Play with Your Dog!

The more I train, the less serious I am about it.

(Cue sound of wallets closing … clients running to Google, entering “serious dog trainer” in the search window.)

“Does this mean that you don’t care about our dogs having safe, polite, reliable behaviors?”

No, of course not! I love safe, polite, reliable behaviors.

What it does mean is that I am seriously committed to our interactions with our dogs being light, playful, and crazy fun.

This past winter Joyful Dog offered a Winter Games class, in order to give everybody a break during the grey days of January and February. Dogs were spinning, climbing, jumping, sniffing, playing tug….

“Omigosh, that sounds like chaos! What on earth did they learn?”

Impulse control
Asking permission…

…and SO much more!

Your dog doesn’t know that training is not a game unless you tell him so. When we make play of our work with our dogs they discover that it’s worth paying attention to us, because it’s fun to be with us.

“No problem.”

“I thought you’d never ask!”

Take a look at your interactions with your dog, and think of ways that they could become more fun for you both.

Here are few things to try:

Sneaking away:
Having trouble getting your pup to come when called? Don’t say a word — just imitate a cartoon spy, and walk quietly away with exaggerated sneaking movements. Odds are your dog will speed to your side, perhaps thinking that you need somebody to keep an eye on you because your behavior just can’t be trusted!

Give your dog what she wants:
Is your dog pulling you to that special blade of grass or that favorite tree? Pause until she decides to give you attention, no doubt to ask “what’s the holdup?”! Once she’s reengaged with you, praise her, and run, together, to the special spot that had captured her attention. The more your dog learns that connecting with you is the gateway to the things she loves, the more readily and reliably she’ll check in with you.

Play the cooperative game of “Tug”:
Wrongfully-maligned for bringing out the worst in our dogs, Tug is actually a great way to teach your dog to cooperate with you. It takes two to tug, and if your dog loves the game, he’ll be willing to learn to modulate his mouthiness and excitement in order to keep the game going. I observe a few rules when I play tug with my dog:

  • Teeth that get on my skin during the game result in a verbal “oops”, and an immediate break in play. There’s no drama or yelling, just the simple indication that teeth made the game end for a moment. After 30 seconds or so I’ll resume play. A second “infraction” leads to a lengthier break in play, or the end of the game altogether for the day.
  • Bouts of tug are paused to practice dropping or trading the toy for food. Saying a simple “drop” or “give” while feeding a tasty treat to your dog might work for dogs who are not initially quite excited by the game. For other dogs the behavior will need to be taught before anything of value is present.
  • Nine times out of ten, when a dog “gives” or “drops” the toy the game will resume. As a result the dog is much more likely to give up valued items such as the tug toy when asked.

Spice up your daily walks by turning the world into your dog’s personal agility course!
The sport of Canine Parkour is growing in popularity as dog lovers discover the fun of engaging with their dog in new ways, as Fido learns to do balance walks on fallen logs, to weave between saplings, or to go under and over sawhorses.

Teach your dog to touch your hand with her nose. Really!
If I could teach a dog only two things, “Nose Targeting” would be one of them. A dog who will happily come to my hand is a dog who’s likely to come back to me. The dog who will follow my hand when it’s moving can learn numerous behaviors and tricks, such as following my hand off a piece of furniture without the need for a conflict over who “owns” the sofa.

Training that’s fun will hold you and your dog in good stead for a lifetime.

Come on out to Great Country Farms this weekend to get a head start on your playdate with your dog! Joyful Dog will be on hand wth fun and games for the annual Dog Days event, as well as some great gear and toys for sale.

Play with your [Joyful] Dog!

3 Dog Farm Dogs
15268 Shannondale Rd
Purcellville, VA 20132
Play with Your Dog, by Pat Miller
From the Amazon review: “There s more to canine fun and games than just fetch! Miller distills the concept of dog play, explains why it’s important, illustrates how constructive dog play can strengthen your relationship with your dog, and manages to make reading the book almost as much fun  as putting the ideas to work! –Victoria Schade, CPDT, author of New Puppy! Now What? DVD
Eileen Anderson of eileenanddogs.com has written a great blog on puppy raising, and being fun.
A handout on teaching “Tug”
A handout on teaching “Target”
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