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Hi,

I recently adopted a 1 year old Lab/Bloodhound from a shelter and I'm having the hardest time getting him to play. A friend of mine who works with a rescue told me that it's common for rescue/shelter dogs to not know how to play, and they must be taught. So I'm trying to teach my guy how to play with his toys, and it doesn't seem to be catching on.

I try to show him a ball, and when he gets it in his mouth I reward with a treat. When he starts tugging on a rope toy with me I reward for that too. But after about a minute of light play he just stops and stares at me. I can't seem to rile him up into play, but he stares like he really wants me to do something.

I'm not sure how to make him interested in playing. He does like to play sometimes, and I want to be able to give him that mental stimulation, but inciting him to play is difficult. Is there any way to get him super excited about playtime?
 

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Some dogs never play with toys. It isn't necessarily a shelter dog thing, but a thing with dogs who weren't exposed to toys are puppies. Or some adult dogs just don't do it. My dog Perdy as a kid never played with any toys as an adult. I would try some toys with food in them like treat balls to get him interested at first. You can also try other games like hide and seek or tricks that are fun but don't involve toys.
 

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How recent is "recently"? If it's within a couple of weeks since you got him, it may be he's not adjusted and feeling comfortable enough with you yet to engage in play.

My girl took about a month before she would *lightly* engage in play with me. She still doesn't get exuberant with me unless we're playing chase outside (her favorite game). The toys she likes best are chew toys, so not interactive with me.

If she's in a very playful mood, she will go after a ball (but drops it as soon as she's got it) and she'll play light tug with me. That's it.

Since he's a hound mix, I second the idea to do nosework with him. It's a game that will play to his strengths without requiring him to engage heavily with you.
 

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Dogs have to have a drive to play in order to really WANT to.

They aren't wrong, shelter dogs don't usually know how to play immediately - But if the dog has some drive, they will.

You said it is a bloodhound/lab mix...That doesn't sound to me like a dog who is going to be a high-drive animal. I grew up with hounds and they never really liked toys. Sometimes they would "mother" toys, horde them, hide them, but they didn't really play ball or tug or anything like that. Labs are retrieving dogs so if he has any drive it will come from that, but a lot of modern day pet labs are not super driven creatures. You may have one who just doesn't want to play.

I don't usually stop to reward a dog for playing if I am "Teaching" one. When we start puppies on bite work at the schutzhund club, we start them on a stick and string with a tug at the end of it - All bite work is to a dog is play, after all. Some pups and green dogs are afraid of it, disinterested, etc - But once they realize that it MOVES, and it's fun to chase, they usually catch on trying to bite and tug it. When they start tugging we'll throw them a party. Lots of excited praise, petting, etc - All while STILL holding the toy. Some dogs respond really well if I "growl" at them. Zico for example is a really vocal player, while he is on the bite tug he snarls and growls and if I growl back, he pulls twice as hard trying to "win".

Tapping their sides, getting excited, pushing them away from the toy, letting them "carry" (A command we use, with puppies you let them grab the toy and then run them in a big circle with lots of energy), anything to build a toy drive in the dog.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5eIUX3BMBw

"Posting" the dog as in that video can help if you are by yourself, either have the dog be held or put the leash attached to a post or solid object while the tug is pulled back and forth with energy. This drives a lot of dogs crazy trying to get to the toy, and when you let them have it they are SO stoked.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_kjJGoc_TI
 

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It took almost 3 months for our first rescue to play, and she was still a puppy. Now she's a totally goof and plays constantly. Our newest still doesn't play, but he's watched with interest as the other plays; I think with time he will, he's probably still getting over his past and the trauma of being at a shelter.

What encouraged our girl to play was a treat-filled ball. She was very food-motivated and could smell the treats inside; once I rolled it and she saw treats come out, she started doing it herself. Eventually she was running around with it. Maybe give that a try.
 

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i know some people don't like playing with body contact, but I know a lot of dogs, that love gentle wrestling.
It's like cuddling, just with a bit of shoving and wrestling... some of the dogs im my shelter also like it when i make "growly" sounds, and go on all fours basically mimicking a playbow .
It looks pretty funny, but the dogs like it.:p
a lot of them don't know how play with a toy or we don't want them to, because they obsess about it.

for a bloodhound mix, nosework games could also be great. you can start with simple things like hiding treats and he has to search them. it is also engaging for the head, which is great to make a dog happy and tired.
actually i think bloodhounds can have a lot of drive to work and play...it's just different than for example a Schäfi.
 
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Discussion Starter #8
Thank you everybody for the advice! I'm going to give him some time, and definitely try out a treat filled ball. He seems to get a real kick out of knocking his kibble out of a Kong wobbler toy, and he's starting to show some drive to play, but it's mostly just jumping and trying to nip at me... not things I want to encourage. ): I'll definitely try out some of those nose work games, hopefully he will find them fun and engaging and maybe when he stops jumping and nipping we can try playing fetch or tug of war or something. :)

I've never had a dog that didn't love to play with balls, toys, ropes, etc, so this is all sort of a new experience for me. I guess I'll be the one learning how to play in a way that he likes too!
 

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Can you redirect him to a toy when he's jumping/nipping? That may be the best case scenario, as it will keep his teeth off you, and if he's that excited, he just may play. I would take a soft squeaky toy and keep it in your pocket or nearby, and when he gets excited, pull it out and see if he'll engage.

When building toy drive, I do two things to encourage the dog to stay engaged- let the dog win lots and make a big fuss over it; and end the game before they're "done" playing. If he will play tug with you, give it a little tug, and if he tugs back at all, let him win. Build up to longer/harder tugging on his part for a "win", and when he wins, pat him and make a big fuss over it, usually the dog will push the toy back at you for another go. Here and there, I like to have them release, give them a treat, then immediately reengage so they learn that the game doesn't necessarily have to end when they let me have the toy. He may also like a flirtpole, as the "action" of it closely mimics that of a prey animal. If he's playing with a random toy, trade him out for some food before he loses interest, then make it "scurry" to peak his interest again.

In any case, make sure that when he does play, that you end the game before he gets bored. I usually like to get the toy back, play a bit of "chase" with it, then put it up. That leaves them wanting more, and when the toy makes another appearance, they should be eager.

It may just take time, or he may never have great interest in toys. As others have said, there are other "games" that he can play, without needing lots of toy drive. Hopefully he can have the best of both worlds though and do it all!
 
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