Generally speaking I don’t think people play enough with their dogs.
Or at least, when they do it’s mindless play and usually involves the dog dictating when and how it happens. This might be brilliant fun for my dog, but it would quickly bore me!
Now in my humble opinion, every game should have a few rules – then everyone knows where they stand. Plus I don’t object to the odd bit of cheekiness from my dog – I just like them to understand when they’ve pushed the boundaries of the rules, and I can rein them in if I need to.
Because using toys with a dog that loves to play is seriously more exciting to them when you’re out and about than even the most delicious training treat.
If you can be part of something that creates great joy and excitement for your dog then they’re going to want to spend more time with you, and will be eager to come back to you in the hope of being rewarded with a fun game.
Tug v. Tennis Ball
Yes I know, lots of dogs go MAD for a tennis ball. But here’s the thing – with dogs like that I end up feeling like their butler. They’re not interested in interacting with me, I’m just a useful tool for making the ball move. Not so much fun for me I’m afraid!
On the other hand when my dog and I play tug, it’s much more interactive – they can’t tug unless I get involved. And I like being involved and sharing my dogs joy for playing – it’s a lot of FUN for both of us 🙂
I subscribe to the ‘why get a dog and bark yourself’ school of thought on this one. When I throw out your toy I’m expecting my dog to go get it and bring it straight back to me. Note the ‘straight back to me’ part – not in your own time or when you’ve checked out what else is going on, straight away!
2. Put It In My Hand
Yes I admit it. I’m a lazy dog handler. I fail to see why I should pick up my dogs toy from the ground when they are perfectly capable of putting it into my hand. After all if they enjoy tugging with me it’s a win-win situation – putting it into my hand means they get to start tugging again all that much quicker!
3. Give It Back To Me When I Ask
When I play tug with my dog I’m enthusiastic and sincere, and my dogs love to reflect that with animated and quite often noisy tugging back. But they must release the toy back to me when I ask – something which I quite often reward with another game of tug, because at that point I know they’re usually more keen on that than any food reward.
4. Play With My Toy
Frankly the toy itself shouldn’t be the most important part of the game. Getting to play with me with whichever toy I offer should be an amazing opportunity that my dog is delighted to take me up on. Plus then I can make pretty much anything into a toy – my dogs lead is a good one – and then I can reward them pretty much anytime, anywhere!
If you can have these basic rules in place, you can inject a lot of JOY into your dog training by using a toy regularly to reward rather than just using food. A regular ‘Sit’ can be transformed into something performed with quivering anticipation, and something that is then far more likely to be replicated even when they’re distracted and excited.