There are many reasons why a dog might not like toys. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common issues, along with tips for teaching your dog to love toys.
There’s no need to panic though. There are many potential reasons why a dog might not seem to like toys, including that you just haven’t found a toy they enjoy yet.
Alternatively, some dogs have never learned how to play or just need more confidence. Sadly, there’s also the possibility that pain or illness is preventing your dog from enjoying playtime.
Let’s take a closer look at the importance of play and why some dogs might not be interested in toys. I’ve also offered some tips for helping your dog to enjoy playing with his toys.
Dog play is essential for your pet’s wellbeing. It provides an outlet for natural behaviours, strengthens your bond, and provides mental stimulation.
Some of the key benefits of play include:
Don’t despair if your dog won’t play with toys. It’s more common than you might think. There’s often a solution, and the goal is to show your dog that play is fun and rewarding.
Forcing your dog to do something they don’t enjoy will just make the problem worse though. So try not to get frustrated or attempt to “force” your dog into play. It’s all about understanding your dog, learning what motivates them, and being patient.
There are several reasons why a dog might not be interested in toys. The approach to solving the problem varies depending on the underlying issue.
If a dog never played during the crucial developmental puppy stage, they might not understand that toys can be rewarding.
This is a common issue for rescue dogs with a bad past, or dogs from puppy farms. These dogs are often separated from littermates too early, which limits their opportunity to play with other puppies. They are also likely to have had minimal positive interactions with humans.
The result is that the dog has never learned to link toys with “fun.” If your dog doesn’t have this link, any toys you offer could just seem like strange, or even scary, objects.
In this case, it’s up to you to make the toy more motivating and valuable. You might need to pair it with food, or select toys that tap into your dog’s natural drives. A terrier, for example, may be motivated by a squeaky toy because of their high prey drive.
Dogs rely on their sense of smell and taste much more than humans. If a toy doesn’t have an appealing scent or flavour, it might not be interesting enough to keep their attention. Texture and noise play a role too.
If your dog isn’t showing an interest in a toy, perhaps you just haven’t found one they like yet.
If you have a nervous dog, or one who has been scolded when playing in the past, they could be scared to play with toys. You might notice them flinch away from toys, avoid going near them, or display signs of stress.
Again, this is a common issue for rescue dogs, or those who weren’t properly socialised as a puppy.
The solution is to teach your pet to feel more positively about toys. This is a slow process that requires patience, but is rewarding for both you and your pet. To increase the chance of success, choose simple toys that aren’t noisy or potentially unpredictable. Pairing the toy with yummy treats can help to show your dog that playing can be rewarding.
It’s important not to force your dog to play with toys though. This could actually make their aversion to them worse. Remember to keep any attempted play sessions positive and fun, even if your dog isn’t responding. Dogs notice when you get stressed, and this can create negative associations with play.
Tip: Sometimes a new rescue dog just needs time. Once they’ve settled into their new environment and relax, they may start to initiate play.
Dogs only play if they feel safe. If your dog feels stressed or insecure, he won’t engage with toys – even if he would normally be interested in them. The same is true for dogs who feel unwell or who are in pain.
There are many warning signs and body language signals that your dog is stressed or in pain. They might act differently to normal, avoid human contact, or change their eating habits. Stressed dogs may also have a hunched body posture, pant more than normal, and tuck their tail between their legs.
If you’re worried your dog may be in pain, you should always contact your vet to diagnose, treat and manage any underlying problem.
Pain is also one of the reasons why older dogs don’t play as much. Joint pain and gum disease, for example, can make playing painful. Medication or other treatments from your vet can help alleviate discomfort and allow for more play.
Dogs crave novelty when it comes to playing with toys. If the same toys are always laying around, they’ll quickly become boring, which is why rotating your dog’s toys is important.
The same is true when it comes to materials, textures, and scents. If all your dog’s toys are similar, they are likely to lose interest.
Ready to show your dog the joy of toys? Here are six tips for teaching dogs that toys are fun and rewarding to play with.
There are thousands of toys on the market. Don’t always stick to the same style, as this can become boring for your pet.
It’s important to find toys that will engage all of your dog’s senses. The more variation you have, the better. Consider the taste, smell, touch, sound and visual elements that each toy has. Different textures, hardness, and sounds can also make a toy more interesting.
