How to Encourage a Shy Dog to Play

Play is an important part of socialization for dogs: it helps them learn boundaries and to understand how to interact with people and other dogs. But some dogs are too shy or docile to indulge their urge to play. Reasons for this include changes in environment severe anxiety and previous bad experiences that cause distrust.


Building Trust

Step 1 - Hide a food treat in your hand.

Step 2 - Sit on the floor and ignore your dog. Wait for him to approach you. It may take some time for this to happen, so be patient. It's important to ignore the dog so it becomes his choice to approach.

Step 3 - Hold out the food treat once your dog approaches. As he takes it, say, "Good boy." All you want to do here is make the dog confident in your presence. With sufficient repetition he'll learn that approaching you for contact has a good outcome. After a few sessions of this, graduate to stroking the docile dog as you give the treat.

Encouraging Play

Step 1 - Hold a food treat in your hand and walk near, but not directly toward, the dog. Famed dog trainer Cesar Milan even recommends tying a piece of chicken to your belt.

Step 2 - Walk at a pace that won't startle the dog but is quick enough that he'll want to follow you. By taking him from a state of docile ambling to brisk trotting, you create a distinction between what he was doing when alone and what he is doing right now, so you're not becoming part of his activity, he's becoming part of yours.

Step 3 - Release the treat and issue verbal praise. Repeat this process once a day for a week so the dog forms a habit of following you. After a week, switch the treat for a toy.

Step 4 - Release the toy the same way you'd release the food treat, using lots of verbal praise. But hold it a little longer each time before releasing, so the dog gets used to it being simultaneously in his mouth and in your hand. Eventually you'll be able to graduate to playing a little game of tug-of-war with the dog. Repeat this process for a week.

Step 5 - Crouch down before releasing the treat. This allows the dog to get used to your being at his height. After a week of doing this, graduate to throwing the treat a short distance for the dog to fetch. He'll probably run off with the treat the first few times, but have a food reward ready for the first time he brings it back to you. The trick is to anticipate desired behavior and be ready to reward it.

By Simon Foden


About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for