Should She Be Playing with Me? (And More Newbie Dog Questions)
May 18, 2016 5:36 PM   Subscribe

This is my dog and I have some dumb questions. I had dumb questions in this post too, but now I have more of them.

Since the last post, I decided to adopt Huggy. I have mixed feelings about this, not because I don't love her (I do), but because when I see how social she is I can see she would be better off in a family. She's a wonderful dog and loves kids. However, the rescue group and I talked about it and because of her age, size and health issues she is basically never going to find a home-- let alone one with kids. This is Hong Kong reality. So she's stuck with me.

1. Play
She is the best behaved dog ever ever ever-- chews nothing, barks at nothing, destroys nothing. She also doesn't play with toys (probably was never used to them). She cuddles with me, but the only play she seems to like is to run and sprint in the dog park. She really likes to run.

Except she does like to play sometimes, I have discovered. With big men. She plays with big male visitors and with random big men in the street. (I am a smallish woman.)

Should I be worried she doesn't play with me? She cuddles with me and is very attentive to me, but it worries me that I'm making her boredom living alone even more boring by not knowing how to get her to play. (I live alone and work full time, but I have a dog walker who comes during the day and she's walked at least four times a day and is never home alone for longer than 5 hours.)

2. Scratching
Is there a way to deter a dog from (minor) scratching? I discovered that the granddaughter of my neighbors was teasing her through the door while I was gone, and she got in the habit of reacting by scratching the wall and floor near the door. I've spoken to the neighbor and the teasing has stopped, but she still scratches if she hears the girl in the hallway. I've put scratchguard film and a rug on the floor, and I suppose I can repair the walls when I move out, but is there anything which dogs don't like which would keep her from scratching?

3. Anallergenic food
My dog is itchy, and the anallergenic food is helping, but she also has arthritis and she is not losing weight any more on this food. She was losing weight nicely on the Merrick duck food. Any thoughts or tips? If you've given your dog this food, how long did you keep them on it?
posted by frumiousb to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: So, dogs have this body language they use to signal play. It's sort of like they bend down at the front legs a little? I'm sure you've seen this. I used to have a big dog not unlike yours, and I had good luck making the "play" signal myself as best I can to communicate to him that it was playtime/I wanted to play.

Another thought is to get her to play with you when she's already in a playing mood, like while she's playing with a male friend or at the dog park. Then she'll get used to the idea of you as a playmate in other contexts.
posted by Sara C. at 5:40 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a bit of success with taping aluminum foil to the places where the dog scratched.
posted by Riverine at 6:05 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

How much do you know about your life before you had her? Do you know if she ever had puppies? I've known some "mom" dogs who weren't really playful in the traditional dog sense. They liked running around and such but didn't do the same things I expected from dogs who were still sort of in that arrested "puppy" state. I don't think this is a bad thing, though.

(And that she'll play with men and not you ... I don't know if that's something to worry about. She clearly likes you. It may just be these other people are sort of "novelty" she has to impress -- I've seen that with female dogs and it's often very cute -- but you, she can just chill and be happy.)
posted by darksong at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dogs are multifaceted and treat different people (and other animals) differently, and that is good! That means she is smart and knows that different situations should mean changes in behavior. I think that as your relationship develops, though, the two of you will find ways to play that make you both happy. Sara C.'s suggestion of the play posture usually works for me and I am also a short woman with a soft spot for big goofy dogs. Search for "dog play bow" for examples, it's like a jump with splayed arms/front legs with your butt in the air. If you do this and Huggy responds by getting excited and running around in circles, barreling into you, going to get a toy, or rolling around, congratulations! You are playing! She might learn to like some toys, just give her lots of time and options.

If it is available and you can afford it, a doggy daycare visit a couple times a week would be fantastic. Often in these situations there are a bunch of regulars and they form their own almost-pack. This will help get Huggy very socialized and have lots of play time and experiences with different sizes and temperaments of dog. Your dog walker might have suggestions for you.

