Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Owner worries because rescue dog does not play

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Owner worries
because rescue dog does not play

Hi Tom,

I recently adopted a rescue dog who is very well behaved, affectionate, listens and responds well and has learned a few new tricks, but has two issues: she does not know how to play, and she wants to be outdoors all the time. If you try to play ball she will watch the ball go past her but not chase it. She doesn’t seem to know how to play with any toys. She never picks up a stick, never carries anything in her mouth, and won’t play tug or squeak her toys, although she uses one stuffed animal as a pillow in her bed.

At the dog park she loves to run with the other dogs but has no interest in retrieving whatever they are chasing. She loves to be outdoors but when she is inside she just lies on her bed looking sad or nudges us to go out for another walk.

How can I help her have more fun?

Dear Ellen,
Affectionate, well behaved, with no accidents ain’t bad when I consider that half of my 800 appointments a year were for real “problem” dogs. But I get where you’re coming from, Ellen. You’re obviously a dog lover and sensitive to your dog’s lack of enthusiasm for play in life.
She seems depressed and it’s depressing you.

Assuming that it’s not something medical, it seems clear that her perhaps deprived upbringing did not include any of the usual play antics of most dogs.

You haven’t said how long you’ve actually had him because I’ve seen adopted dogs take more than two months until they became comfortable and trusting enough to relax and “come out” and start being themselves with play. My own poodle, Paula Jean, hardly wagged her tail for two months after I adopted her at age two.

Tom Shelby,
The Dog Charmer
Cooperstown author answers pet owners questions on training their dogs. E-mail your questions to

So forget about the stick and the ball and try this. Let her know you have a treat size piece of meat in your hand and tell her to sit and stay. If necessary have someone hold her on a leash as you back up, acting a little silly to keep her attention. Then, with her seeing you do it, bend down and place the meat behind a chair leg, or whatever. Then go back to her and with great enthusiasm tell her “Go Find!” as you release her. If necessary, take her there on the leash, but don’t show her where it is, let her find it. She will.

With success building on success you’ll be able to tell her to stay, step into a nearby room, hide the little piece of meat, come back and tell her, “Go Find!” She’ll love the game.

I trained two of my dogs to find missing people, and when my kids were young and had friends over that was their favorite game. Hide and seek with the kids hiding and the dog seeking.

Ellen, very important, success building on success, with her finding the meat treat before she loses interest because it’s taking too long to find. Good luck and thank you for being an adopter.

Tom Shelby

Cooperstown author Tom Shelby will answer any pet owner’s questions on training dogs.
Email your questions to

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