How to Train Your Dog to Play by Itself

By Nicole Standal

While playing with puppies and dogs is fun, there does come a time when your dog needs to entertain itself. When it is left alone, your dog needs to be able to play without damaging the furniture or unrolling the toilet paper. "Many behavior problems in dogs are the result of boredom or excess energy. Toys offer mental and physical stimulation and enrichment. Directing your dog's energy into playing with toys can prevent or help resolve such problems as digging and chewing on furniture, shoes or shrubbery."

Train your puppy with encouragement and discouragement. Say, "You're such a good dog. Good (insert dog's name)" and pet your puppy when it makes even a small step toward doing something correct. Say in a low, angry voice, "No" or "That's Enough" when your puppy does something wrong. Proclaim anger only immediately after the puppy does something wrong--if it makes a mess and you discover it two hours later, your puppy will not understand why you are angry.

Buy an assortment of toys, and give your dog one toy at a time. Observe what toy(s) it keeps chewing on or playing with most often. Keep the toys in rotation, giving your dog only a couple of toys to play with at a time to keep the toys new and interesting. Pet and praise your puppy when it plays with its toys; if it chews items it isn't supposed to, promptly scold your puppy and remove the temptation (if possible, or apply Bitter Apple to items you can't pick up).

Encourage your dog to chew only on its toys by praising it when it is chewing quietly. Discourage your dog from chewing on furniture by spraying problem areas with Bitter Apple or Tabasco Sauce--some dogs are known to like one or both flavors, so ask your vet for other ideas if this fails. Play with your puppy outside with a ball. Hold the ball up high and drop it, encouraging your dog to pick it up. Praise the puppy especially well when it picks up and drops the ball by itself.

Prepare a place for your dog to be alone, a place with no exposed wires, valuable furniture, chemicals or common hazards. This can be indoors or outdoors, in both cases make sure ample water and shade is available. Place a dog bed in the room along with its favorite toys so it has a place to go when you need your puppy out of the way or secured for a little while. Add your old T-shirt or a stuffed animal for comfort, but make sure you would be OK with your puppy destroying it if it gets in the mood to maim and chew. Put your dog into this prepared room (with a few favorite toys) whenever you need some time to yourself or have to leave your dog alone for a little while.