The Science Behind Why Your Dog Won’t Play Nice

Most people think of dogs as animals that are happy to play all day long, no matter what. When dogs are around each other, they’ll play until they are literally exhausted and have to collapse. But sometimes dogs don’t want to play with people. And other times when they do want to play, they don’t play nice. So what’s going on?

Don’t Blame The Dog Straight Away

Not wanting to play with you might not always be the dog’s fault, accounting to animal behavior researchers at the University of Bristol in Britain. Nicola Rooney, a scientist who has worked on the problem, said that the way that people initiate play might be a problem. She and her research people decided that they would document how people started play sessions with their dogs to see how their dogs reacted. Crucially, however, owners were not allowed to use toys. Instead, they had to rely on old-fashioned hand signaling and other gestures.


In total, Rooney and colleagues observed more than 38 different gestures, or ways in which owners initiated play with their dogs. The main ones were tapping the floor, holding their dog’s paws and barking at the dog, but there were all sorts of different varieties. The scientists asked the dog owners to start playing with their dogs in whatever way they normally would and then began tracking how effective each approach was. The most common approach, tapping the floor, only resulted in play 38 percent of the time, indicating that it wasn’t a very effective way to start play. Other methods of initiating play were completely unsuccessful.

The most successful behavior was chasing and running away. This would make sense since dogs are originally bred from wolves, pack animals which hunt their prey. Often, dogs and wolves play in this way themselves, simulating hunting scenarios and running around after one another. Thus, if your dog doesn’t appear to want to play, try the running and chasing approach.

The Dog Plays Too Rough

If a dog starts playing too rough, most people find the best dog training blog they can and start reading up on what to do about it. After all, a rough dog is dangerous, especially to children. Rough dogs can lunge at you, bite, scratch and swipe, and even though the dog isn’t being threatening, this kind of behavior can still pose risks.


As always, the first thing to do is check your own behavior. Is your approach to playing rough or gentle? If it’s rough, the dog will match you. Another thing you can do is command the dog to lie down or sit, whenever they initiate rough play behavior with a person or another dog. Most dogs need about 10 minutes of inactivity to cool off before their brain function returns to normal and their aggressive instincts abate.

You may also want to neuter your dog. Neutering helps to reduce many of their impulses, making dogs more manageable and less likely to lash out. Spayed dogs are, in general, far less aggressive.

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