Any good pet owner knows that play provides a vital function in their dog's physical and mental health. Playing with toys is an enrichment activity that offers numerous benefits, including substitutions for the types of activity in which they may have engaged in the wild. It's also an excellent way for people to interact positively with their pets. The exercise improves the relationship between the dog and its caretakers while providing a fun release for both parties.
Knowing all the benefits, it isn't very reassuring when a dog shows disinterest in toys. It can result in an inactive, disinterested dog. It can also result in boredom, which can result in mischief. So, it's essential to get your dog interested in playing with toys. This journey can be challenging for certain dogs as toys have no intrinsic value. Their value is their associations, so the goal is to create positive associations for toys with your dog. Read on to discover how.
Related: Outdoor Dog Toys
Why Your Dog May Not be Interested
Before diving into how to get your dog interested, it's a good idea to understand the possible causes of the dog's disinterest. The first cause is lack of experience. A dog who has never been exposed to playing with toys may not value the activity. This reaction is because playing with toys is not a natural activity for dogs. Unlike food and water, toys are not necessary for survival, so they don't have any intrinsic value. Value has to be added to perk a dog's interest.
Another related cause is a lack of socialization. A dog who has spent most of its time kenneled may have had few positive interactions with humans, let alone playing with toys. As a result, the toy may have no meaning for these dogs.
Because playing with toys is most effective as an interactive activity, a dog's disinterest may come from previous negative interactions. Suppose a dog has been injured or frightened by an earlier owner or previous experiences with humans. In that case, the dog may be anxious, shy, or fearful of interactions with humans, which is what toys represent. In this case, it's necessary to help the dog overcome its fears to make that interaction enjoyable.
Disinterest may also come from the selection of toys available. The dog may not have any interest in the particular types of toys in your house. In this case, experimentation is necessary to find toys that the dog will enjoy. Related to this is that some dogs don't like some games. A typical example is playing fetch. Not all dogs enjoy retrieval, so it may behoove you to find other games to play with these dogs. Another variant of this theme is a lack of variety. If you constantly expose the dog to the same toys, they may lose interest. Mixing it up can help alleviate this problem.
Whatever the specifics of your dog's situation, one common thread remains. Dogs that don't like toys need to be trained if they're going to learn to play with them. So, the core problem is a lack of training with toys.
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Why Playing With Toys is Important
While playing with toys is not a natural activity for dogs, it is an important one for domestic pets. There are many benefits for which it's hard to find a substitute when the dog lives in a house rather than in the wild. They range from improved intelligence and mental health to more excellent physical health and everything in between.
Playing with toys provides mental stimulation for your pup. This stimulation is necessary because dogs require a great deal of mental activity. It keeps them from boredom and improves their attitude. While all toys help with mental stimulation, puzzle toys can give dogs a long-lasting challenge with rewards to savor.
Because it's an interactive activity, playing with toys strengthens the bond between you and your dog. The bond is important because it contributes to a healthy, happy household.
Boredom can be a considerable problem with dogs. It can result in destructive behavior around the house and other types of misbehavior. Playing with toys alleviates boredom and gives your dog something to focus on throughout the day.
Anxiety is another problem playing with toys can help address. It provides a release for the dog, which can result in lessened anxiety.
It's great exercise! A happy dog is a physically healthy dog.
Chew toys contribute to good dental health. This fact helps avoid costly problems down the road.
Introduce Toys Slowly
The first tip when introducing your dog to toys is to start slowly. Suddenly attempting to play tug with your dog can have no effect or even a negative impact. A full-throttle attempt at play with a dog who hasn't had the experience before can result in fear and confusion.
The key here is to allow the dog to get used to toys first. Leave them around the house and yard. Give them a chance to acclimate to their presence. It also allows them to investigate, sniff it out, and make discoveries for themselves.
Experiment With Different Toys
Lack of variety can be a problem with some dogs. So, if your dog doesn't instantly gravitate toward a particular toy, try introducing it to another type of toy altogether. Experimenting with different toys allows you and the dog to discover the dog's taste. It also creates a collection of toys that might be introduced later if the dog is interested.
Related: Dog Toys
Find Ways to Increase a Toy's Value
Because toys have no intrinsic survival value, it's essential to build positive associations with the dog's toys. There are many ways to do this. One is to keep the toys stored away when it's not actively playing. This policy gives the toy a quality of rarity, which helps the dog see it as unique and associated with the positive activity of play. Another option is to play with the toy yourself in an excited manner. Demonstrate the toy's positive value, and it will help the dog make the association. Keep play sessions with new toys relatively brief. Make them short enough that the dog doesn't begin to lose interest. Maintaining perpetual interest in a given toy will give it added value. A bonus to increasing a toy's value is that the toy itself can begin to be used as a reward during training!
