It’s Only a Game. But, Actually….

Play is one of the best ways to enhance your relationship with your dog, provide her with mental stimulation and physical exercise, and train. All family members can engage in constructive play with the dog.
Dogs are naturally drawn to other dogs and novelty in the environment. They gravitate to the most interesting stimulus at the moment. When we engage in play activities, we set ourselves up to be interesting to our dogs. The more positive and fun interactions we share, the tighter we seal the emotional bond. Play is a wonderful way to achieve this.
If we don’t provide constructive activities, our dogs will create their own “entertainment”. Mental stimulation and physical exercise are important components of keeping dogs healthy as well as out of trouble. Mental engagement, actually, fatigues dogs faster than physical exercise.
Food-dispensing toys and appealing chews are helpful for dogs’ self-engagement and home alone time. Even better is our interactive play. Target training and “find it” games are fun and challenging additions to the playtime repertoire. You can devise activities that develop your dog’s problem solving skills.  (Google:  “Jean Donaldson’s IQ Test” for ideas.  She is the San Francisco SPCA’s Dog Training Academy Director.)
Every dog has several favorite toys. Place those in a space which is inaccessible to him. Use them as motivators and to reinforce desirable behavior. Call your dog to “come” when you initiate the game. Play fetch with two balls or Frisbees. You can keep the pace brisk and facilitate teaching your dog to “drop it”. Reinforce releasing the ball by tossing another one. Short, frequent play sessions (5-10 minutes) are more fun – and doable – than long sessions. Stop the game before your dog loses interest.
It is an outdated myth that playing tug “makes” a dog aggressive. It’s time to let that one go. Most dogs really enjoy playing tug, and it presents many training opportunities. Tug toys should be at least a foot long, preferably longer. Ask your dog to “sit and wait” until you verbally invite him to take the tug toy. Gauge your dog’s arousal level and ask him to “drop it”. Set up for success by placing a small treat at his nose while asking him to “drop it”. Restart the game using the”sit and wait” cues. Verbally invite him to take the tug toy only when he responds correctly and is calm.
Learning to press the “off” button is an important life skill for every dog. Set rules for tug and other games and use playtimes as fun training sessions.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2015 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Behavior and Training LLC