Playing games with our dogs is an essential aspect of our responsibility towards dogs. One might think, “They are games, how important can they be?” Think of them as enrichment for your new family member. Games do a variety of things for you and your dog. Remember that most dogs love to play games, and often, people do not fully understand the negative or the positive consequences of the games they initiate. You need to fully understand why you play them, how you play them when you should play them, and how to control them. Let’s look at each point individually and then learn to play some of the games.
Dogs are predators and instinctively they want to chase, catch, and chew.
Playing games with our puppies and dogs is exciting, fun, and relaxing. Any quality interaction with another living animal helps to build a bond and will encourage and increase the level of trust between you. It enhances our relationship with our dogs and quite possibly with nature, depending on where you are playing. Many people and dogs experience an increase in their vitality and sense of health and well-being from playing. All this good stuff, by merely hamming around with our furry friends.
Certain games are incredibly therapeutic for your dog. Dogs are predators, and instinctively they want to chase, catch, and chew. Playing games that allow the dog these outlets is beneficial since they are a blast for the dog, but they lower the chances of him getting his fill by chasing cars or bikes or shredding your personal belongings. You are providing your dog with a positive outlet.
Playing games gives you a clear indication of how much control you have over your dog. If you initiate a game and can start and stop the game without being tackled by the dog or the dog running away with the ball or stick, you’ve learned something. The dog is interested in playing with you; he understands tackling you is not an option; he understands what you want when you ask him to drop the ball.
There are games you will play with your pup that are fun; they also help teach the puppy a particular behavior. Games can also serve as a reward for behavior. Hide and Go Seek is an excellent example of this. We can hide ourselves or treats or toys, and then we can combine this with calling the pup to come. Each time they come to us, they must search for you, some treats, or their favorite toy (see Recall in Junior Obedience). We have strengthened our puppy’s recall by playing a game, the puppy has had the opportunity to exercise his hunting skills, experiences the reward of it, and we had fun.
The more your dog learns, the easier they are to teach, and the quicker they learn new things.
A great technique to use is to release the puppy from whatever you are training with a game. Releasing (see Release in Junior Obedience) with a game translates to something like this: puppy is in a ‘down,’ you give him the word that he may get up, and as he does, you throw the ball to start a game of retrieve. Doing this accomplishes the obvious thing – it’s fun! More importantly, it makes your training so much more powerful! What starts to happen in the little doggie mind is that it is unclear where the game begins and where it ends. Doing this helps increase the puppy’s focus and attention. He never knows when you may WOW him with his favorite sport. He ends up spending a lot of time concentrating on you, and this is a good thing.
We will go over the specifics of games for you in this section but there are some basic principles regarding how to play games with your puppy.
- It is imperative that you control all the games. You are in control of the dog when you are in control of the games.
- Play Low! Keep the toy that is in your hand low to the ground. This helps avoid having the puppy jump up to grab.
- Do not leave toys that you use for the games lying around on the floor for the dog to pick up or solicit play from you. The game toys should be kept in a place that is not accessible to the dog. Remember you control the games, you control the dog.
The only limitation of playing games is your imagination!
- Puppies can be particular about the toys they play with. You may need to do some experimenting with different toys in order to discover what really drives your puppy bonkers, but it is well worth the effort.
- If at any time during a game the puppy refuses to drop or puts his mouth on your skin or clothing with anything more than a very soft mouth (see the next page for a description of soft mouth), the game is over!
- Take the time to build up a desire in the puppy to really want to play the games. Don’t rush it. Play for short periods of time and then quit while the puppy is still excited with the game. If the puppy gets bored and quits, then you have played for too long, and the puppy is controlling the game, not you.
- Your body posture and intonation help make the game more successful. Silly animated voices, inviting posture, such as bending over or kneeling, depending on what game you are playing, or opening your arms wide, running away from the puppy, smiling, singing, being silly, this is what it’s all about.
- The level of excitement that you create surrounding the games should be proportional to your puppy’s own excitability scale. If he is naturally wired, he won’t need much of a push in that direction. Conversely if he is timid, placid, or very low key, he will need more of a push.
- Some games may need to be taught in steps, part A and part B. Some games will be very simple to begin with and get more complex as the puppy’s knowledge and confidence and strength builds. We will help by describing these situations.
- The only limitation of playing games is your imagination!