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Playing with your Dog

The importance of play

Lou Newman (Let's Go Fido)

Play offers puppies and dogs opportunities to engage with the world around them. Play can be with other dogs, humans or with toys and other items.

What do I mean by play ……?

Play as an activity and engagement. It does not have to be athletic … like agility. It can be chasing an object, balancing on walls , playing tug , doing a trick. It can be pushing a ball back and forth, catching leaves blowing in the wind . Something that the animal likes to do, and you can see that by observable changes in their body language.

There are different types of play
  • Treasure hunters (digging, hiding and seeking items)
  • Tuggers
  • Fetchers
  • Chewers 
  • Problem Solvers 
  • Chasers 
  • Wrestlers 
  • Team Players
  • Cuddlers

So how can play help you with your dog?

1. Helping them to think clearly

Have you ever had a moment when training where your dog freezes. They may look at you as if they have no idea what you want from them, some may even stop and scratch their necks in confusion. Well in those instances they are feeling confused by what we may be asking of them.  So to diffuse the situation and let them relax, have a play session to release the tension before attempting further training. 

2. As a reward

Play can be utilised a part of our training program. Remember dogs choose what is reinforcing for them and for many dogs it is 'play'. We can use play as a reward for each successful attempt during the training session (for instance playing tug after coming when called) or as a big reward at the end of a training session (playing tug). This way our pups look forward to future training sessions. 

3. Making them feel happier

Why is play so powerful in cheering us and our pets up?

Think about a catch up with friends ,eating , dancing ,watching a game. These activities have the same effect as playing. They change our emotional state, they release neurochemicals  that change our emotional outlook (e.g. releasing endorphins).

4. Helps improve confidence

Exploratory play (e.g. searching for treats in the grass, puzzle toys) is intrinsically motivated and freely chosen, it allows puppies and dogs control over their actions and their learning. Play also helps puppies and dogs develop their self-regulation and problem-solving capacities.

With all those benefits it is ridiculous we don’t play more .

So how do I incorporate play into my pup's life?

Try watch you pup and find out what they like to do. Often these are what we consider undesirable behaviours … For example: jumping up, pawing, picking up items and delivering them randomly elsewhere , sniffing , chewing sticks destuffing toys etc.

The activities tell us what they enjoy doing … so we should recreate them in an enjoyable and more useful way. 

Moving items - Teach them to find and fetch their toys and put the toys in the basket

Destuffing - Find toys that the can pluck items out of (plush toys with smaller toys they can pull out, cardboard items that can be filled with dried treats and then pulled apart)

Jumping up - teaching tricks such as jumping through a hoop or learning agility, doggy parkour or canine hoopers (talk to your trainer as dogs need to be a certain age to start this)

Pawing at you - Teaching tricks such as a high five, shake, wave or targeting items with their paw (e.g. closing the door with their paw)

Chasing birds - fetch, catch the frisbee, chase the flirt pole, dock diving, lure coursing etc. 

The aim is to build these activities into games with you, so that you can tap into it anywhere and tap into the feel-good experience it brings.

A word of warning

Don’t make the thing they love, a chore

It means over playing one game too much can take the fun out of that game …… this is not obedience training and we should be making it reinforcing and enjoyable for the dog (not us). 

Think more about building a group of games around an activity or activities your dog loves to do.

Play and be mindful of what games do not work, and what activities cause your dog to walk away. This is important to note and avoid, in order to build trust and a better game next time.

Play for some is about the activity and the toy does not matter. For others dogs, they need that structure such as a  specific toy.

Once you find some games you and your pup enjoy together ….

See if your pup dog will play them with you ,at any time of day … Will they play them anywhere?

Why do we want several games that our pups enjoy?

To build that happy mind set both at home and outside our home. That we can help change our dogs outlook, if something unpleasant happens or if you have asked them to do something more challenging so they can now shake off the stress or just to have fun with them and spread that joy and feel good emotion to the area you are in .

So lots to consider.

Get playing!!

 “Pups and owners that play together  stay together “

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