Dogs and humans that play together stay together. Believe it or not, “play” can actually be considered a trainable behavior with dogs. Teaching your fuzzy friend to play with you can help build your relationship, increase trainability, provide mental stimulation and exercise (for both of you), and help to eliminate behavior problems.
My training philosophy is to ‘have fun and be consistent’. I like to stress to my students, if you are not having fun your dog will know, and your training sessions will not be as effective. How many of you can tell if someone close to you is frustrated or upset just by their body language? How does it make you feel when you walk into a room and you see someone with ridged body movements or sighing? When I see someone exhibiting frustration or anger my body tenses up, I hold my breath for longer periods of time, or I turn around and avoid the person. Dogs are keen to our body language and they can often sense you are frustrated. In fact, a great deal of the way dogs communicate with one another is through body language. When your dog senses you are upset, they are less likely to feel comfortable and at ease and this will affect your training.
A dog that plays with you in the house or the yard is more likely to be engaged with you when you are outside in distracting environments. This can help with your training process. Below are various games to play that will help strengthen your relationship and training with your dog.
Recall Game– This can help with training a reliable recall. Here’s how it works. Your dog is anywhere in the house or your yard you get their attention ANYOTHER way than saying the word ‘come’. As soon as your dog gets to you then say the word ‘come’ and praise. After lots of love and praise let them go back to what they were doing. The key to this behavior is NOT to say ‘come’ until your dog gets to you or until they know what it means to ‘come’ to you. As mentioned, this helps train a reliable recall but it also help to redirect your dog if they are doing something you do not want them to do such as chase the cat, dig in the garden, or run after the kids. If you have more than 1 person in the household spread the family out around the house or yard, take turns calling your dog.
Find It– I train “find it” to prevent jumping, leash pulling, bolting out the door, plus it’s just fun to watch my dog scavenge around the house to find a hidden treat or toy. This game is very simple. Take a small treat, wave it in front of your dogs nose, when your dog is interested in the treat drop the treat on the floor in front of your dog, when they grab the treat say “find it.” Repeat the above steps 10 times. Then start tossing the treat farther from your dog and say, “find it.” Repeat this 10 times. Next, place your dog on a ‘stay’ allow your dog to see where you are hiding a treat or the toy for example, slightly under a rug, on or under their bed, under a shoe, by the couch. Say, “find it” and watch them scavenge. You can do this when you know a guest is coming over. Hide teats or a toy, when the guest knocks on the door tell your dog to “find it.” If you have a dog that likes to bolt out the door hide treats before you leave or as you are ready to walk out the door tell them “find it.” They will be off looking for their treats while you leave the house with ease. One way to train your dog to walk on a loose leash is to randomly drop treats next to you on the ground tell your dog to “find it,” this will help prevent leash pulling.
Tug– In my opinion, playing tug, with RULES, is very engaging. While fetch teaches your dog to leave you then come back for a brief moment, tug keeps your dog engaged with you for a period of time. The rules for tug are that YOU are always the one that starts and stops the game. This is a wonderful control exercise for your dog. (Side note, do not play tug with a teething puppy.) Find a soft cloth toy and introduce it to your dog. When they put it in their mouth say, “take.” Tug on toy for a short period of time. As you are playing tug take a treat wave it in front of your dogs nose, as they drop the toy for the treat say “leave it” give them the treat. Repeat the above steps while slowly increasing the duration of the time you are playing tug.
There are many games to play with your dog, talk to your trainer about other game ideas. Remember when playing with your dog ALWAYS end when your dog is still interested in the game. This will keep them wanting more in the future! Have fun and play! Play! Play!