For the scratching there are three avenues to pursue. One is making the surfaces that get scratched very unappealing. Another is training the dog not to scratch, but in your situation I'm not sure you are present enough to really provide the consistency needed (but definitely distract and deter when you catch her in the act! She might catch on on her own.) The third is grooming. You can trim, clip, and file dog nails so they are smooth and short and thus much less scratchy. They also sell nail caps that you can put on, but in me experience they are pretty inconsistent and kind of an ordeal. Talk to a good dog groomer about this - you should be keeping her nails neat regardless, for hygiene and doggy comfort purposes.

I don't have any experience with the dog food. But if you can get her to play more with you, not just high energy play but being medium active at home with you, she will burn more calories and might lose some more weight. When it comes to older dogs, though, sometimes you have to just be observant and decide what kind and level of discomfort is going to be okay. Maybe being itchy is preferable to overweight? Maybe joint supplements will help the arthritis so she can still be comfortable while chubby and not itchy?

Anyway, you are doing a wonderful thing and your care and compassion comes through very clearly. I'm sure your dog knows she is loved.
posted by Mizu at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are doing great! Some dogs act differently around different people. My dog plays much more roughly with my husband.

What else have you tried for her allergies? Dogs can take most antihistamines that are meant for humans (of course talk to your vet about dosage). What about fish oil supplements?
posted by radioamy at 6:13 PM on May 18, 2016

Best answer: Oh also, remember that while you have adjusted pretty quickly to having Huggy, she is still adjusting to you. Her personality and playfulness may come out more with time. They may not though! I had a Corgi that never liked to play.
posted by radioamy at 6:14 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't worry! If she's cuddling with you, that's a great sign she's happy. Do try the suggestion to imitate "play bowing". It seems to get my guy interested in playing. For the food, you can try to cut back the kibble by a 1/4 cup and replace the volume with green beans. It fills them up with fewer calories.
posted by cecic at 6:17 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Mizu, I wish doggie daycare were available in Hong Kong, but it isn't really. There is one place which does it, but it is a 90 minute drive from me.
posted by frumiousb at 6:19 PM on May 18, 2016

Best answer: A couple of things to try regarding play:

1. Have you tried tug of war? It's sort of a universal dog game though some times you have to experiment. I buy a coil of rope, cut off a few feet and tie knots in one end. Then when that gets too unraveled I cut of another few feet.

2. One of the games volunteers play at a local SPCA (humane society) is "find it". You have a few bites of kibble or small treats, say the dog's name then throw a treat near her and say "find it". After the dog eats the treat, do the whole thing again: "Huggy...... find it!" They get a food reward but also enjoy the finding aspect. This works especially well on wood floors because the dog can hear the treat land, then go towards the noise.

Since Huggy had a hard time before she found a good home with you, she may not have much experience at playing but games can be learned just like tricks can. She is such a beautiful dog! She must be so relieved to have found you.
posted by mulcahy at 6:20 PM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Gahhhhh she's so cute, I love her! It's hard to tell, but it seems like you've only had her a short while. My dog didn't seem to even know how to play for the first six weeks or so, but now it's one of his passions (besides sleeping and tuna water).
posted by cakelite at 6:20 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I agree that the cuddling is a good sign. You two are still getting used to each other -- with both dogs I've adopted, there were so many changes over the years as we bonded and spent more time together. I really recommend taking a round of basic training sessions, which for me went a long way toward helping me and my dog define what we expect from each other and find ways to communicate that. With all the care you're showing her, I think this could work out to be a very good match.

The scratching thing: Go and physically stop her every time she does it and be SUPER consistent -- every time. It could also just be a phase -- my dog chewed off the corners of every couch cushion during her adjustment phase in her new home and now would not in her wildest doggy dreams chew on cushions anymore.
posted by mochapickle at 6:39 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

When you're cuddling with her, what would happen if you were to initiate some play like some very mild roughhousing? She is probably still bonding with you but you don't want her to settle into a pattern where she thinks it's improper to play with her owner. The gender/size issues also makes me wonder if she's afraid to hurt you.

