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“Playtime provides perhaps the perfect opportunity to combine fun with learning: there is no greater pleasure.” Jan Fennel. The Dog Listener.

Play PoloCan you ever resist your dog meeting you in the morning with a “toy” in the mouth and that begging expression on the face? This is how Polo often meets me and tells me she wants to play and she wants it “now.” During puppyhood my dogs start their day playing with a ball or a tug before feeding. So, in a way I am to blame for creating the love for play in my dogs. I invite my dogs to play with me and they invite me back.

All dogs learn to become dogs through play with their littermates and later with some others at puppy school. We see games of strength: Tug-of-War, Rough-and-tumble etc. Possession: Bury the bone, steal the ball, hide the hoof etc. Chase: Running away with the ball or stick. Come and get it etc. Killing: Shake the rag, stick, slipper etc. All these games help prepare dogs to establish pack dominance as well as developing hunting and killing skills. When they win an object it becomes a trophy that is carried to its kennel or bed. We think it is fun to see them pounce and hear them growl while playing and shaking toys yet for some breeds we need to be more aware about who initiates games and who is allowed to win. It could determine his position in the human pack with problems to follow.

Why Play?

Playing with your dog teaches the following:

  • Mental stimulation and to burn off energy.
  • Building a bond with the owner and focusing on him during play.
  • Teaches self-control and confidence.
  • It’s a great way of rewarding a dog for learning new skills.
  • For rewarding good behaviour.
  • Stress levels can be reduced.
  • Attention training is achieved when the dog has to wait for a throw.
  • It plays a major part in serious dog training exercises.
  • Kids and dogs can share time together.
  • Playing with your dog is an exercise in the Canine Good Citizen Tests.

Why dogs do not play?

  • No early socialisation – puppy school etc. Elderly owners.
  • No opportunity, no toys. Dogs left unattended for long periods. Too long In rescue facility.
  • No one to play with. Owners unaware of the importance of play.

From personal experience I find that many club members have to be taught or almost compelled to learn to play with their dogs. They will inform, “My dogs do not play” and even if one can demonstrate how their dogs enjoy playing, they still “forget” to bring toys to training sessions. A toy box is provided with many toys but their dogs do not develop a love for a special, favourite toy.

How to play

Dogs need to learn to play before they can be started on the obedience exercises which are necessary for owners to communicate with them.

Playtime is that time when owners and dogs join each other in a game of fun and enjoyment with the proviso that the owner takes control of the activities. He can stop the play session and use the re-start as a reward for good behaviour. The owner should always view the play session as part of the temperament training of his puppy or new older dog. He must be able to turn his dog ON and OFF – get him excited and calm on command. Many short sessions of “come” to play and settle down and “shush” on command are needed.

Play, in the very beginning, should be off-leash in a secure, distraction free area in the home. Making use of a dog’s natural prey drive, I play ball with my puppy in the kitchen before feeding and playing in the garden. Two 10-minute play sessions a day would be ideal.

An old garden glove at the end of a line attached to a short stick is a favourite toy. The movement along the ground and up in the air can be a great chase and carry for a puppy. Soon fetch games followed by chase the light, hide-and-seek, find it and tug games add to the enjoyment.

Playing Tug can be a great game but care must be taken that it is done correctly. Avoid jerking the tug up and down while in the dog’s mouth. A sideways movement will put less strain on the neck. Make sure that the tug can only be grabbed after a “Sit” or “Down” command. When you want to end the game do not try to pull it out of the dog’s mouth. Pulling creates tension in the mouth and the dog will bite harder. With your left hand hooked in the collar and the right hand held under the jaw, say “”Give” or “Out” and wait patiently for the dog to willingly release the toy. As soon as the tug is released, immediately praise and restart the game. The puppy must learn that if he gives the toy he does not lose it but the play continues.

Running and swimming exercises can become great games. Because the owner is the one who initiates play in the beginning and is linked to the fun and enjoyment it provides, the dog will be more inclined to listen to and obey its owner.

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