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Playing with Your Dog or Puppy: Appropriate Play Tips

People often make the mistake of getting the dog riled up in the name of play. Then when the person wants to stop, the dog doesn't understand, continues to "play" and ends up in trouble. Play should have a clear beginning, end and rules. It is important that no bad behavior is taught or reinforced by play. For example: Play that entices the dog to jump or use his mouth such as throwing a ball when the dog jumps for it or playing tug-of-war.

Retrieving exercise or fetch: You are going to "name" each of the dogs' behaviors as he does them. This builds a vocabulary but doesn't set the dog up to disobey because you are not telling the dog to do anything. Use two identical tennis size balls that squeak. The dog should not see these balls at any other time and should not be allowed to play with them alone. Squeak one ball, the dog will run to you, say, "come" when he comes. Have him sit by holding the ball close to his nose and bringing it back to his forehead say, "sit" when he sits. Throw the ball, when he goes for it say, "get it." When he picks it up say, "take it." When he runs back toward you say, "bring it here." If he doesn't, entice him by throwing up and catching the other ball. When he gets to you, squeak the second ball;  this should cause him to drop the first one and you will say, "drop it." This is a confidence-building exercise that teaches the dog to relinquish objects to you. It also teaches the functional task of retrieving. You can later apply the same words to any dropped object.

Hide and seek: Hide with treats* in various locations, gradually building  the level of difficulty. Example: First hide behind a chair, then behind a door. Say "Jake, you can't find me." When the dog finds you say, "come" (naming his action). Have a second person hiding and set up a relay between the two. If there is only one person available or if the dog follows you give him a longer lasting treat such as a hard biscuit so you have a chance to get away and hide again. If the dog knows "stay" have him stay then go hide.

Variations: "Go Find" where the dog goes to find a treat, toy or a person.

*Good treats to have on hand to reinforce desirable behaviors should be long and soft so you can break off one small piece at a time so the dog can eat it quickly.

Inappropriate games to play with your dog or puppy

Tug-of-War: This teaches the dog to use his mouth. It can also reinforce dominance if you let go first - he wins. Tug-of-war is sometimes used as a confidence- building exercise for an exceptionally fearful/timid dog.

Any play that reinforces wild, undesirable behaviors such as jumping, barking or chasing the dog.


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