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My Dog Doesn’t Know How To Play: What To Do

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Tim Rhodes

Dogs are one of the most loyal animal species and have been referred to as humans’ best friends for the longest time but do you ask yourself why my dog doesn’t know how to play?

If you are a dog owner, then you can see how happy your pup gets when you get home from work, and that shows how strong your bond is.

If your canine doesn’t play with you when he/she sees you, then there must be a problem, although you can correct such by taking the necessary measures and actions.

In the worst-case scenario, a dog may not even pay attention to you, or anyone, may not sit when you tell him/her to, or may not listen to you at all.

Maybe when you adopted your pup or when you brought him/her home, you expected a dog that will play with you, kiss you and come running to you when you get home only to get frustrated later.

Don’t get frustrated and try not to take it personally, maybe your pup knows how to play but ignores you because of some reasons you’re not aware of, but means a lot to him/her.

Table of Contents

What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Know How To Play

You need to know the reasons why your canine doesn’t know how to play first, for you to take the next action, or to know what to do, so let’s take a look at the possible reasons.

Insufficient Training

Among the reasons why many dogs don’t know how to play, insufficient training is the most recurring one.

Training a dog is not as easy as it sounds, but it’s not as hard as most people think.

You should be able to tell the difference when your pup is aggressive and when it’s playful.

How do you know your pup needs training and doesn’t know how to play?

Simple, look at his/her behavior, whether she/he growls, snarl, freeze, or stare off.

What To Do

The answer is simple, train him/her.

Are you wondering how you can train your pup?

Follow the steps below.

First Тhings First

As you’ll see later in this article, several reasons may make your pup unable to play.

You have to deal with those reasons first before you start training your canine to play, so you should be willing to start with the smallest things.

Start by buying your dogs some toys to play with so that he/she can get familiar with them before engaging in an all-out game.

Get Involved

When he/she gets comfortable with the toys, start your interaction and again, don’t rush things, you can start by trying to snatch a toy from him/her.

You can even take a toy and rub it to him/her and remember to praise him/her even for the slightest interest.

According to most dog experts, any behavior that you reward is most likely to reoccur, so that takes us to another step.

Reward Your Dog

Treat your pup or praise him for any little interest in toys or playing; if you do this every time he/she makes a positive move, the more he/she will engage with you.

Don’t stop, be consistent even after your canine is fully involved with the toys, do that every day.

Teach Your Dog The Basic Commands

Most games involve commands, so the first thing is to teach him/her these commands, for example, drop, sit, and come.

Introduce And Teach The Rules

After introducing your canine to the idea of playing, teaching him/her some basic commands, now it’s time to teach him the rules of your games.

For instance, if it’s the game of fetch, the most known game, then teach him when to drop the ball, when to run, and such things.

Do it repeatedly and daily and don’t change the rules once he gets comfortable, to avoid confusing him/her.

An important point to note here is that you have to choose the game according to the dog’s interest, whatever he/she seems to enjoy most.

And that’s it; your buddy is now well-trained.


Yes, dogs, just like humans, get depressed.

Depression in dogs can result from several things, such as a change in environment or physical illness.

Once a dog is depressed, he loses interest in playing.

What To Do

If you notice strange behaviors like loss of appetite, sleeping all the time, or any other sign of depression, take him/her to the vet to get him checked.

Follow the vet instructions, and your canine will be okay.

Lack Of Early Socialization

A pup may not have enough exposure to human interaction as a problem originating from their early life.

Study shows that dogs that got appropriate socialization as puppies are more likely to exhibit positive social interactions to humans.

The opposite is correct as well, so a dog may not know how to play because, as a puppy, he/she didn’t have enough socialization.

A dog that didn’t socialize well in the social developmental stage will most probably exhibit some strange behavior growing up: such include the following.

Nervousness Around People And Other Dogs

Socialization helps dogs to get used to different environments with many people walking or without people.

They get used to people holding walking sticks, wearing hats, and such things.

Most of those dogs that didn’t socialize well enough aren’t so welcoming to other people and are very afraid and aggressive to other dogs.


A pup that has zero exposure to the outside world cowers and hides from everything that seems new to their eyes.

They will be scared of anything that they haven’t seen before, even a billowing cloth on the neighbors hanging line.


For most dogs, aggressiveness is always a result of fear and is a kind of defense mechanism.

If your canine is under-socialized, he/she won’t have enough skills to cope with stressful situations but will react to them as a way of defending themselves.

Sensitivity To Sound

It’s very okay for your pet to be afraid of loud sounds like thunder, but if the fear is too much, then it means something else.