My only qualifications for offering this perspective are that I've had several dogs through my life and I've anthropomorphized every one of them. Shameful, I know.
posted by DrGail at 7:17 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to the play bow, there's a play sound. Kind of like an outward snort or huff. I find that standing perfectly motionless (knees slightly bent, like you're about to lunge) and then making that sudden huff sound at the moment when I move suddenly (e.g faux lunge toward the dog) tends to signal dogs that I want to play.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:59 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

So she's stuck with me.

Oh, no, don't think that! You both sound lucky to have found each other. Unhappy dogs let you know they are unhappy, one way or another. I think any dog would be lucky to have you as their person.

About the food, my chow mix had hot spots and would lick his paws but the vet only had temporary solutions. I brought him to the dog store with me one day and a sales clerk asked about the hot spot. She suggested it might be the chicken, so I put him on Merrick Buffalo dry and he never had another hot spot again.

I don't recall how long it took but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gone through more than one 40lb bag if I wasn't seeing results. Since your pup responded well to the Merrick maybe try gradually switching to a non-poultry flavor. (Check with you vet first.) It's something (relatively) inexpensive that would be easy to track.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:02 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That is one adorable dog!!! I'm so glad you two found each other! Don't worry about not having doggie day care, considering Huggy's history I think it's possible doggy day care could aggravate her anxiety, so maybe it's better not to have it available. How does she do at the dog park or when you meet other dogs?

About playing, don't worry if she's not playing with you. Larger dogs and older dogs don't always play so much. There may have been some men who interacted in a playful way with her in the past and so she is socialized to believe that's how one behaves with men. Try the play bow, but don't worry if she doesn't respond much. I guarantee she is very happy to have you as her person! One game that many dogs like is the box game. Save a variety of different cardboard boxes. When u want to give her a treat, put the boxes around the room, hide really good treats inside the boxes. Make it super easy to find and reach the that's at first and praise her hugely each time she gets one. Gradually make it trickier to find the treats. This is a puzzle game that is great for indoor dogs and most of them love it. Some dogs are not super puzzle solvers and you have to keep it pretty easy, but most dogs love the mental stimulus.

You might try some doggie calming sprays when you leave each day, this might even help with the itchiness. You are doing a great job btw, you've given that sweet dog a very good life, and I thank you for your generosity and compassion. Huggy's big smile in that picture made my day!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:09 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Remember that your dog is an individual. She's not going to do All Typical Dog Behaviours All the Time like you see in the movies and that is totally OK. Try not to compare her to the ideal dog you have in your head, and try not to compare yourself to the ideal owner you have in your head. You are good enough, you are doing a good job, and she sounds quite happy with you already!

If you want to play with her more, go ahead and initiate play by mimicking play bows (usually some kind of motion to hands on your knees and an excited tone of voice). Tug of war is a good game to do this with if you can get her interested in it. If she's older she might not be into playing very much and that's OK. It also sounds like she might be used to playing outside and not inside. My very playful dog does not play much with me but she is happy to play with other dogs, it happens, try not to take it as a sign that you're doing anything wrong!

The scratching should hopefully go away now that the stimulus is gone. Just interrupt her immediately whenever you catch her doing it (I assume she's doing it when you're not home mostly which makes this trickier).

For the food, you can reduce the amount she is eating/her portion sizes. It sounds like she already gets plenty of exercise and I'd be hesitant to increase it because of her arthritis, so less food might be the easiest option.

Honestly you sound like you're being really hard on yourself. You are doing just fine. You do not need to be perfect, you are learning, she is adjusting, and you are already doing so much for her. Try to relax a little and be kind to yourself too.
posted by buteo at 8:12 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my goodness, WHAT A GOOD DOG.

A fair number of rescues don't have much experience playing with humans. Some never really do it. I know it can make you feel wistful, especially when she does it with others, but there are also a number of dogs who really don't care for cuddling, so at least you're getting that. The next time she plays with a man, watch the body language of the man. See how he initiates it, in terms of stance and gesture and tone of voice. You can try imitating that (along with the mock-play bow, as suggested) to see if she gets it.

