Teach Your Dog the Right Way to Play

When taking the object, dogs will sometimes make contact with your hand or another part of you by mistake. If this happens, without saying a word, instantly put the tug toy behind your back for 10 seconds while looking away from your dog. When the 10 seconds are over, begin playing again, but make sure this time to add a Zen break before your dog gets too excited. A Zen break is when you teach your dog that taking a pause to “sit” or “down” makes the game continue. The fringe benefit of this rule is that you remind your dog of the importance of keeping his jaws off people at all times, even when he is excited.

Search: Engaging the Mind

This game teaches your dog to focus on his most valuable sense: smell. It’s also one of the best mental stimulation games you can play with your dog. You’ll be amazed at the power of your dog’s incredible nose when you play search games.

Start by saying a cue, such as “find it,” and tossing a small treat on the ground in front of your dog. As your dog gets the hang of finding the treat, make the game harder by tossing it farther away, where your dog can't see it — into tall grass, for example. As your dog's ability to find the treats improves, hide other toys he enjoys, such as a rope toy or stuffed Kong, in even harder-to-find places, like under a piece of furniture.

Another variation on this game is the classic hide-and-seek. Tell your dog to "stay." Go out of the room or out of his line of sight and hide, and then call him to you. (You can have another person stay with the dog if you think he will have a difficult time waiting to be called.) When your dog finds you, reward him with a treat. Not only is this game exciting for your dog, but it also hones his ability to come when called.

Chase: Exercising the Body

Chase gives your dog an opportunity to run and to pretend to stalk prey. Most dogs love playing chase, but as in tug, specific rules need to be observed, and only family members who can consistently follow those rules should play the game.

A specific chase toy, such as a stuffed animal on a long rope, allows you to appease your dog’s natural desire to chase while directing him away from animals and people. This allows the dog to chase without making you (or your kids!) the pretend prey. You can buy a chase toy or make your own with a dog toy attached to a sturdy rope or the line on a fishing pole (no hooks, please).

Before you get out the chase toy, make sure your dog knows the signal for “drop it.” Once he catches the toy, ask him to drop it (rather than tugging it out of his mouth) before the game begins again, as the toy and rope may not withstand heavy tugging or chewing, and pulling on fishing filament could injure tender tissue in his mouth.

When playing chase, it is important not to run after your dog. When dogs play chase, one dog will often run after another and then they will reverse roles. You might be tempted to replicate this type of play with your dog, but doing so could teach your dog to run away from you, which could cause problems. For example, if your dog were to get loose, he may run away from you, thinking it’s a game, rather than coming when you call him. It is also important that you avoid chasing your dog to retrieve a toy or other household item. Any time you chase the dog, he learns to play keep-away. This can lead to a serious problem if your dog ever picks up something dangerous, such as a dead animal, and instead of dropping it when you ask, makes a game of running away from you.

For all games, setting and following the rules — consistently and predictably — ensures that playtime is not only fun and engaging, but also reinforces positive behaviors. Now that’s a great way to play!

Don't miss Mikkel Becker's tips on preventing play from going wrong.

Adapted from an article that appeared in the spring 2013 issue of HealthyPet Magazine®..

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