Socialising, playing, and “letting off steam” fills us with happy hormones and generally makes us more content.
Did you know the same also applies to your dog?
Benefits of play
There are a multitude of benefits to engaging in play with your dog, including:
- Helping your dog to learn impulse control, how to regulate their emotions and learning when to rest.
- Promoting appropriate socialisation and communication. It can also help to redirect more problematic behaviours, like chewing furniture or toileting in inappropriate places.
- Regular playtime can help to build positive associations and help with formal training sessions.
Strengthening your bond & types of play
Just like us, dogs have unique personalities and enjoy different activities. The key is finding the best activity that motivates and engages your dog.
Here’s some types of play to try with your pup:
Fetch with a ball or other toy
If your dog doesn’t play fetch naturally, you can teach them! Here’s how:
- Keep the fetch item (e.g. a ball or toy) on hand, mark the moment they look at the item with “good” and followed by a reward (treat).
- Once they have this down pat, we lift the standard by waiting for them to put their mouth around the item. Some dogs will naturally do this, others may need some encouragement by making the item exciting and animated. As previously, mark with “good” as it goes in their mouth and reward.
- Begin to introduce the word “fetch” and encourage them to hold the item in their mouth.
- Once they have the idea to pick up the item, introduce a release word such as “give”. You may need to offer a treat in your other hand initially, mark “good” as soon as they drop it and give them the treat.
- Gradually place the fetch item further away from you, continuing to reward your pup for picking it up and bringing to you. Eventually, you’ll be able to throw the item.
- Reward your dog for bringing the fetch item back to you with a treat, or access to the item again by throwing it.
- Aim to fade out the use of treats by using the fetch item as the reward.
Tug is a great game both mentally and physically for your dog. Rules come with this game though, and it is important they are consistently followed so everyone can enjoy the game.
- Introduce a cue such as ‘get it’ to your dog which allows access to the toy and a release word such as ‘give’. If your dog has trouble waiting, ask them to sit followed by ‘get it’. Test their impulse control by increasing the waiting time before being able to ‘get it’.
- It is an automatic game over if their mouth touches skin or they refuse to ‘give’. You may need to have some treats on hand initially to encourage them to hand the toy over.
- If your dog is unsure about grabbing the toy, animate it to make it more exciting and encourage them holding on.
Hide and seek
Sound familiar? This is the same game as you probably played as a child. Start by hiding somewhere in your house when your dog isn’t looking. Then when ready, call their name and see how long it takes for them to find you. This is good recall practise also!
Tag is a great game for fun, burning energy and recall practise. You will need at least two people spread over a manageable distance in a safe area for the dog to be off lead. When ready, one person starts by calling the dog to encourage them to run to them. Give lots of love and praise when the dog comes, then allow the other person to do the same thing.
Engaging in regular play with your dog will add happiness to both you and your dog’s days. Mix it up to add variety and don’t be afraid to get a bit silly to find out what type of play your dog loves!
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