Also, have you tried teaching her any commands? That can be a more active form of fun you can share.

Believe me, she's lucky to have you.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a treat.

Get down on your hands and knees.

Put the treat on the floor beneath you.

Using only your head and you moving around on your hands and knees, defend the treat. Maybe slap a bit at her paws.

Shazam! The dog plays with you.

Eventually, you of course let her have the treat.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:46 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Food: my Boston Terrier, Winston, is allergic to chicken, and I won't feed him turkey or duck, either. He's been on Iams Vet Kangaroo and Oat for about 5 months, and his skin issues and yeast went away during the first bag (along with some antibiotics), and he's been happily allergy-free since. That also means NO CHICKEN or POULTRY or FOWL anything; I have to read labels pretty closely for him, since chicken is a very common ingredient in dog edibles. I don't know if Iams is available in HK, but maybe Merrick makes a kangaroo? Or maybe try a salmon? Winston has had bites of beef and salmon that I've shared with him, and had no ill effects. Good luck, and give Huggy an extra snuggle from me!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 12:35 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cut back in the amount of her food. If you give her treats, factor that in and reduce how much you feed her. She will lose weight.
posted by kamikazegopher at 2:21 AM on May 19, 2016

Best answer: Aw, your Huggy is adorable! One of the lovely things about adopting a rescue is seeing how their personalities, confidence, and quirks develop and evolve as they become more secure in their forever home. Our rescue is an entirely different dog than when we adopted her, which makes sense, because she had been through many different experiences and it took some time for her settle in and feel assured about her place and security in the new situation. She may become more playful with you ... or she may not, but if she feels safe and loved with you (and it really seems like she does!), you shouldn't worry either way. It will just be her expressing her own inclinations in a happy and stable environment.

In our house, our dog is much more playful with my husband, and much more obedient with me. (She's not disobedient with my husband, but she's more "okay, yeah, love ya, but I'll listen when I feel like it.") This kind of bothered me a little bit because I didn't want to feel like I was intimidating or something, but now I don't care because it's how she chooses to interact from a position of safety, confidence, and comfort. Here are my thoughts about it:

1. When we got her, my husband was away, so for the first few weeks it was just her and me. I was the source of everything: food, water, comfort, safety, affection. She was depressed at first, then still uncertain and frightened, with a background of instability, having been neglected / abandoned, then living in a foster situation with ton of other dogs, friend and foe, then a new owner where it didn't work out at all (isolated alone in a back yard -- ugh), back to the foster, then to us ... and that's just the stuff I know about. So she needed to figure out how to survive in this new paradigm with this new powerful entity (only me at first) she had to rely on, for better or worse.

2. Slow and steady wins the game, and after 2-3 months, she was feeling waaaaaay more confident, jaunty, and happy, yay! My husband had returned and she adored him almost immediately, but I've always been the one to train her (just the basics, always positive reinforcement training, not strict or scary), so again, I was the one in charge. I believe that to her, in our "pack," I'm the pack leader, so (again, in her doggy mind), there is a certain amount of good mannered deference one shows to the pack leader, as opposed to my husband, who she might feel is a bit more of a playmate. She's more playful and demanding with him, adorably repeatedly tapping at him with her paw if she wants attention or a walk, while with me she will just come and put her chin on top of my leg to signal, "hey, could we maybe..."

3. Yes, it does make me feel a tiny bit jealous, but you know what? When she's afraid (because of scary stuff like fireworks, for example), she always comes to me as her safety touchstone, which make me feel gooey ... awwwwww! And as much as I want to be, "hey, I can be FUN MOM too!" it's okay, because I want her to be able to organize things mentally/emotionally in whatever way makes her feel most secure and stable.

Your dog may be taking things slowly before deciding that playtime with you is a thing that's A-okay, or she may feel like that would be rude, or she may just have had prior experience that male humans are the ones for that kind of activity and that's how it is. Just continue being as awesome as you are, give her the opportunities to explore playing with you, but don't worry too much about it, and however she goes with that will be Just Fine.

