Why Dogs Don't Play With Toys Sometimes

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Introduction

Whenever you see a pack of dogs at the dog park, you might notice all of the fun and exciting toys being used. Fetch, one of the most beloved dog games of all time, requires the use of a tennis ball, a Frisbee, or even a stick. Dogs love to play, and it’s easy to believe that the more toys your dog has, the more fun it will have. Yet having more toys doesn’t always lead to more fun. Have you ever gone out of your way to get your dog a brand-new toy, only to offer it up and watch as your dog refuses to play with it? The feeling can be disappointing and frustrating, or you might worry that your dog just doesn’t like to play. More likely than not, your dog really does want to play. Here are some reasons that your new toy isn’t catching your playmate’s attention right away.

The Root of the Behavior

According to a study published by the Anthrozoology Institute, School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, dogs show “intense but transient neophilia towards novel objects.” This means that your dog falls head over paws in love with new toys, but that this strong interest in a toy does not last long at all. A research team studied dogs’ interests in toys by showing 16 Labrador Retrievers a new toy and letting them play with it for 30 seconds at a time, taking the toy away for a short time between play intervals. They discovered that a dog’s interest in a toy lasts approximately two-and-a-half minutes total. This same experiment was performed over and over again with a variety of different toys, but the variety of toys made no difference. The results on average were always the same. While this study is by no means the ultimate authority on all dogs and their exact behaviors, the study is conclusive enough to suggest that your dog’s interest in toys isn’t going to be long term, no matter how exciting or fun the toy. In general, the longer that your dog is exposed to a toy, the less likely your dog is going to play with it or find it interesting. However, this is all assuming that you are leaving toys out for your dog to play with on its own. The most interesting and exciting thing in a dog’s life is you! How you play with your dog and your dog’s toys is also a key factor in capturing your dog’s interest and cultivating a playful personality. If you aren’t playing with your dog and its toys, your dog is much less likely to focus on its toys, and much more likely to try and find ways to play with you. The reason interactive games like fetch or tug-a-war rope are universally popular among dogs is that you are a player, and your dog loves to play with you. Your dog will respond to your excitement and read your body language when it comes to playtime. Ultimately, if you would like your dog to play with toys, it is up to you to show them how to play and have a fun time! 

Encouraging the Behavior

The more you and your dog can play with toys together, the more that your dog will be encouraged to play with toys on its own. If at first your dog doesn’t show interest in a toy, try playing with it by yourself and not letting your dog have it. After a few rounds of watching you play and have a great time with the toy, your dog will be overwhelmed with curiosity, and will be more than eager to play with it. Dogs that resort to chewing their owner’s favorite personal belongings are displaying a negative form of this trait. They want to share in their owner’s joys and fun so much that they mistake video game controllers, books, or kitchenware for toys. To further establish that toys are a good thing in a dog’s mind, consider Kong toys or toys that reward play with snacks and treats. The more positive associations you can make with playtime, the more playful your dog will be. It is also worth noting that in different breeds, some toys will be naturally more appealing than others. Herding and hunting dogs tend to prefer toys and games that have to do with chasing and retrieving, like fetch. Guard dogs tend to like possession games like tug-of-war, while terriers tend to like squeaky toys. If you are unsure of your dog’s interests, try watching how they play in general, without toys. By learning your dog’s natural preferences, you can better understand what kinds of toys they will like. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

In some cases, your dog may not play with toys because it is going through a stressful event. New environments and sudden change are the most common reasons that a dog will stop playing with toys out of stress or anxiety. If you have changed your schedule significantly, or if a major life event has pulled you away from normal playtime with your dog, then your dog may be feeling stressed and missing you. It is normal for a dog to stop playing and act out in other ways under these circumstances. Once your dog becomes comfortable with the new normal, it should adjust accordingly.

Conclusion

When you buy a gift for a friend, you typically buy something that you know they will like. Buying toys for your dog is no different, and it helps that the best gift you can give your dog is more playtime with you. Before going to the pet store and spending all your hard-earned cash on dog toys, get to know what your dog will like, and plan on playing with that new toy with them. Once you know what your dog enjoys, you’ll be able to fetch the right toy every time.