Every interaction you have with your dog is training; Either you are training your dog, or he is training you.
Years ago, my dog Kylie, a border collie/Australian shepherd cross, cut her paw deeply enough to require stitches. I was told to keep her calm and limit activities for 10 days while she healed. I love Jen, my veterinarian, but I looked at her as if she had three heads when she gave me those instructions. Neither border collies nor Aussies “do” calm.
Out of desperation one day, Kylie batted my foot and gave it a gentle nip as I sat in my favorite chair. Thinking that there certainly would be no harm in “foot wrestling” with her for a bit, I batted her back, and we played like that for five minutes or so. Once I stopped thinking about the activity as being a safe activity for an injured dog, I realized that I was training Kylie to wrestle with my feet. I immediately stopped, but Kylie attempted to engage me in “foot wrestling” for a full four weeks after that. Note to trainer: Every interaction is training.
Training helps mold your dog into a polite, enjoyable part of the family and should become part of your lifestyle. Play is just another way to teach your dog self-control and reliability. Let’s look at two good dog games and how they can be used for training.
Tug-of-war – When playing tug-of-war with an overconfident dog, you inadvertently can teach him to be competitive with you or to fight over possessions. Dogs come with all sorts of personalities but, luckily, dominant status-seeking dogs are in the vast minority. The average dog benefits on many levels when taught to play tug-of-war with rules and boundaries. Your dog gets exercise and structured interaction with you, of course, but the game also offers a great way to train impulse control while having fun.
The rules are simple:
1) Bite only the tug toy, not my hands.
2) Release the toy when I tell you to.
If your dog bites your hand, immediately quit the game for a while. If the game is important to your dog, he will learn the rules quickly.
The next thing to teach your dog is to “give.” Stop tugging but hold the toy firmly, make solid eye contact with your dog and say “give” in a convincing voice. Most dogs are sensitive to the signals this sends and will drop the toy for you.
Once your dog can abide by these two simple rules, you can safely add tug-of-war to your dog’s play repertoire.
Go find it – You will need two people for this game unless your dog has a solid “stay.” As you hold your dog’s collar or put him in a stay, have a helper make a big fuss over “hiding” a treat in an open area near your dog. Release him as you say, “go find it.” If he doesn’t go right to the treat, gently guide him to the spot.
Once your dog gets the idea to search out the treat when you release him, you can begin placing the treat behind furniture in progressively more difficult areas. Ultimately, you should be able to hide treats throughout the house before releasing your dog.
Having a responsive, reliable dog is the goal, and instructive games can help you get there.
Julie Winkelman is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog trainer. Reach her at www.alphacanineacademy.com.