HOW TO USE PLAY TO TRAIN YOUR DOG

For some time, I have been thinking that I want to play for a living. I love to play. Children (and even adults) learn a ton from play. Dogs love to play. My dog, Emma, would play all day, if it didn’t interrupt her important sleeping times. So, since dogs love to play, and play is a good way of learning, why not use play to train your dog?

How can you do that? Well, here are a few ideas:

IDEA #1: HIDE FROM YOUR DOG WHEN IT ISN’T PAYING ATTENTION

Having your dog’s attention on you is vital to training. So, teach your dog to pay attention to where you are by disappearing when it turns its attention onto something else. Now, obviously, you don’t want to use this strategy when you are out walking on a busy street, and your dog suddenly decides that a squirrel is more important than you are. And, it’s not going to work so well if your dog is asleep. However, this little trick can be used any time that you are with your dog, in a safe place.

For instance, you are walking through the house, and your dog is following you in that doggy way of wanting to be where you are. Then, just for a moment, your dog is distracted by a sound or a smell. That’s your opportunity. AT THAT MOMENT, duck through a doorway, or run off down the hall, or anything to get some distance between you and your dog. If your dog is really engrossed in its distraction, then you can truly disappear, and find a nice hiding spot. At some point, your dog will notice that you have gone, and go racing off to find you. Make sure that you praise your dog, and give it extra attention when it finds you, so that your dog will want to “play” next time that you initiate this game.

You can also do this when walking off-leash with your dog in a park or open space. These are great places to play this game, since there are so many distractions, and lots of hiding places, as well. Most dogs enjoy this game.

IDEA #2: BUILD “SIT” AND “STAY” INTO PLAYTIME

We’ve all experienced that anticipation can heighten the fun in an experience. Use this to your advantage by strengthening your dog’s obedience commands when you are playing with your dog. I use “sit” and “stay” when I play fetch with Emma; not all of the time, but enough to help her remember the commands. First, when I am getting ready to throw the toy, I tell her to sit, then I make her stay while I throw the toy. She has to keep staying, until she hears the word “fetch.” This is another great way to teach your dog to pay attention to you, since your dog will be really anxious to leave you to go get that toy. The secret for that is to not say “fetch” until your dog looks at you, and “asks permission” with its eyes. To further reinforce the sit, have your dog sit in front of you when it brings the toy back, then ask for the toy.

You can also use “sit” and “stay” if you play tug-of-war with your dog. Have it sit, stay, and look at you (not at the toy) while you hold the toy out. Make your dog stay, until you say “tug.” You can repeat this over and over again throughout the game, anytime that you find yourself in sole possession of the toy. Your dog will want to follow your instructions so that it can keep playing. Of course, you have to be prepared to stop the game if your dog breaks the rules of the game by grabbing the toy before it has permission to.

IDEA #3: HIDE YOUR DOG’S FOOD AT FEEDING TIME

Emma loves this game. I have played it with her in the house, as well as in the backyard. The first part of this game is to put your food into something that your dog will have to figure out how to get the food out of. You can use a Kong or other toy built for this purpose (there are a wide variety of them available), a hollow bone, a yogurt container, whatever, to put your dog’s food in. To make it even trickier for your dog, you can then put whatever the food is in into a bag or box, or even into a bag or box within a bag or box within...

Now, comes the fun part. Have your dog sit and stay while you go hide the food somewhere. Obviously, if you are feeding your dog something messy, you'll want to use some discretion here, because your dog is going to want to eat its food as soon as it finds it, so do take that into account as you are choosing your hiding place. Your dog is going to be watching very carefully to see where that food is going, so make sure that you are out of your dog’s sight when you hide the food. If your dog gets up, and tries to come closer, take your dog back to where you had it staying, and start over at looking for your hiding place. Make your dog stay until you return to it, then say “find it,” or “go eat,” or “all done,” or whatever you prefer. Then, go ahead and enjoy watching your dog go on its search.

IDEA #4: PLAY HIDE AND SEEK WITH YOUR DOG

Yes, this is similar to idea #1. However, in this case you will be using hide and seek to strengthen “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” This game involves telling your dog to sit and stay, then going off and hiding somewhere, then calling your dog. Again, if your dog ever gets up from its stay, and tries to cheat, you need to return it to where it was staying, and start over again. Make sure that you praise your dog, and give it lots of attention, when it finds you. Then, start over, and do it again.

IDEA #5: TWO, OR MORE, PERSON HIDE AND SEEK WITH A DOG

Here’s a chance to get the whole family involved. It is a great way to get your dog wanting to always come when called, because it will associate being called with playtime. In this game, you have two or more people in different locations. One person distracts the dog, while the other person, or people, hide. Then, a hidden person calls the dog. While the dog is being distracted looking for that person, the person that the dog has just left can then go hide. Each person takes a turn calling and distracting the dog, while the other people hide. This game can go on and on, until your dog is thoroughly worn out from running all over the place. Again, make sure that your dog gets praise and attention when it finds someone.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? And, believe me; it will get your dog better trained, as well. And, you thought that obedience training was just about practicing commands with your dog. Now, you know better. Go play with your dog!

For complete information on training your dog, try my e-book.



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