The size is also important. A potentially fun toy won’t be enjoyable if it’s too big for your dog to carry, for example. If it’s too small, the toy could become a choking hazard.
For dogs that don’t show an interest in toys, start with a simple toy that can be stuffed with treats or kibble. The addition of food will usually encourage your dog to interact with the toy, even if they haven’t learnt how to play yet.
Too much excitement can be overwhelming for nervous dogs or those who get easily aroused. Once they become anxious, a nervous dog will shut down and won’t want to engage in play.
Simple toys are best for nervous dogs, so avoid loud toys or those that move unpredictably. Complex and noisy puzzle toys, like the Kong Wobbler, are unlikely to be a good choice.
When introducing a toy to a nervous dog, keep your movements calm and slow. Don’t throw the toy towards them or wave it in their face, as this can be frightening. Instead, speak in a soft tone and allow your dog to approach the toy in their own time.
Similarly, if you have a boisterous dog, you don’t want to encourage over-excitable play. Allowing your dog to become over-aroused can raise their cortisol levels. This can make it difficult for them to relax after a play session.
Instead, encourage calm play and avoid toys that could cause frustration. Try to use a gentle tone, keep play sessions short, and stop before your dog becomes over-aroused.
All dogs are individuals, but some breeds enjoy certain play styles more than others. This usually relates to the natural drives they were bred for. Some examples include:
Regardless of your dog’s breed, it’s important to try lots of different toys. Offering a variety of toys keeps things interesting and provides varied challenges.
The more valuable a toy is to your dog, the more likely he is to continue playing with it. If you can combine toys with things your dog already enjoys, the toy quickly becomes more appealing.
Food is one of the best positive reinforcers for dogs. A boring toy becomes instantly more interesting when it’s smeared with dog-safe peanut butter or stuffed with treats! Kong toys are excellent for this, but there are plenty of alternatives that can be combined with food.
Novelty is another motivator for dogs. Studies have shown that dogs are neophiles and are more attracted to new things. This doesn’t mean you need to buy your dog new toys every week, but you should swap them around to keep things fresh and novel.
Pairing toys with treats isn’t always enough to encourage them to play. Some dogs may just eat the treats and ignore the toy. Nervous dogs might be too scared to even eat the treat.
By building up positive associations slowly, you can help your dog learn that toys can be exciting. Here’s a simple outline of steps to follow:
Always keep sessions short and fun. Never force your dog if they’re uncomfortable, and don’t try to progress too quickly.
It’s not uncommon for owners to give their dog a toy and expect them to play without any guidance. This might work for confident dogs who know how to play, but is unlikely to be successful for dogs who struggle with toys.
It can help to interact with your dog and show that the toy is fun. You might need to throw it around, use an excited tone of voice, or let them hear the squeak. Even a simple rope toy becomes a fun game when you shake it, as the rope becomes ‘prey’ for your dog to chase.
If your dog is nervous, remember to tone down how you engage with them and the toy. A loud voice or too much animation could be overwhelming.
When it comes to helping dogs learn to play with toys, patience is essential. A dog that has never played before is unlikely to love toys overnight. The time required depends on their age, history, health, levels of socialization, and temperament.
Don’t get frustrated or stressed if your dog isn’t engaging with toys. This will only create more negative associations and make the process take longer.
Playing provides many benefits for dogs, including mental stimulation, physical exercise, and a chance to practice natural behaviors. While there are different types of play, it can be hard to meet your dog’s enrichment needs if he doesn’t enjoy toys.
There are many reasons why a dog might not like toys. Sometimes the problem is simply that you haven’t found a type of toy he enjoys yet. In other cases, the dog might not have learned how to play, or could be in pain or unwell. The key is to work out why your dog isn’t playing, and then take steps to solve the issue.
Finally, if the methods in this article don’t help, or you’re worried about your dog’s reluctance to play, get a vet checkup and speak to a positive dog trainer. There may be more complex underlying issues that need to be addressed before your pet can start making progres.
I hope this article has helped you uncover why your dog doesn’t like toys. If you have any questions, please use the comments form below.
Gemma is a freelance writer and official dog nut. With 15 years of experience in the pet industry, she is a passionate animal welfare advocate. She has worked for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ran her own specialist dog shop for ten years, has volunteered for her local rescue shelter, and is studying towards completing an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour. Gemma is currently travelling around Europe with her wonderful rescue dog, Annie.