Play is so important in the building and maintenance of our relationships with our dogs. We all do it at some stage, we all play with our puppies. Most of us probably do it daily, often without even thinking about it, and if not every day then certainly regularly. But how can play be integrated into your pups learning and development? And how can we incorporate play into our training?
Play can be hugely beneficial to your pup, in so many ways. It can help to teach a pup about communication, self control, general manners, stress or boredom relief and much more. But, it can also lead to endless frustration, over stimulation, overexcited and over reactive behaviours and send arousal levels through the roof!
I started to think about how I play with my dog. She LOVES her ball, so often it will include the beloved ‘ballie’. However, she’s of an age where I don’t want her running back and forth after a ball day in and day out. She would be delighted if I did that every day, but I would have a minor heart attack with the worry of what it is doing to her joints. So, do we not play with the ball? No, of course we play with the ball, it’s her favourite thing in the world. But we have ‘controlled play’. I throw it for her, not away though, AT her, she catches it. She dances about with it, I run about encouraging her to pick it up. I kick it a few feet, she grabs it, and so we go on. I will throw it, a short distance, I’ll ask her to ‘wait’ until it lands, then release her to get it to discourage her from jumping mid air to catch it, whilst encouraging some self control at the same time. I’ll ask for a ‘weave’ and throw it at her to catch. I practice distance control with the reward being a ‘catch’ of the ball. Waits, heel, recall, leave, drop, watch, stop, through, weave, touch, figure eight, ALL of these can be achieved under the guise of ‘play’. You can start off luring all of these behaviours with treats certainly, but within a day you can be practicing all of them using ‘play’.
My point here is, not ALL play needs to be over-stimulating and rough. Play doesn’t need to be purely running up and down after a ball or Frisbee with you standing in one spot for half an hour. You can teach your pup appropriate play, appropriate interactions, and you can teach your pup that actually, playing with you is just as fun as playing with other dogs! Interact, enjoy it, talk to your pup, practice your basic training.
THINK about what your pup enjoys the most? Does he enjoy retrieving? Work on recalls whilst he’s running in to you, practice running away from your pup calling him. Does your pup like to carry a toy about? Excellent! Work on your heel-work, or teaching ‘put toys in basket’. Try using his favourite toy as your ‘hold’ article, not only teaching him to ‘drop’ but to ‘hold’ as well. Does he enjoy focus exercises? Great! Work on your ‘touch’ using a toy as the target. Is your pup a bit ‘grabby’ when taking treats? Use the toy to encourage a ‘gentle’ hold. Does your pup enjoy tuggy? Brilliant! Work on your ‘out’ cue. There is so much choice. Play really does have the power to be a massive training aid, or, it can send your dog down a path of wound up frustration and unachievable exercise demands. Play should be enjoyable for you and your pup, but we can also encourage productive behaviours and play which is in some way going to benefit your pups development.
Have fun, play is a hugely beneficial tool in your dog training kit! Use it to your (and your pups!) advantage.
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