“Play is good for our spirits, bodies, and minds. It teaches both dogs and humans to coordinate our efforts with others, to inhibit ourselves even when excited and to share the ball even when we want it for ourselves.”
Canine behaviorist Patricia McConnell said it beautifully. Play helps dogs develop and retain valuable social skills, provides opportunities for reward-based training (dogs get good stuff when displaying desired behavior) and keeps them mentally and physically healthy.
When we play with our dogs, we take a break from our busy lives and get to enjoy the moment with our canine companions. Along with better health, we develop a stronger human-canine bond. Not to mention, play is just plain FUN! Perhaps dogs became our best friends because we share this love of play.
Need an idea to get started? Here is a game my dogs love and is also a sure-fire hit with the dogs that attend our dog school:
Sit to Say Please: Let your dog see that you have a treat in your hand, so he knows what he can earn. Your dog may try all types of things to get you to give him the treat but just freeze in position, actively ignoring him. Eventually your dog will sit. Immediately give your dog the treat once his rump hits the floor.
You MUST give the treat while he is sitting; if he has already started getting up you will end up reinforcing the wrong behavior (getting up). If you give him the treat while he is in a “sit” position, then he just got his first clue as to what this game is all about.
Now you are going to walk a few steps forward with another treat in your hand. Again, wait until your dog sits before giving him the treat. He may try all sorts of impressive behaviors but ignore him until you see his rump on the ground again. Practice this 10 to 20 times in a row.
Once he is reliably offering a “sit” to earn a treat, try this same activity in a different room of the house, outside, with family members around, etc. Walk using funny steps, like baby steps or “Frankenstein” steps. Your dog will love this as well as learn that sitting makes good things happen for him.
This is one simple idea that is not only fun for dogs but also reinforces impulse control (it’s OK to wait for what you want), polite manners and practices basic obedience. It’s easy to do several times a day for as long as you want or if you only have a few minutes to spare.
With a little creativity you can easily think of new games to play with your dog every day. You’ll both be happier, healthier and enjoy an even stronger relationship. So go play with your dog!
• Stefanie Strackbein works with Pet Behavior Solutions and is co-creator of Edu-Care for Dogs, a Valleywide day school that teaches life skills training to dogs, helping them succeed in a human-centric world. For more information, visit www.edu-carefordogs.com.