Offer Rewards for Interest in Toys
Another great way to increase a toy's value is to reward the dog for its interest in a given toy. When a dog interacts with a toy, however briefly, offer the dog a treat and positive attention. This attention will allow the dog to begin to equate toys with good things. Another good approach to providing rewards is to include prizes with the toy itself. Spread peanut butter on it. Fill it with treats. Bring your dog a puzzle game that offers treats as an automatic reward.
Participate With Your Dog
Many people think you can leave a toy with the dog all day, and the dog will keep itself entertained. While dogs have been known to play with toys independently, their greatest reward comes from interactive play. So, as you introduce toys to your dog, be sure to involve yourself in the process. If the dog associates playing with toys with its dog parent, the toy will become increasingly valuable. It's also true that interactive play offers more stimulation and exercise than simply playing alone. So, there are more significant benefits to participating with your dog.
Use Toys as a Training Tool
As the toy grows in value, it can be used as a training tool. Dogs love activities and learning new things. Suppose a toy becomes associated with exercise or, better yet, becomes a reward for certain training behaviors. In that case, it will increase the toy's value in your dog's estimation and make it much more interested in playing with toys.
Match Games With Your Dog's Enthusiasm
As mentioned above, not all dogs enjoy the same games. To maximize a dog's interest in certain toys, teach them a game associated with that toy. If the dog shows little interest in a particular game, try a different one until you find a game you both enjoy playing together. Paying attention to a dog's level of interest is crucial in teaching a dog to play. Teaching your dog the rules of a game is also a training tool, as it increases obedience to commands and the dog's attention to you, which is a huge advantage.
Generalize the Rules of Play
Once the dog begins to play games with you, it's time to cement the play rules. This confidence will protect you, other humans, and other dogs. Try playing the dog's favorite game in varying situations and around others. If the dog continues to play according to the rules despite new stimuli, reward it. Ideally, the dog will focus on playing a given game no matter what else is going on around it. When you reach this level of attention, it's a quicker step to get to voice control.
Specific Tips for Types of Toys
Interesting your dog in different types of toys sometimes requires different strategies. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the nature of each individual type of toy to find the best way to tackle engaging your dog in play.
Playing fetch with your dog is a favorite activity for many pet families. Sometimes early on, you will throw a ball and the dog will simply stare at it, unsure of what to do. This behavior doesn't necessarily mean they won't enjoy the game. It may just indicate that they don't know what to do yet.
To start teaching fetch, throw treats across the room. When the dog retrieves the treat, give it plenty of praise and positive attention. Call the dog back to you and reward it when it comes. Next, place a ball somewhere in the room and throw a treat next to it. If the dog touches the ball when it goes for the treat, reward it with praise. Once this becomes routine, rub the ball with a good-smelling treat like peanut butter. Let the dog sniff the ball, then throw it across the room. If the dog picks up the ball, reward it with praise and call it back to you, rewarding it when it comes. Gradually, you'll be able to phase out the treats and peanut butter, and the dog will play with the ball as its own reward. If the dog loses interest, try switching out toys.
Related: Runball Tug
The big strategy for chew toys is to find a toy the dog will enjoy chewing. Start with something soft but durable. It may also be necessary to go for toys that have an enjoyable flavor. One way to get a dog excited about a chew toy is to begin a session with tug of war or hide and seek.
Puzzle toys may be the most intuitive way for a dog to play. If they solve a certain problem, they get a treat automatically. Dogs are already attuned to seeking out rewards, so they should begin experimenting immediately. It's a good idea to start with relatively simple puzzles to begin with so that the dog doesn't lose interest or try to cheat. Then, gradually increase the challenge level as the dog improves.
Safety Considerations for Working With Toys
Remember that safety should always come first. Toys offer plenty of fun and great activity for your dog, but danger should be avoided. One common hazard is choking. When toys come apart in small pieces, be sure to pick them up and throw them away to avoid a choking hazard. Also, look for toys your dog can't fully fit inside its mouth.
Very hard toys like antlers and rawhide can create sharp edges that could cut your dog. Carefully monitor your dog when they're playing with toys like these to be sure they're not hurting themselves on sharp edges.
Routinely clean your dog's toys to prevent bacterial buildup. Because toys go inside, outside, and on the floor, they can quickly become riddled with germs.
Teaching your dog to play with toys is rewarding for both you and the dog. It's an important way to improve your relationship. It also provides numerous benefits for the dog's health and well-being. So, while it may be difficult to train a poorly socialized dog to play with toys, the rewards will outweigh the efforts.
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