Play is one of the most powerful tools in dog training ! Its a big part of our training whether it be at our dog obedience classes, puppy preschool classes or at our private in home dog training sessions. It forms part of our dog behaviour modification programs and plays a fundamental role in addressing dog behaviour issues.
It wears your dog out
Increases levels of serotonin and dopamine for us and our dogs
Assists coordination, balance and body awareness
Creates a strong bond between you and your dog
Builds engagement and focus
Reduces stress for us and our dogs
It gets us out and about
It makes dog training fun
Its a fun way to tap into your dogs natural drives and instincts.
Decreases boredom and destructive behaviours
Play can be a powerful reward for a lot of dogs, which means it can be used instead of, or as well as food, as a motivator. Incorporated into a training session, you can teach your dog skills such as drop, give, recall, impulse control and so much more !
What are dog drives & instincts?
When speaking about dog drives, we are referring to something that motivates a dog to act instinctively. A dog that chases a ball is a classic example of a prey driven dog, that is to say, a dog that will instinctively chase small, fast-moving things. Instincts serve a purpose, they are a dog's natural ability to do something without having been taught how. Common examples of instinctive behaviours are digging, guarding, and burying things.
If you tap into your dogs prey drive, you only need to play for short sessions in order to wear them out ! No more walking for an hour, only to find your dog still has energy. Add in obedience commands to your play sessions to wear them out even more !
Every dog is different and will like different play types and styles. Quite often this is influenced by what they were originally bred for.
A Border Collie ( herding breed ) may love chasing and games that represent herding and darting from one direction to the other in anticipation of our next move !
A Dachshund ( originally bred for hunting badgers ) may love fetch, sniff and find, to chase and be chased.
A staffy ( originally bred for bull baiting ) can enjoy tug, games of conflict and rough play.
A Greyhound ( bred for racing and hunting ) may love short bursts of chasing games, flirt pole games, celebrating by running around with a toy....but not necessarily giving it back !
The prey sequence
Play allows us to really tap into our dogs predatory drives in a safe and controlled way. The entire predatory sequence is a combination of SEEK, STALK, CHASE, CATCH, KILL, CONSUME, CELEBRATE. But what does all this mean?
SEEK - sniff and find where it is ( hide kibble or a toy )
STALK - watch it ( working out your next move )
CHASE - time to go get it ! ( run after the ball , person, toy )
CATCH - now you have it ( I caught up to you )
KILL - thrash it around ( shake the toy )
CONSUME - rip it apart ( oops, the backyard looks like its been snowing ! )
CELEBRATE - run around with it because you are the best ! ( woohoo....I did a thing ! )
TIP - Short sessions are more beneficial - 5-10 mins is great !
Types of play
There are various types of play and we recommend experimenting with all of them !
Food play is using food to encourage your dog to move, sniff and search. Whether you throw some kibble and ask them to 'go get it', ask them to follow it in your hand, under your legs, over or under objects or just hide it so they have to use those hundreds of scent receptors to sniff out where its hidden.
Toy play can be anything from a tug rope, ball, something that squeaks, empty bottles, boxes, plush toys, rubber toys, soft or hard toys, flirt pole, you name it...get in there and move those things around, throw them, hide them, tug them, rip them up ! Make it come alive with movement and your dog will love you for it !
TIP - You can make your own flirt pole from a broom handle, some stretchy cord and a chamois.
Personal play is you and your dog, just enjoying each others company. You can run, then stop, play statues, roll around, make silly noises, run your hands along the ground or under a blanket, play tag, hide and seek, tickle them...you name it !
If you have more than one dog in your household, its important to remember each dog may like a different type of play, even if both your dogs like the same play, one dog is inevitably going to be quicker and stronger so remember to give both dogs some one on one play time.
Some of our senior dogs cant move as well as they use to - this doesnt mean they cant play ! Scent games, massages, personal play, teaching tricks etc. You can shape behaviours using clicker training, add sensory games and lots more !
All are enriching activities you can do with your elderly pooch !
As sad as it is to see, some rescue dogs dont know how to play. They may have been used for breeding only, were provided no enrichment or games, were abused and are reluctant to play or just dont know how to play.
With these cases we suggest starting slow, utilizing scent games and adding play involving movement, slowly but surely. Experiment with different types of play at a low level and reward for any and all interaction. As your bond grows and your dogs confidence increases, their play style will emerge, but be patient ! If your dog plays with other dogs safely, watch how they play, as it may give you some clues as to what they like to do...do they chase other dogs? Do they want other dogs to chase them? Do they play bow then run away quickly ? Do they jump or roll around?
So...you can see...play is simple yet powerful !
Use your imagination, be creative, enjoy short sessions and watch the bond with your dog grow !
Now stop reading and start playing !