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Chisum is about to start behavioral intervention, but for the next week our trainer is at a conference in Seattle. She gave us a few things to work on in the meantime, one of which is upping our amount of playtime. She feels it would help build confidence and strengthen our bond.

My roadblock is that I've never been able to teach Chisum to actually play with me. His favorite games are chewing on his toys and stealing toys from our other dog, Sophie. He has almost no interest in tug. He will play a game of catch for a couple of throws and then will just sit down with the ball to chew on it.

His "drop it" command is fairly weak - he doesn't resource guard his toys, nor does he run away from me with the item in his mouth, he just stares at me and requires me to remove the item on my own. It was very easy to teach Sophie a "drop it" because she learned that was part of the game but as he's not terribly interested in the game, it's more difficult. I've tried offering a treat as a trade, and he'll drop the ball, but immediately loses all interest in the ball as now he figures I have treats.

Is play something that can be taught? I'd love to eventually move to playing in our yard or out in the pasture - it's always fun to play fetch and similar games in a big open space.

If it's something that's no "his" thing, that would be fine with me, but how would I go about bonding further with him? I suspect this behavioral work is going to create a pretty strong bond, and we work on certain training things which helps too, besides the fact that he's been attached to me since the day I brought him home :p. I do think that play would be a fun way to take it to another level, and if it's a possibility I'd love to work on it. Otherwise I guess I can find or ask about other "games" for the two of us to play.

Tips?
 

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Some dogs just aren't much on playing, and some don't play much with people. My 13 year old will play with other dogs, but no matter what I did she has never learned to play with people.

I would try experimenting with different toys. Sometimes even picky dogs will have one that they love. Maybe try a treat filled toy since you said he likes treats. You could throw it for him, let him try and get the treat for a minute and then make him drop it so you can throw it again. Including food with a toy at first may stimulate him to play.

Good luck!
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Play is totally something that can be taught! I love play, in all its forms, and am always trying to find new ways to play with my dog (and new ways to make all the things we do together feel more like play). For me, the important thing to remember is that play is really about having fun together...no point in putting so much pressure on it that it starts to seem like a chore.

A lot of dogs I know like to play "chase." For practical reasons, this usually has to be limited to them chasing me (since the other way around can create problems with recall and safety). To play chasing games, I start by dropping into a playful stance, making inviting sounds, and then running in brief sprints with lots of micro-freezes and sudden changes of direction. I usually change direction by pivoting toward the dog (so that the front of my body briefly faces the dog as I'm turning), because it is more inviting and also because I typically play with my own dog, who has a penchant for running up and nipping me in the rear :eyeroll:

Chasing is a game that can be used to build enthusiasm and value for other kinds of games. My past dog was very reluctant to play at first (and deeply fearful), with zero interest in toys. We started off by playing chase and running games only, for about three seconds at a time, so that we could simply practice the act of playing together. I paid a lot of attention to the way that my movements influenced her (if I leaned toward her, she moved away; if I changed direction, she moved closer; if I stopped, she stopped) and learned a lot about what she did and did not like. I tried to choose times when she was already feeling playful -- times when she might otherwise be zooming around in circles, or prancing happily. Sometimes I hid a squeaker in my pocket so I could squeak as I ran, which turned out to be a big incentive for her...squeaking, rustling, crinkling, and other noises can be very attractive. I made sure to broadcast "playfulness" with every aspect of my body -- mouth open to pant/laugh, body loose, nothing too creepy or weird (since it was pretty easy to scare her at the beginning).

When we started trying to teach "fetch," I used the most amazing ball I could find (after trying several, it turned out to be a rubber ball that squeaked...every dog has different preferences). We would start by playing chase, with me running and squeaking the ball and playing "keep-away" with it, then I'd throw the ball a short distance and stop running. As soon as she picked it up, I turned and ran again -- because she already loved "chase," she'd run after me, and it meant she started learning to run back to me with the ball. I'd stop after she got to me, give her a second to decide whether to drop the ball, then throw it again immediately if she did. If she didn't drop the ball, I'd take another one (identical, but up to now hidden in a pocket) and run around squeaking it, she'd chase me again and usually drop the first and then I'd immediately throw the new one. We'd quit while she was still excited, which was after just one throw at first...but eventually, she was totally obsessed and would play fetch until she dropped.

Dogs that are reluctant tuggers often do better with very long, floppy toys. The longer the toy, the less social pressure there is, and the more you can drag it around on the ground to make it seem like prey. A flirt pole is also a great way to give more distance and movement to the toy, and get a reluctant dog more excited. I like this post about some of the mechanics of tug: Reactive Champion: Denise Fenzi Seminar: Be the Bunny

You can also try playing with food. Long food like strips of beef jerky can make perfectly nice tug toys. Or take food in your hand, show it to him, move your hand around like it's a wounded rabbit, then take off running and reward him when he catches you. You can also get tug pouches that hold food, which sometimes convinces some dogs to try (personally, I have the same problem you do with mixing food and tug -- once my dog knows food is available, she'd really rather not plug up her mouth with a toy, thanks).

Good luck, and have fun!
 

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I agree that some dogs don't really play much, especially with humans. I've tried to get Kabota into play, and he just doesn't much. I can get him to play tug a little, but he's not ever chasing me or playing fetch or anything like that. He is who he is.
 
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