Wednesday, 7th October 2015

Playtime!  Why You Need to Play...


Playing with your dog / puppy is a really important communication and relationship building activity and there’s actually much more at stake when it comes to playtime than you might think…


How we play with our dog lays the foundations for our relationship and the secret is to define the boundaries and rules of the game and to control where it starts and stops.


For example:

  • Appropriate play with black and white rules helps puppies develop a sense for their own jaw pressure and bite strength (something they would learn to do with their litter-mates if they got to grow up together) but something we have to help them understand by appropriate play exercises when we bring them into our homes at 8 weeks old.
  • Play will help you develop a toy drive (which is a derivative of the prey drive) giving you a powerful reward to use in your training (much loved by dog sport enthusiasts)
  • Through play your dog learns to enjoy interacting and spending time with you
  • During play you can lay the foundations for later training exercises


Sounds easy doesn’t it but in general terms we humans are simply too slow, too predictable, too inconsistent, and above all, too boring!  


That’s why you see dogs disengage from their owner, roam around, find sticks, branches, and toys that they can chew on their own, run after leaves, check out any other animals or people and go play with them instead…


In reality this encourages the dog to pay no attention to us when we’re outside, the opposite of what we’d like… if you're not careful you end up with a dog that won’t listen to you and this is when most dog owners sign up for obedience classes as a last resort!


Play the right games with an appropriate structure however and you can transform the behaviour of your wild child that bolts away to greet another dog or person on the horizon and there are literally hundreds of games you can play.  ‘Chasing Food’ is one of my all time favourites and I play it on every single walk! 


Game 1: Chasing food


For me this is by far the best interactive game that you can play with your dog/puppy and it’s really simple!


  • Take a few treats and simply make your dog follow you and run with you, change direction quickly, change pace, be exciting to chase!
  • Keep your dog engaged by surprising him with a treat thrown in his direction when he looks at you and then run the other way and reward when he catches up.  
  • Play ‘Close’ - toss a treat away from you for him to chase and then toss another straight away when he comes back close to your side
  • Drop a treat when your dog isn’t looking and encourage him to ‘Find It!’ then take off and get him to chase you for another treat.
  • The possibilities are endless!

You can build up to incorporating exercises like sit, down, etc. throwing the treat as a reward.  


The Chasing Food game will increase your dog’s responsiveness massively and it’s the foundation exercise for training your dog to cope with distracting environments.  


If you incorporate this game with clicker training principles it’s profoundly useful in keeping your dog engaged and focused on you in the presence of environmental stressors and distractions.


Stay tuned for more information about two more essential games to play!


Meanwhile happy playtime!