Building Motivation in Play: Monkey in the Middle

play training tips Jul 09, 2024
French bulldog chases a ball

Not every dog comes to us with the confidence or desire to engage in play. In some cases, dogs are stressed out by new environments or people and have trouble relaxing enough to play. In others, dogs find more satisfaction playing by themselves or destroying toys.

No matter the reason for the lack of motivation, there is a simple game that can be employed to entice a dog to play - monkey in the middle!

Dogs are no different than humans - when there is fun to be had, they want to be included. If your dog isn't interested in playing, grab a human partner and play with them. Play catch, bounce a ball back and forth, roll a frisbee across the ground... exaggerate the fun you are having until your dog's interest is piqued. 

Once they start to engage, remember that no one likes playing a game that is impossible to win. Make sure its possible for your dog to get the toy sometimes - roll the ball close by them, bounce it within their reach, race them to the ball and let them win, etc.

Remember, the point of monkey in the middle isn't to exclude your dog, but to motivate them to engage and show them that playing together is fun!

And if your dog still doesn't engage in play, that's okay! Play monkey in the middle for a few minutes then put away the toy and try again another time.

If the reason for your dog not playing is stress, fear, or lack of confidence, they may just need more time. Try playing in a quieter environment while working on additional confidence building exercises in parallel.

If the reason for your dog not playing is that they would rather play by themselves, or with other dogs, or they would rather destroy toys than play with them, temporarily limit their preferred activity. Skip the dog park, limit their access to toys in the home, etc. In place of those things, offer more opportunities to play with you. Try this for a few days or weeks and see if they become more motivated to engage in play with you. Once your play relationship has improved, ease the other activities back into your routine if desired.

Looking for more hands on coaching to help bring your play to the next level? Check out our in person training packages!



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