Playing – the most important lesson of puppyhood. Playing is fun, healthy and useful. It helps building a good relationship, improves body control and adds a lot of excitement into training!
Here are some thoughts how to make playing to the highlight of the day:
If you have a dog which has a lot of playdrive – big congrats, it‘s a jackpot and so much worth! Just keep the attitude and keep playing, playing, playing. If you have a dog which is naturally not 100% interested in playing, I highly recommend to invest some time and energy NOW. Playdrive doesn’t come for free (okay, sometimes it does). Always remember that dogs are individuals and every puppy has it’s favourite playing style. Some are born as alligators and love to tug. Others love to chase but rather want to destroy the prey on their own instead of tugging with the owner. Some love distance while playing (Liv), some dogs love a real life wrestling combat (Kairi). I want my dogs to love all facets of playing, preferably with me. This includes tugging, chasing, running, retrieving and playing with different toys on different environments.
1. Choice of toy: My first choice is an easily visible toy (sheep wool! ❤️) on a loooong string. I want the toy to be on the ground to invite the puppy to develop a flat running style with the head “down”. Especially Shelties (and other breeds with an anatomical steep chest) tend to get “airy” while running. Some puppies don’t agree with our first choices. Maybe your puppy loves balls? Put it on a string. Socks? Rubber toys? Fluffy toys? Squeaky? Be flexible and creative. And have some extra 💰💸 for toys, it is totally worth it. If your puppy is comfortable with playing, you can gradually change the toy.
2. When to play: Be sure that your pup is not dead tired and be sure you are in the right mood to put enough energy and effort into playing, especially with less motivated dogs. Playing should be the highlight of the day!
3. Where to play: Start playing on a familiar place. We want full focus and don’t want the pup to worry about the environment. So better to start playing at home than on New York Times Square – this will be homeworks for later!
4. How to play:
Verbal cue and restrain Introduce a verbal cue which promises »HEYYOUCANGETYOURTOYANDTHISISSUPERFUN” and use it constantly when you are sending your dog to a toy. Start with restrain training as soon as possible.
Re-what?! Restrain means to hold your pup back on the collar/harness and build focus on the object of interest (OOI). This can be a toy, food or something abstract like a agility obstacle. Start with releasing your dog when it is looking at the OOI and we take what we get at the start. Release after your dog is looking at the OOI a nanosecond and gradually increase the duration. Make this to your dog’s favourite ritual! This sounds really weird but just try it.
Tugging I love to start with tugging because puppies love to use their sharp puppy teeth to destroy you, the world and everything else which comes in front of those tiny cute faces. Be smart and start tugging at this point, that means ASAP. Keep in mind if your dog prefers distance or proximity. Move the toy away from your pup with speedy and unpredictable movements and never put the toy into your pup`s mouth, forcing it to bite. Don’t be too aggressive, try to have a good mixture of adding and releasing pressure. Your puppy deserves to feel like Schwarzenegger and needs to know that it has a chance to actually WIN the toy. Don’t dominate the game and be fair.
Chasing Is super fun and almost comes for free. All you need are fast legs and a good friend. Ask your friend nicely (we need that friend in future too) to hold your pup on the harness. Take the pole position and start running! Use restrain and your release word and have a big party party when your pup is catching up with you. Start with 1-2m and gradually add distance according to ability to concentrate and age.
Sending to a (dead toy) It`s very important to use a good visible toy, so get out your most colourful gigantotoy and find a flat place, preferably a golf course. Or at least, avoid jungles. Start with short distances (max 1m) and short restrain. Add distance gradually and according to ability to concentrate and age!
Retrieving I want my pup to prefer to play with me rather to play solo. Lazy as I am, this is easiest when the pup is retrieving the toy. 90% of all pups will take the toy and run off to Neverland. Solution – just do the same. Put on your best pokerface, run to the opposite direction with another toy and pretend that it is SUPERFUN over there. Go bananas and play, play, play if/when your puppy is coming after you.
Explain to your neighbors later why you are standing alone in the corner of your garden, high-pitched and clapping like a circus monkey, throwing grass/dog toys like it’s the funniest thing in the world. It’s important with priorities.
5. Rule no 1 – there are no rules! Always start playing the way your pup loves to play and build all those other “playing abilities” on those your puppy knows and likes already. Enjoy the quality time. ❤️
6. Ring a friend, if you need help! You can find a zillion good online courses regarding playing. A recommendation of puppy online courses will follow as a seperate blog post. 🙂