For instance, if your pup gets scared of funny sounds like a doorbell sound or car hoot, then that might not be normal and might be a sign of under socialization.

Fear of Walks And Adventures

Pups that are not well-socialized don’t like leaving the house; they are not comfortable with the outside world.

It’s easy to note if it takes you ages to make your pup go outside with you for a walk.

What To Do

For puppies, socializing is not hard; you only need to ensure you expose them to the outside world as much as you can.

Their brains process the experiences the puppy gets from different environments, which will slowly teach them to cope with dogs as well as human interactions.

For adults, it might be a little bit challenging to make them socialize if they’re not used to such life, but here’s how to do it.

Take your pup out on walks: this should expose him/her to a different environment with different smells, animals, and sounds.

He/she will slowly start adjusting and if he barks at people, calm him/her down without scolding him, instead, praise him when he calms down and distract him with treats.

Take him/her to the dog park to let him interact with other dogs and people, although you should be a little bit careful if he/she is too aggressive.

You may even start by walking him/her near that park and let him/her see other dogs and observe the reaction, slowly by slowly, he/she will be comfortable with other dogs.

The most important thing to do is to start slowly, teach him/her the smallest things first before you start teaching them how to play.

Make them comfortable with you and other people by introducing them one by one, and if he/she gets scared, act normal, and calm him down, don’t show your anger or emotions.

When the pup is finally okay, follow the steps in reason number 1 to teach him how to play.

You’re Not Fun Enough

When you want your four-legged buddy to play with you, you have to choose a game that he/she likes, else he won’t be interested in your boring games.

It’s easy to note when a dog is not interested in your game, like if he’s ignoring you or seems to enjoy playing alone.

What to Do

Choose a game that your pup seems to love: the one that engages him/her more, that’s the game you two should play.

Your Dog Hates And Ignores You

If your canine hates you, he/she will never play with you; most dogs play with people they’re comfortable with, so maybe you’re just misjudging him/her.

One of the signs that show your pup hates you is refusing to play with you, so maybe all along you’ve been wrong, thinking he/she doesn’t know how to play.

There are different ways to know if your canine hates you, or ignores you; you need to pay close attention to him/her.

How To Know If Your Dog Hates And Ignores you

If your pup hates you, there’s a high possibility that they won’t play with you, so you might be thinking that they don’t know how to play, but in the real sense, you’re the problem.

If you don’t pay close attention to him/her, it may be hard for you to know whether he/she ignores you, but if you observe him, then it should be easy for you to note some strange and weird behavior.

Sometimes we are to blame for their cold attitude towards us, and most of the time we don’t even realize it until it is too late, they start ignoring us.

These are the easiest ways to know if your pup ignores you or hates you in some way.

If  Your Dog Leaves The Room Whenever You Enter

Just like a human being, a dog may hate you to the extent of avoiding you directly to your eyes.

A dog that isn’t your biggest fan will immediately leave the room when you enter because they don’t trust you enough to stick around you.

And when they don’t leave the room, they will keep tracking your movements to see if you want to get closer to them.

Once they see you heading in their direction, they may leave or start cowering and hiding from you.

That is likely to happen if you like punishing and teasing them and when a dog goes to such extents, then that’s a clear sign they’re ignoring you.

If It Takes You A Lot Of Time To Get Your Dog To Come Over

A dog is a loyal creature, and if they love you, they’ll always stick by you no matter what.

As a dog owner, you know that it shouldn’t take you too long to get your pup to do something, especially not coming to you.

Well, in some instances, like giving him/her medication, it may be quite a rough time for you, but if it’s nothing to do with medicine or bathing, your pup is supposed to listen to you.

If you find it hard to get your canine to come to you, that shows he/she is mad at you for some reason, and he’s ignoring you.

Maybe he’s afraid of you because of something you did to him, or he’s just ignoring you because he/she hates you.

If Your Dog Is Afraid Of You

If a dog doesn’t like you, they’ll be scared of you, mostly and therefore your dog doesn’t know how to play.

It’s quite easy to know when a dog is scared; they cower, tuck their tails, and hide from you.

Why would your fluffy buddy be afraid of you?

Dogs are supposed to be very friendly with their owners, but if you note he/she is starting to be scared of you, then you should know that something is not okay.

If there’s no connection between you two, and the bond is no longer there, then your pup is likely to be afraid of you.

And if he/she is afraid of you, there’s a probability that they will ignore you and won’t listen to your commands or even play with you.

If Your Dog Plays With Other People But Not You

Sometimes a dog may fail to play because of depression, and in such a case, you cannot say he/she is ignoring you.

