Pet Lady Question

Teaching a dog to play

November 1, 2005


Q:  I recently adopted a dog from the shelter.  He’s very loving, but he doesn’t know how to play.  Is it possible to teach a dog to play and fetch a ball.


A:  Dogs who have been kenneled most of their life or isolated from interaction with humans, often don’t understand the concept of play.  Many dogs adopted from shelters have had to live on their own as strays and survival was the name of the game.  Others were left tied up in backyards with minimal interactions with humans.  It’s not uncommon to adopt a dog from a shelter only to find they have no concept of how to play.  It is, however, possible to teach them the joy of interacting with humans.  Patience and time is what is needed.  Many dogs are indifferent to toys.  You will need to find a toy that will really entice some interest.  A rope toy or a floppy stuffed toy designed for dogs is a good place to start.  You may want to make the toy tasty with a little chicken broth to help entice the dog to take the toy in his mouth.  If he does take the toy, praise him.  You may want to put this on command by saying “Take it” every time the dog puts his mouth on the toy, and really praise him each time.  Get down on the floor and play with the toy yourself.  Show the dog how much fun you are having.  So, you look a little silly, who cares?  If the dog doesn’t show an interest in the toy, you’ve at least had a good time and probably brought a few smiles to those watching!  (Note:  Never leave a dog alone with a toy until you have determined how safe the toy is—a dog that ignores a toy when you are there may tear it up when you are gone and possibly ingest it)  Second-hand dogs often come with a lot of baggage from their past life.  You must be patient and loving and let things come on the dog’s own timeline, not yours.  Some of your expectations may have to change.  The dog may never fetch a ball, but I’m sure he has other wonderful qualities that you can enjoy for years to come.  Take time to celebrate every minor accomplishment in the dog’s life.  Show this furry fellow how great humans are to be with, and one day he may surprise you by picking up that ball and dropping it in your lap—slobber and all!

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