Dogs are individuals. That’s true whether speaking about personality traits or toy preferences. Some may love playing with squeaky toys, and others can’t get enough of chasing balls, while some pooches love to carry soft toys around in their mouths. When the Chewy box arrives, these dogs can’t wait to see what new toy will be added to their collection. Some dogs are so into their playthings that toy aggression becomes an issue. But if you live with a dog who doesn’t like toys, you may be wondering why. Finding the answer is the first step to getting your dog to dig into her toy basket.
Certified canine behaviorist and trainer Russell Hartstein of FunPawCare in Los Angeles says that clients often reach out to him concerned that their dogs won’t play with toys. There could be many reasons for this, says the trainer, including:
- Boredom and depression: This often happens when a dog is forced to spend long hours alone.
- Your dog doesn’t know how to play: Dogs need to be motivated to play with their toys.
- Your dog needs a play buddy: It’s hard to play games such as tug-of-war or chase without a friend.
- He’s stressed and afraid: This may be true of dogs who were rescued from an abusive situation and can’t relax enough to enjoy interacting with toys.
- There could be a health issue: Older pets might be experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction or have arthritis pain. Your dog may have a problem in his mouth such as tooth decay or gum disease that makes it uncomfortable to play with toys.
- The toys aren’t interesting enough: Dogs get bored quickly. To keep things interesting, toys need to be swapped out every day.
According to animal behaviorist and dog trainer Kyle Kittleson, one of the main reasons that dogs aren’t interested in playing with toys is that they don’t find the toys motivating. Pay attention to what naturally motivates your dog whether that’s roughhousing, treats, or playing chase, and choose toys that match those tendencies.
Dog toys can be broken into the following categories:
- Tug of war: choose rope toys or rubber rings; for example, the Tonka Tread Chew Tug.
- Chase and retrieve: use balls or Frisbees such as the ChuckIt! Paraflight Flyer.
- Hide and seek: use toys with cavities for hiding treats; for example, the Kong Classic Dog Toy.
- Pounce and shake: use squeaky toys to encourage this type of play, such as the popular Lamb Chop from Multipet.
Veterinarian Karen Becker advises choosing toys carefully to ensure your dog’s safety. Your pooch’s temperament, size, and age should all be considered when choosing the safest toys for your pet.
Some dogs need to be taught to like their toys. Kittleson recommends positive reinforcement training using these steps:
- Hold a toy in one hand and a treat in the other. Encourage your dog to touch the toy and once she does, get excited and give her a treat. Repeat this exercise until your dog is consistently touching the toy for a treat.
- The next step is to put the toy on the floor and encourage your dog to touch it. As soon as she touches the toy, get excited and give her a treat.
- If at any point your dog picks up the toy in her mouth, raise your excitement level and give her additional treats. The goal is that your dog learns playing with her toy leads to a yummy reward. Eventually, your encouragement and time spent together will be enough to keep your dog engaged in playing and you won’t need to use treats.
Another easy way to teach your dog to play with toys is to encourage playtime before feeding them a meal, says Kittleson. In this case, dogs look forward to playing with their toys because it’s always followed by food.
Finally, if your dog does start to show interest in toys, be aware that her preferences may change depending on her age, say experts at the American Kennel Club. Teething puppies might enjoy biting down on rubbery chew toys while adults may prefer chasing Frisbees, and seniors might opt for softer plush toys. It’s such fun when you find a toy that gets your dog excited, and playing together is a great way to bond with your buddy.
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