It seems to be human nature to separate the ideas of work and play. We talk about “hump day” to acknowledge we’ve made it halfway to the weekend and we use the acronym TGIF to express delight when the work week is finally over.
We are pretty entrenched in the idea that work is akin to drudgery and requires great mental exertion. It is no wonder that we adopt the same attitude about putting in the “work” to train our dogs.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our dogs don’t have an intuitive understanding of the difference between “training” and “just living”. They don’t have to take on a serious demeanor when it comes to training and only be carefree and joyful when allowed to play. Work and play can be wrapped into the same learning sessions and can be used to develop a meaningful and respectful relationship.
One of the easiest ways to achieve the union between training and play is to diminish the use of treats as rewards and replace them with toys and fun activities. By participating alongside your dog as you toss the ball, or play tug, your dog is learning several valuable lessons; that good behavior is rewarded, that listening and obeying is fun, and that you are a pretty cool human to pay attention to!
You can also use games to build greater impulse control and reliability. The lessons learned through practicing skills like calling off of the chase of a frisbee or holding a Down Stay while you taunt and tease with a bouncing ball, are the same skills that are for things like stopping the chase of a squirrel or remaining steady while company comes to visit. And in the same way you reward with the frisbee or ball you can allow the dog to chase the squirrel or end the Stay and go say hello to your guests.
Playing with your dog while training is a relationship builder and a win/win solution as you build better control. Your dog learns to listen while excited, maintains a nice attitude while learning, and comes to understand that access to all good things are attained through you.
If you want to learn more about the use of games and toys for training, check out our Indoor Games Clinic happening this month!