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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-30-2017, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
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Unhappy Play

I recently rescued an 18 month male German Shepard. He has been in shelters for 5 months and before that was tied to a chain 24/7 in the back yard. He does not know how to play. How do I teach him to play? He doesn't seem to have any interest in it.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-30-2017, 05:09 PM
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When my family adopted our dog Sparky, he was 8 months old and depressed. We thought his name was ironic because I remember playing with him on the shelter floor and throwing a toy for him to go grab, and he just gave me a funny look before laying down and ignoring it. It took about 3-4 months before he was completely comfortable with us and actually viewed us as his new pack, and as he become more comfortable he finally learned that play was a good thing. Fast forward 10 years later and he's a toy hogging, ball chasing, jump-on-your-lap playing machine.

Give your dog time. Let him become comfortable. Take it day by day, and show him that playing can be fun by being animated and excited about the toys you have. Some dogs like different toy textures over others, too, so try to see what he likes best. It really helped us that we had another dog who loved to play and interact with us, because it modelled what "fun" actually was for him. Michael Ellis also has a lot of good videos on YouTube for this, too.
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 04-30-2017, 06:34 PM
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Poor guy. I agree with giving him time just to relax into your life. If he is at all anxious he will not be as willing to play since he is thinking about survival so he has to be comfortable and trust you. So build trust with consistency and fairness.

When he is calm and trusting start trying different games to see what he likes and go with it.

Best wishes. He is lucky to have you.

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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-01-2017, 07:06 AM
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Would you consider keeping a simple diary to share in the future? As people adopt these dogs it is good to read about how long it took other folks to see the changes. We often get too impatient because we want these dogs to enjoy their new life.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-01-2017, 04:08 PM
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I have had a couple of rescues over the years. My current girl Charlie took awhile to learn to play and adjust to life in the house after living in a fenced in field. Its a slow process. Lucky .my first rescue took some time but he was ball crazy from the beginning even befor he could figure out how to fetch. Charlie doesn't care about balls . She has two toys she plays with one is a jolly ball and the other is a noisy sound ball wrapped in fake tire tread. Give him some time it takes at least a few months for these pups to really adjust and show or become who they can be.

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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-01-2017, 10:08 PM
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I agree with giving him time.

I would have inside toys, that he doesn't have all the time, just when you are there. And I would have have a variety: a squeaky toy, a ball, a couple different types of stuffed toys, maybe a kong that you can put treats in, and something to chew on, and possibly something to tug with.

Sometimes we have to make the toy make noise or play with it a little to get them interested. A plastic bottle will crackle when you crunch it for the dog.

For now though take some time each day to calmly groom his coat, handle his feet and his ears, and take him for a walk. Praise him for pottying appropriately, and offer treats several times during the day. Talk to him while you are cooking, (and slip him something), and while you are doing other things. Just explain what you are doing and why.

Give him the opportunity to come to you for pets. And other than your daily grooming, and taking a walk, let him relax and decide to come and see what you are doing. If he follows you into the room, talk to him, while you are doing whatever you are doing.

It might take a while to get used to the rhythm of your home and his new people. And sometimes dogs learn from other dogs. Like if you have the toys there, and he isn't interested, and at some point a friend comes over with a dog and their dog starts playing with your dog's toys, suddenly they have a higher value. Sometimes.

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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-02-2017, 02:41 AM
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Thank you for adopting a dog who needed you. Sometimes adopting dogs like this means going on a journey of discovery together -- him discovering life as a loved pet, you discovering a complex being with layers of unique traits. Sometimes along the way, we don't quite get the dog we thought we wanted (playful), yet end up with exactly the dog we really need (deeply bonded).

I would like to recommend Pat Miller's excellent little book Play with Your Dog (Dogwise Publishing): PLAY WITH YOUR DOG - Dog Training and Behavior - (it's available there as an e-book or a paperback). She has a whole chapter dedicated to "rehabilitating the play-deprived dog."

I've got a dog that took two years before expressing any interest in playing, after watching other dogs do it all that time. Some never do. Toys remain uninteresting, worthless objects for some of them, for life. Others figure it out eventually.

In multidog homes, sometimes these dogs rehabilitate themselves and learn to play with humans by watching other dogs do it. Or they do something that's not play but that is their best attempt to translate it: for example, I've seen these kind of dogs learn that toys are "valuable" objects to other dogs, so they will carry them around only because they see them as status symbols. Sometimes they see the fun and want in (or maybe they see the attention the other one is getting from the human and want to get that attention too, so they copy the playful behavior to get it--and it's self-rewarding, so they keep doing it...and then you've got a dog that plays).

In a solo dog home, you'll have to be more creative. Pat Miller's book will give you lots of ideas of fun games to try to engage the dog.

Do keep in mind that he's spent a long time early in life without much sensory stimulation, confined to the radius of the chain, and then in a big cage. Take it easy. Give him time to unwind and get used to a new world.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-02-2017, 02:52 AM
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I'm working on teaching the 3 year old dog I got to play with toys! She can play with my dog, but not so much with people or toys. It's taking time and for her to get comfortable with us first. I've been going through a lot of different toys to find something that catches her eye. Currently she shows some interest in rope toys, but only smaller ones, nothing large, and just recently tennis balls and a very large tennis ball the size of a soccer. It was a lot of me being stupid as I tried to make playing with these toys as fun as possible, I went from calm luring to excited jumping around to find out what got her into the 'play' mood. I also run up and down the yard with her with or without toys to get her excited and happy and focused on me. With the large tennis/soccer ball I just rolled it around and kicked it and encourage her to go investigate it and lay with it. Sometimes she does very well and other times not so much, but she is a lot better now than she was 2 months ago.

car2ner's idea of a diary is a great idea. Not just for others but for you to see just how much your dog improves. In a year you can look back on it and see the process and how far you've come!

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