Teaching a German Shepherd to Play

I saved a 3 yr old German Shepherd mix from the euthanize list. She lived for 4 mo at the shelter in a crate. For two months she was subdued. She's now decided she wants to play.. But she doesn't know how! She bolts around like a maniac with a doggie grin and crashes into me. I've offered every toy I can think of, but she shows NO interest and REFUSES to put anything but food in her mouth. She's dog aggressive so I can't have a "friend" teach her. Any ideas how to play with her? At 60 pounds she's too big to roughhouse.

Large dogs often have a LARGE amount of energy, as you have discovered. The German Shepherd Dog is an intelligent herding breed that often needs a “job” in order to be content. Some individual dogs are not interested in “play” as most people know it, but will want to play in their own way. Sometimes this will take a little trial and error in finding out what is her favorite.  In a safe, fenced area, try playing outdoors by throwing a Frisbee or a ball. Offer a variety of toys, including hard toys like “Kongs” and soft, stuffed toys.  Always monitor her when you offer toys, as pieces of fabric or plastic “squeakers” can be ingested and cause digestive obstruction.  Take her for walks and see if she shows interest in natural “toys” such as sticks and pine cones.

Another good option in keeping her engaged in “play” would be to enroll her in obedience classes.  German Shepherds excel at obedience and many enjoy the challenge of this “job.”  Obedience training also helps to open up a “channel” of communication between you and her. It will also give you a certain level of control over her behavior – resulting in a safer, more polite dog. In my opinion, all dogs should be taught to master the basics of obedience – such as “sit”, “stay”, “come” and “lie down.” More advanced skills can include “fetch”, “handshake”, “leave it” and moving objects on command. Keeping her mind engaged can also help to curb hyperactivity. Classes with an experienced dog trainer or handler may also help with the dog aggression issues – providing a safe place for her to socialize.  Many times, a case of dog aggression is due to improper socialization when they were younger. 

Once a certain level of expertise is gained with obedience, other activities may be available such as agility.  This is another way that owners can “play” with their dogs. It also gives high-energy dogs an outlet for exercise.  She may be an adult but dogs can learn new skills throughout their life. It may take a little work, but I am sure that it will be rewarding for both of you to learn how to “play” together.