Play Training For Dogs

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my kids, (both four-legged & two-legged) home is not school. I never sat down and made my kids study the alphabet; sure we read books and played letter games like I Pack My Grandmother’s Trunk, but I didn’t spend tons of time quizzing them. I left that for their teachers.

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In my mind anyway, home is a place I want everyone to feel valued, safe and respected.In my work, with dogs and other pets, I help my clients see that raising a dog (or any other animal) right can be fun and should never feel like a battle. Most animals, and especially dogs, can learn routines and words.

This blog is about playful parenting for dog lovers. How can you tell if it’s for you? Answer these three questions:

•    Do you find structured lessons boring or uninspiring?

•    Do you have more fun playing with your dog than doing lessons with him?

•    Does the thought of dominating your dog leave you feeling sad or uncharacteristically bossy & mean?

If you’ve answered yes, then let me welcome you, you, my crazy, dog- obsessed friend. Not only are you in the right place, but you're also in the majority. Studies show that ss% of people now consider their dogs as family. Dogs raised with love and understanding grow up happy, and happy is good!

What’s the truth? Dogs love people: they are eager to cooperate once they can get a gauge on what we want them to do! Science has come out saying that dogs can think, reason and communicate: that problems are the result of misunderstandings. If you’re feeling frustrated with your doggie situation, the solution might be just a blog or two away.  

If you want a good dog, or at least a "good enough" dog, here’s what you need to remember:

•    Dog training is just teaching your dog a second language. Repetition matters some, but cause and effect matter more.

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•    Dogs communicate with postures and vocalization, so when you’re teaching your dog new words for objects and behaviors, put some swing into it. Use your arms like a tail and swing or wave them to inspire enthusiasm. Wiggle your butt to show you’re happy. Don’t be afraid to flop down and assume a play-bow!  A good dog is an incredibly happy dog, so do whatever you can to create a little magic in your dog’s life!  

•    Organized lessons can be just as boring for your dog as they are for you. Thread the words you want your dog to listen to into everyday situations, and say them while you’re playing silly games. A good (or "good enough") dog is one who sits for attention and food, one who walks with you instead of dragging you, one who comes when you call;  say the words that are most important to you throughout your day. This blog will show you three games that teach words through play!  

Here are three games that teach your dog important words and habits. Use them to teach self-control, self-expression, as well as the words Wait, Stay and Come!

The Wiggle, Wag, Wait Game

Teach your dog how to act when he’s excited: this game is great if your dog loves the muddy-paw-print on the shirt style of greeting. Remember, jumping is a lovin' dog sign of enthusiasm! To teach your dog other groovy ways to express themselves, check out my Huffington Post article “Solving All Your Dog Training Frustrations With These Three Skills!”

Whether your dog can learn to hold a "stay" when people approach or the need to roll over or fetch a ball, every dog can learn an alternative way to share the love!

To play the Wiggle Wag, Wait Game you’ll need one or more people and a hefty supply of rewards (e.g. treatsballs & toys, bones). Here are two ways to play.

1- "See You Later, But Come Back In" Character

Tell your dog to "Wait" and leave him alone in the house (gated, crated or loose: whatever is normal for you). Leave for 5 minutes. 

Come back but in character! What character? The hyper-goofy, silly, overly effusive dog lover, who practically slobbers over every dog they touch. Ramp up the enthusiasm; you’re trying to get your dog excited enough to jump!

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If your dog jumps up, stand erect and cover your eyes: I call this the Peek-a-Boo Solution. Ignore your dog if he’s hyper or clawing at you (you might need to wear a coat).

Wait until he calms down and is standing on all four paws before you say “Wait” and reward him. Repeat until he’s learned to fetch a toy or look to your hand for a reward: anything but jump!

2- Play it throughout the day.

Go into a quiet room.

Take a deep breath, then act silly. Wiggle your body, praise your dog, act silly! 

Once you've got your dog excited, and tails are wagging,  be prepared for the jump. Dogs horse around when they're happy and your dog will likely do just that.

The moment he jumps, freeze and cover your face: the Peekaboo Solution! When your dog is standing on all four paws, say "Wait" and reward him with a treat or toys.

Can you identify the goal? It’s to excite your dog and then teach him how to manage those emotions. Some dogs will hold a "stay", but most fetch a toy or flop down for a belly rub!

Now, you can use the word "Wait", as well as some food rewards when company arrives, or you’re out and about. If your dog transferred his excitement to a toy or bone, bring them with you when your socialize your dog or puppy.

"Catch Me, Come" Game    

Take anything your dog loves, his food to his favorite toys, bone or treats.  

•    Show your dog you’ve got it by calling out his name!  

•    The second he looks to you, run away from him and say "Catch Me" in a happy, excited voice.  

This action of running away from your dog, instead of toward him, often ensures that your dog will come when you call out his name. To add "Come" to the lesson, say it. Pair the word "Come" with positive rewards, offered when you're together - not apart.  

•    After you’ve run a few yards (vary the exact distance), turn and face your dog and say "Come" in a clear, happy voice as you swing the toy to your face.  

•    The moment your dog looks up, give him the reward and tell him he’s a good, good dog or puppy!

Now, play the Catch Me, Come game, inside and out, anytime your dog looks bored, or he’s getting distracted or flustered by another dog, cat or object.

Sniff, Stay and Find Game   

Many modern dogs have trouble learning "Stay". Distractions are everywhere, and since we’re rarely at home, our beloved dogs don’t like to lose sight of us! To spice up the lesson of "Stay" play this game:

Chose an item your dog loves: food works, but you can play with favorite bones and toys too.

Ask your dog to hold still by placing him on his favorite bed, or on a couch, so he is above you. If you haven’t taught him this word, ask someone to sit with him. Place the object out 3-6 feet depending on the size of your dog and their understanding of this word.  

Pause 1-3 seconds, then say "Find It". If your dog is confused, get down and sniff around—he’ll copy you and begin to use his nose.  

Gradually increase the distance and the distractions and locations you hide his toys or treats.  

Eventually, your dog will learn that "Stay" is fun and not as hard or as boring as many other dogs view it!

So you see: training a dog or puppy doesn’t have to be boring or bossy to be effective. It’s so much fun you might find yourself racing home just to be with your silly fur-child. And that is how it should be. Like I always say…

Life’s an adventure—call your dog and c’mon lets play!

Sarah Hodgson