Playing With Your Dog – A Great Training Opportunity

Walking your dog is a great bonding and training opportunity and is essential to your dog’s well-being. Playtime fits this description as well. However, it can be tough to suss out which games are best. Here are some tips to point you in the right direction.

Wanna Play?

You may have heard that tug of war can make your dog aggressive. On the contrary, tug games provide an excellent outlet for a dog’s natural predatory drive; they are also great energy burners and training rewards. However, tug games can become dangerous if you don’t lay down some ground rules:

  • Simply because of their size, small children shouldn’t play tug with most dogs.
  • Play with designated toys only.
  • Your dog should be taught a “drop it” command so that the game can end when you say so.
  • Your dog should be taught that if his teeth touch your skin, the game ends. This rule is beneficial not only in the context of tug-of-war; if applied consistently, it will help your dog learn to be gentler with his mouth in general.

Many of us like to wrestle with our dogs. Here, you must keep in mind the specific behaviors that wrestling entails: jumping/ pouncing, pinning, scratching, mouthing/ biting and sometimes chasing. Unless you are equipped to train your dog in such a way as to ensure that he does not try to elicit a wrestling session by pouncing on an unsuspecting child or elderly person, wrestling with your dog could get you into a tough spot.

We’ve all seen bomb dogs, search and rescue dogs and the like on TV. The work these dogs do is extremely rewarding for them because using their scenting ability to solve problems is great mental stimulation. Most scent work training begins with simple games, many of which you can play with your dog at home:

  • Put a small treat in each depression in a muffin tin and then cover them with balls of slightly varying sizes. Encourage your dog to find the treats and watch the fun begin!
  • Hide treats around the house and tell your dog to find them. Start off easy, letting your dog see where you’ve hidden a treat, and teach him to “go find”. Then make the game progressively more difficult.

You can also try putting your dog in a sit-stay, then hiding and having your dog come and find you. Be sure to give plenty of rewards and praise when he does find you. This game gives your dog some mental stimulation via problem-solving, and it can help to teach and strengthen your dog’s “come” because it makes coming to you so much fun! Yet another way to make a game out of teaching “come” is to call your dog back and forth between two or more people, rewarding each time he comes. You can change up the order and eventually work to strengthen your dog’s response by adding distractions, such as one player holding a toy.

There are plenty of safe, productive games which allow you to have fun with your dog and train him at the same time. So get playing!

Further Reading
Controlled Tug Games: A Novel Reinforcer – By Aidan Bindoff; http://www.clickertraining.com/node/727
Play Together, Stay Together – By Patricia McConnell and Karen London
Play with your Dog – By Pat Miller

Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.

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