You are giving her a safe and loving space to be herself, however she ends up expressing that, and that's a wonderful, wonderful thing! Don't worry!

Regarding toys, our dog doesn't have much to do with them, isn't a chaser of balls or sticks, doesn't get into tug-of-war ("oh, you wanted it, then? okay, sure, you can have it, no problem"), doesn't care for chew toys (meh, this isn't actually food, wtf?) – but I've learned that there are some toys she likes more than others: she likes plush toys with appendages that have a squeak box, but mostly when she's feeling a little frustrated, and then she can "kill" them and vent some energy (too rainy for a walk? time to kill some toys!). She will also carry them around / pile them up / relocate them from place to place occasionally, just because.

So you can try leaving out various types of toys and see if there is a particular texture, shape or quality she's more attracted to. I usually make it a point to sort of elaborately *give* whatever it is to our dog so she knows it's hers (look this is your thing, this is yours! while offering it, putting it by her, on her personal pillow, etc.), which may sound funny, but she seems to have a highly developed sense of ownership between what's hers and what's ours. She doesn't "guard" her stuff, but she recognizes that they are her own, and she doesn't mess with "our" things. It's maaaybe posssssible your dog may be trying to be careful not to upset you by chewing on or playing with something that she thinks might be "yours."

Anyway, you are doing great, don't worry; Huggy looks a very happy camper. :)
posted by taz at 5:32 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Rescues, even/especially rescues you think are adjusting really well considering their history, can take a while to really warm up on playing with people. 6 months to a year, for both of our dogs, and at 2 years, our younger pup has finally decided that playing with toys and humans at the same time is actually fun. It'll melt your heart all over again when it happens, but give it time.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:13 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As far as play, Denise Fenzi has a lot of resources about understanding and building a bond through play with your dog. She offers classes on her site, and also has books out and some articles on her blog. In her classes, students post videos of themselves playing with their dogs (usually just personal play, horsing around with no toys), and she gives advice on what the dog is feeling. It's really fascinating.

A lot of what she teaches is matching your dog's energy. For example, my nervous rescue dog would give up a tug toy immediately if you pulled too hard - she was overwhelmed by me because I was trying too hard to make playing the Most Exciting Thing Ever. I let her win over and over again and was really low-key, and only increased my movement/noise/excitement when she was ready for it. Over time, it really built her confidence and now she's super playful. But you don't need toys to play with your dog. You can play just by pretending to pounce or chase, or by inviting her to chase and pounce on you - watching dogs interact at a dog park is great for that.

Toys - my dog was being fostered, and her foster owner said she just wasn't a toy dog. No interest in tugging, fetch, or even squeaky toys. That was true for the first four months I had her. Then she started to love plush stuffed animals (just carrying them around and pouncing on them, not destroying them). After about six months, I could get her to tug a little. Just last week, after a year and a half, she finally figured out balls and is super into them. My friend's dog figured out frisbees after three years. It takes time.

My dog also only played with men at first, and I was really sad about it. But she's also only growled/barked at men. I think in general they amp her up more, because she has less experience with them, whereas she felt safer with women and was more chill.
posted by autolykos at 7:24 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a "game" that's great for dogs who love to run - when your dog's paying attention to you, throw a piece of food and say "get it." Dog runs after it. You run away from the dog, and when your dog comes back to find you (cause you have the treats), throw another piece of food away from you.
It's very low pressure, because they don't have to interact with you that much, and their reward is to get to run away from you (I know that sounds weird, but a lot of interaction can be stressful for a new dog, so lots of breaks are good). Over time, they'll get more confident and can go from cautiously approaching you to leaping into your arms to get to chase the food.
posted by autolykos at 10:51 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. To answer your questions, I've had her for a bit over a month now. I like the idea that there are still things left to unfold about her personality. This would explain a lot.

Mulcahey, the "find it" game was a big success since it involved her food and she's on a diet.

However, all variations of the play bow left her looking at me with soft and puzzled pity. Though she did lick my hand in consolation. It will take the time it takes, I guess.
posted by frumiousb at 3:49 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

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