is a component to their destruction of new toys that aligns with natural hunting practices and instincts. So, if we understand that this goes back to your dog’s ancient wolf DNA. They want their prey to react when they hunt it. The prey could be seen as a new toy. Tearing it apart becomes completely satisfying to them.
Some dogs prefer squeaky toys over other kinds of toys, but dogs are very individual even from breed to breed. and your dog’s preferences can change over the course of his lifetime. When a dog is very young, in the puppy stage, having a hard or rubbery type chew toy helps them get through the teething stage. When they age and become adult or senior, they may be more interested in thick ropes, or harder rubber balls and frisbees.
Start by really getting to know your rescue. When is your dog most energetic? Find that ideal time of day when the energy is up and you have time to dedicate. Try a basic rubber ball. Maybe avoid the squeak toy to start with, making sure you avoid startling or frightening your dog.
Make sure to allow for plenty of room to play. If you have some yard space to play in, that would be best. Start with a simple game of fetch. Now throwing the ball and asking you dog to go fetch it and come back to you is part of training to play. It will take some time to get this down so as always, remain patient and praise anytime you see any progress.
If you get to know your dog’s personality you can come up with games that work best. In the fetch example, if you have a retriever, they could literally do this all day long. I had a black Lab who absolutely loved retrieving anything. I’d throw a stick in a huge lake, she’d tear out into the lake grab it, swim back and run out again for at least an hour.
Border Collies and Australian Shepherds love agility games and playing Frisbee - finding those games will make it much more enjoyable for them to become playful and enjoy playing with you.
Too much of a good thing, however, can become boring. If you play tug of war with your dog and you always win, she might decide its no longer fun if you always win.
If you have a dog park nearby, and they socialize well with other dogs, this is another great way to have fun in a new environment with other dogs and other people interacting and playing
Sometimes you just need to get some work done, and at the time your dog is ready to play, you aren’t. This is why teaching your dog to play by itself is important. There are some “velcro dogs’ - dogs that stick right by you no matter what. Weimaraners tend to be velcro dogs. Teaching them to be playful and content alone is important.
By having a space or area dedicated to your dog’s toys and play things helps define the boundary or area where playing alone can manifest. One of the best toys a dog can have to play alone, and provide mental stimulation is the Kong toy. One of the best dog toys ever. Add in some peanut butter in there and bam - they’re all over it.
Mental stimulation is key in helping your dog avoid boredom and feel like they have a job to do. Here’s a few great ones I found:
Always remember physical exercise - go for a run, plan a hike or teach him a new command.
Dogs have a way of communicating with each other that tells playmates when they’re having fun and when they’re serious. As humans we don’t always pick up on these cues real well.
If you and your dog are out at the dog park make sure you always closely monitor what’s happening. stop any rough play before it starts. Anytime you see signs of the dog getting aggressive or overly excited - it’s your cue to step in and stop it.
If you know your dog gets excited in larger groups, take him out to the park at off hours, giving the dog time to adjust to the park when there aren’t so many dogs around. Walking around the neighborhood where you see other dogs is also good to help him meet up and make new friends.
Depending on your dog’s personality, he might need some extra help. In that case having a professional trainer to help become more acclimated to meeting new doggy friends will also most certainly help.
Ok so your dog just isn’t that into toys - here’s a few other ways of playing that don’t require some annoying squeaky toy. Agility or obedience training are also methods of play that help stimulate his mind and coral his energy into a fun and more inviting way for you both to interact and find time to bond together.
Have you ever played hide and seek with your dog? Have him sit in one part of your house while you go hide a treat for him to find. I did this loads of times with my Weimaraner who didn’t like toys. He loved this and saw it as a challenge. It was really fun to find a place in the house out of sight, where I’d hide a small treat - he’d eventually always find it!
Then there’s the “cup game” this is basically the shell game. Hide a treat under a cup and have your dog choose the cup with the treat. or use your hand - same idea.
I'm Janet, avid rescue dog fan, and parent of two rescues - training them to run, hike, and enjoy their new forever home