Not all dogs can play! How to teach him if he’s reserved or has a sad history

László Enikő

2023. October 13 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Most dogs love to play, play ball and chase. But not all! Playfulness is a breed trait in some dogs, as some dogs (such as herding or hunting dogs) are more likely to be available for a fetch than others.


Some breeds of dog, such as Border Collie and Hungarian Vizsla, love to play and are almost always available for a bit of fun. Less active breeds, on the other hand, don’t necessarily want to run after a ball all the time. In addition, your pet may not find every game enjoyable, and may even be afraid of certain objects (such as a rattling ball).

The importance of the toy

Rarely is there a dog who doesn’t like any kind of play. But it is possible that he has not yet encountered something that catches his attention. It’s worth taking your pet to a pet equipment shop where he can choose the item he likes. It could be a ball, a chew toy, a plush toy or anything that is safe for him and of course something he’s interested in. That way, you won’t be wasting money on a purchase.

No fun alone

Dogs are social creatures, they prefer to play with others rather than alone. Sure, he might throw the ball or start chewing on his toy, but he’ll have more fun if you join in the fun. If he adopts his characteristic play-inviting posture of bowing, he’ll want you to have some fun. But you can take the initiative too, often all you need to do is whip out a beeping ball and within seconds your pet is there, ready to play.

If the dog can’t play

Sometimes a four-legged friend with a sad past may not know what the game is or how to play it, because he has never had the opportunity to do so before. It could also be that he is too shy and needs time to relax. Lack of early socialisation is often an indicator that the dog does not know how to have fun. That’s why it makes sense to go slowly and in small steps.

Before the game, offer your dog the options, i.e. show him the toys he can choose from. It is worth getting several different types, as each dog has its own individual preferences. Some of them like balls, others like chew toys, plushies and pull toys.

But for many owners, it’s not necessarily fun when their dog runs away with the ball and doesn’t give it to them. If your four-legged friend loves the ball but doesn’t know how to fetch it, you can teach him in a few steps. So you can both have fun playing ball.

Reward and positive reinforcement

If your pet shows any interest in a game, reward them! Roll the ball towards him or pull the toy in front of him. If he’s interested, the treat’s back on. Patience and positive reinforcement play a very important role in making your dog feel comfortable around and interested in unfamiliar objects. It may take time, but he will find that these objects are a lot of fun. To help, you can slather the toy with a little treat, such as xylitol-free peanut butter, to make sure he’s happy to approach.

Why is play important?

Puppies already play with their littermates and their mother, but they need this later in their development. As their teeth grow, they like to chew more and more, which is better done on a dedicated device than on the legs of the table.

Play is a great way to release excess energy. It also strengthens your relationship and is, of course, an enjoyable activity. It’s important that your dog knows the boundaries. For example not to bite your hand and only protect your favourite object as a toy. If you ask him, he has to give it to you, it’s part of the training and knowledge.

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