It may be hard to tell when your pup is depressed, but you can observe how he/she treats other people for you to know, as the owner, what the problem is.

If he/she is happy and jovial when around other people, but sad and always cowering when around you, then it is clear that he doesn’t like you and is afraid of you.

In such cases, you may be the problem, not your pup, and not depression either; he/she avoids you, and that’s why he/she doesn’t play with you.

If Your Dog Doesn’t Make Eye Contact With You

Sometimes dogs may avoid you indirectly, so it’s always good to be keen on whether yours can make eye contact with you.

Try to look at your pup directly into the eyes, if he moves away from you or even faces away from your eyes, then that’s a good sign that he/she is avoiding you.

Most of the dogs love it when their owners look straight into their eyes, especially when cuddling or playing with them.

Your pup may refuse to maintain eye contact with you for many reasons; one of them is losing interest in you.

What happens if you’re so strict and keep scolding him/her, and in such a case, your pup may avoid your eye contact because he/she is scared of you.

If Your Dog Doesn’t Accept Treats From You

Many dogs love treats, and most dog owners win their trust by rewarding them with snacks and tasty treats.

Unless your canine is so different, chances are, he/she loves snacks and treats.

If you’ve ever tricked him/her using food and when he/she came to you, you punished him/her, there’s a chance he now sees your treats like traps.

He doesn’t trust you anymore, and he/she is afraid that you might use treats to trick him again; there’s no way he/she will accept them.

So if you notice your pup doesn’t eat anything you give to him/her, then he/she is ignoring you, without a doubt.

However, there may be other reasons for a dog’s bad attitude towards your treats, observe them, to establish the problem.

If Your Dog Bite Or Growl At You

For this one, it happens rarely, I mean it’s so uncommon for a dog to be aggressive towards his/her owner.

But in some cases, if a dog feels threatened by you, they may try to defend themselves or try to scare you.

A dog may not be able to express itself when he’s mad at you or when you’re hurting him growling is their way of communicating to you.

There are several reasons why a dog may growl at you, like if you accidentally step on their tail and they’re hurting.

Another reason is fear; if a dog is afraid of you, then he/she will growl at you when you try to get close to them as a way of reacting.

And as we saw earlier, if a dog is afraid of you, then there’s a problem, and they’re likely to ignore you and refuse to play with you.

If Your Dog Seem Nervous Around You

Dogs communicate more with their body language, and if you’re keen enough to understand their language, then your relationship will always be cordial.

When a dog is nervous around you and is full of anxiety, you will know from their behavior like licking their lips and yawning.

Although you cannot entirely attribute these two behaviors to fear and anxiety, it’s easy to note some weird behaviors from a dog, especially when he/she is not comfortable.

Some also get their hair stand up along their back as a sign of discomfort.

It’s always good to try and observe your pup such that you can tell when he/she is not okay; that unique bond will help you know when he/she is avoiding you.

Other signs that show a dog is nervous and stressed around you are whining, barking, changes in body posture, and others.

What To Do

For you to teach him how to play with you, you need to first eliminate the enmity between you to build your trust and friendship.

So don’t worry if your pup doesn’t seem to like you because it’s possible to cultivate your friendship and win his/her love within no time by doing these little things.

Take him/her for walks daily for you two to spend time together and to try to understand each other.

During these walks, try to establish a connection by talking to him, trying to make him run towards you, and praising him/her just for any small improvement.

Remember, dogs are likely to repeat any behavior that you praised or rewarded.

Feed your pup with his/her favorite food daily to get him to like and trust you, and don’t just give him/her food, then leave, stay until he/she has taken all the food.

Praise him for eating, and anything else that you think is an improvement.

Learn to hug your pup regularly and don’t leave him/her alone in the house for too long.

Well, life’s commitments cannot allow you to stay in the house with your canine forever, but leaving him/her for long hours can lead to behavioral issues like separation anxiety, and remember the goal here is to establish a connection.

You have to be patient with your canine; don’t expect him to come around as fast as you want them to, step by step, you will win their love.

Final Thoughts

As seen in the article, there can be many reasons why my dog doesn’t know how to play.

But no matter the reason, you can always teach him/her.

It takes time for a dog to understand what you want, but with commitment and consistency, they finally come around.

Rewarding a dog might seem like a small gesture to you, but to them, it means everything.

A dog may know how to play and still refuse to play with you depending on how you treat him/her or how you punish him when he does something you don’t like.

Don’t scold a dog too much and be patient with him throughout his learning journey.

Learn to hug and praise your pup, to maintain that connection and strong bond between you.

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