In my last post I addressed dressed giving a dog some space from time to time to prevent separation anxiety. Now we are going to talk about how it is also important to really engage with your dog. Take those precious few minutes of your busy day that you get to spend with your dog and make them count while also reinforcing training.
Play is actually a very necessary part of training. Dogs that practice agility, hunting, scent detection—all of these things might seem pretty serious to us, but for dogs a lot of it is play time. Humans that play with their dogs have an easier time at training usually because the dog is used to following cues and body language. Do you want your dog to come when called, listen to cues the first time you say them, and stick near you on walks? Play is the way to make sure your training is positively reinforced, because you’ve insured that your dog enjoys spending time with you. Dogs that regularly play with people or other dogs are better socialized, and play can even be used to diminish aggressive or fearful behavior.
Playing with your dog doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can start with being more active on your regular daily walks. Instead of just walking from point A to B while you check your cell phone and Spike yanks you from tree to tree, carry some treats or a favorite toy (you may want to audition a few things that are more exciting to your dog than the street environment) and play the check-in game. All you have to do is say your dog’s name, or make a noise that gets his attention, and reward when he orients toward you. Keep your eye on the dog—if you get automatic check-ins, reward those enthusiastically! If your dog has poor leash manners, this is a good time to turn loose-leash walking into a game of follow the leader. As long as it is safe to do so, give your dog the full length of the leash. When he reaches the end of it, you turn and walk the opposite way. It helps if you bend down a bit and encourage him to follow you, and don’t forget to reward him when he catches back up to you. Feed or play with him around your knees so he learns that is the general area where the good stuff happens!
Some more advanced games that help with mental stimulation are teaching your dog to catch while moving beside you, training object targeting that can turn into the “Go Touch” game, learning some “dog parkour” moves, or incorporating “Find It” games to use his sense of smell. You can always visit my YouTube playlist for tutorials on how to play different games with your pup!
Mixing just a couple of these activities into your walks will improve the relationship between you and your dog, improve the quality of your walks, and exercise your dog both physically and mentally.