Are you playing the wrong way?

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I know it’s a wild question.  We figure that play is just a “free for all” helluva’ good time with our dogs and pups, right?  WRONG!

Let’s pause for a brief moment and try and think back to any of the educational nature programming you’ve watched on predators (in particular mammals).  Can you recall ever hearing how the wolf pups, or lion cubs, or cheetah cubs (etc) were playing to learn, to reinforce social bonds and positioning within the family group, and playing to practice critical hunting skills they’ll need when they are older?  If you cannot.  I certainly can.  In almost every one of those Nature, Discovery, or Nat Geo programs those lines would be mentioned when considering how the young predators played.  Play, as I’ve mentioned before in this fine blog, is critically important to intelligent creatures.  Let’s take a deeper look and see what we can apply to our dogs to enhance our relationship and their obedience.

Play is structured.  It is NOT a “free for all” where anything goes.  If it even begins to become out of control there will most assuredly be a “foul” called or a “flag” thrown in order to pause the game.  It is the same in wild or domesticated predators!  Your dog is a domesticated predator and not just a furry human toddler.  Dogs are predators even if you earnestly want to believe and buy into the fairy tale of the “fur baby”- it is simply NOT true.  (For healthy relationships honesty is a major key!  Let’s get real please.)

Continuing… Play reinforces social connection, provides exercise, energy escalation and de-escalation, mental stimulation, and can be a huge indicator of just where the relationship is at (I’m talking about the relationship between you and your dog/puppy now).

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Did you know that many dogs and puppies manipulate the heck out of their owners during a simple play session?  It’s true and I observe it everyday in my work with owners and their dogs.  I’ve detailed many dog manipulations that contribute to behavioral problems and that can be prevented or reversed in my HOT Listed book on dog training, language and behavior, DOG MYTHS: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You!  (please click on the link, buy it, read it, be shocked by it, be motivated and equipped by it, love it, and then review it so others can find it too!  The reviews have begun to come in about Dog Myths and people are Raving btw!)

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For great play which can help build a great relationship between you and your puppy or dog ……………

  1. Never Chase the dog!  – “But he loves it” you’ll say.  So what?  Drug addicts love their drugs, does that mean they have excellent and successful relationships with those around them?  Does that mean you want them living in your home?  Does that mean you become a drug dealer?  If you chase your puppy or dog ask yourself just what is being reinforced over time?  The average dog can run 32 miles per hour!  And some breeds get up near 40 miles per hour!  Greyhounds can reach 45mph!  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to begin my relationship with a puppy or new rescue dog or any dog teaching them that they can go high speed away from me, away from my space!  I don’t need them in on the fact that they can easily outpace me because rudeness could develop from there.  I say “could” to be gentle on you, Dear Reader, in truth it often does.  I’m guessing that you don’t want to find yourself in a place where you have to catch your dog or pup or have to lunge after them while they showcase their speed and agility in a masterfully manipulative social one-up?  Don’t chase them.

If you’ve read some of my stuff you’ll know that the most important things to our dogs when we are discussing language and communication and relationship are touch and space.  If we chase our dogs and they run and easily take their space away from us it paves the way to more behavioral issues.

2. Always play backwards or run from the dog!  -I have devoted a whole chapter in Dog Myths about playing backwards and drawing the dog or pup to you and to your space because it is vitally important in the relationship.  Our dogs are domesticated predators but they are NOT wild predators.  That means one should never have to catch their dog.  Catching or trapping is what one does with a wild creature and not a domesticated animal that lives in your stinkin’ home, correct?  There must be more respect and trust and clear communication than that.  If you do, in fact, have to catch your pup that is a clear sign that respect and or communication is missing (in most cases it is tragically both!).

Playing backwards helps draw the dog in to your space and it makes it look (physically) like you are the leader.  This is good.  Ask yourself would the mother or father dog have to use high pitched talking to call their pups to their space?  Would the parent dogs have to use a treat to bribe their young to come to them?  Or…would they use reverse psychology and naturally move away from their pups causing the pups to respond by following?  Life can be better than most people believe living with a dog.  Sadly, the majority don’t even know what they are missing.

We’ve gone over some of the spatial parts of play and that’s important but I’m going to continue this article for ya and get another one out probably within a couple weeks.  In that Part 2 we will look at how to touch while playing and when to call a foul or throw a flag as we explore dun-Dun-DUHHHHH…the intricate language of play in the domesticated dog!

To Be Continued…

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Garrett Stevens’ five steps to perfecting playtime with your pooch!

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My dog, Rambo, getting some major “hang time” while going after the Frisbee. What an athlete!

This post is continued from my prior post entitled Slugs Do Not Play.  Worms Do Not Play.  It is a good post (about how intelligent dogs are and how playful) please read that one before this one.

If you play more with your dog or pup and play the right way (yes, there is actually a right and wrong way to play with a puppy or dog) you will be well on your way to an excellent relationship with an intelligent animal.  Here are my five steps for perfecting playtime with your pooch!

Number one.  Never let the dog play keep away from you.  By this I mean DON’T CHASE the puppy or dog.  It is great if You can be the one keeping away and You run from them.  This will encourage the chase instinct in them and then you can simply add, “Come” to the action as the puppy or dog is already succeeding in coming.  But if your pup runs away and you give it attention and yell and chase who is leading the situation?  Don’t let your dog know he’s faster than you.

Number two.  Try and work on pumping your puppy’s energy up and then calming it down.  Energy control is a huge issue that is greatly lacking in the dog training world but is critically important to all canines.  It is the only way the older dogs rear the younger ones. Wrestle to teach the puppy or dog how to develop bite inhibition (to play mouth at an acceptable social level) You have to determine where the level is or when they’ve crossed the line…not the dog. Calmness is key!  Use clear body language for play time and clear language for ending it or sucking all the energy out of the room in order to slow and stop the playing.

Number three.  Develop the prey drive in the puppy or dog for ease of maneuvering them into the classic typical training positions ie: sit, down, come, heel.  Remember the lower you keep the toy the more tempting and exciting it will be for the puppy.  A word of caution here, many owners (especially those with breeds that will readily retrieve or herd) need to beware of making the dogs addicted to the ball or toy so much so that they cannot play well and interact normally with other dogs at the park.  Instead this type of dog only “works” and is a slave to retrieving and can easily become possessive and aggressive towards any dog approaching or interfering with his ball/toy/work.  This is another area (as they all are) where the owner should use energy control and calming methods to help.

Number four.  You CAN play tug of war.  The only time I don’t recommend playing tug of war is if you already have a dog that is possessive over items.  Aside from that have at it and have a grand ol’ time.

Number five.  Hide and seek is fun and can strengthen the puppy’s “stay” command and their “come” or “find” command too.  Hiding an item or tracking games are also great

Play with your dogs to increase the bond in your relationship.  Use the five steps (especially on young pups or dogs that are weak in the obedience department)  and you will see an amazing difference.  Be aware of how smart that furry creature is and take steps to work with them.  If dogs can learn almost a thousand words don’t just teach them three or four and stop.  That would be the human equivalent to you graduating from kindergarten and then your parents yank you from school and don’t ever help in any way to further educate you!  Play and teach your dog more.

Have fun in all your playful adventures!

-G

for help with training, behavior modification, dog whispering, natural calming techniques or to purchase my fantastic training collar go to   www.gstevensdogtrainer.com