It's Playtime! Engaging Your Dog, Physically and Mentally

It's Playtime! Engaging Your Dog, Physically and Mentally

Engaging your dog with mental and physical stimulation provides a balanced state of being.

Have you ever had a job that you loved doing? One that got you excited and that you look forward to going to? That’s the way we want you to look at dog training. There is no better way to build a bond and have a well-adjusted dog than to work with them. Going for walks is important but often not enough engagement for most dogs. Mental exercise is where you will get so much more for your time, providing your dog with greater focus, satisfaction, and a balanced state of being.

There are endless ways to engage your dog in play. It’s important to find activities that your dog enjoys and that fulfill the needs of the breed you have. Some will enjoy searching, while others may thrive on a more physical level. And so many like it all!

What if my dog likes to "tug"? Will that make them more aggressive?

Believe it or not, "tug" is a fantastic game with lots of learning opportunities. When done properly it teaches your dog they need YOU to play the game. When you let them win, they feel great about it and immediately bring it right back to you so they can continue to play. It is a way better alternative to wrestling with your dog, as tug teaches them that they can only put their mouth on a toy and never a human. It takes the confusion out of the equation for the dog of where they are allowed to put their mouth during play. Along with teaching them how to play tug, you will want to teach the “out” command.

What is the "out" command?

The “out” command is a very important thing to teach your dog while he’s still young. It will help prevent toy possession and helps your dog learn that the game doesn’t have to end when you give me the toy - it’s actually the only way it can continue! The first thing you have to remember is while you’re trying to remove something from your dog’s mouth, not to tug at the same time. If you’re pulling on the object, and telling him “out”, he thinks the game is still going because you’re still pulling on the object. However, if you just let go of the object, he’s likely to take it and run!

The best method for getting him to drop the toy is to grab him by the collar and release the toy from your hand while telling him “out”. If he doesn’t drop it, reaching your free hand under his belly, and giving him a little lift will almost always make him drop the toy. It’s very important you use the “out” command at that time so he knows what the word means, then grab the toy and instantly re-engage him in play. That shows him the game doesn’t have to end when you take his toy, it just restarts.

My dog is not good at coming when called. He seems to play keep away, and I end up chasing him forever! How do I get him to want to come to me?

The recall is one of the most important commands you can teach your dog! It quite literally can save their lives. This is where a game called restrained recall comes in handy. It’s a reward-based system that teaches the dog that the handler = greatest fun. You will need two people to play this so it can be a fun way to get the family involved. One person can hold your dog while the other teases it with a tug toy then takes off running. After the runner has taken a few strides, the holder releases the dog and chases. The dog then catches the runner and tugs on the toy. 

My dog is food obsessed! And constantly inhaling their meals. What can I do about that?

This is one of the ways nose work games come in handy. It engages the brain through problem-solving. It fulfills the instinct to hunt for food, and slows down those dogs that eat way too fast! You can go as simple as placing their food bowl in a different room of the house or yard, or dividing it into small portions then hiding them in multiple locations. Another game would be to toss dog food in the grass so they have to hunt for it. You can find loads of fun and creative nose work games online!

My dog is obsessed with chasing squirrels! What can I do to channel that energy?

Dogs are predators so chasing prey is something fun and instinctual. Since we can’t change instincts, why not give them a proper outlet where they get a great workout and can be done anywhere you have a bit of space. This is where the flirt pole comes in.  A flirt pole is like a giant cat toy, but for a dog. Something simple can be made at home from PVC, rope, and a toy. Or they can be purchased online or even in some pet stores. Moving the toy around sporadically will encourage them to chase while getting physical and mental stimulation together.

My dog loves to play with other dogs. He’s so high energy I feel like that’s the best way to drain it. Would you agree?

We always say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” Playtime is an excellent time for training. Before you allow your dog to play with other dogs (whether they are housemates or other), you should always set the tone. Start with obedience and focus work. Then, once you have the energy level of your dog where you want it, let them play. Periodically, you want to recall the dogs and get their attention back on you. This controls the excitement level and minimizes the risk of negative actions between the dogs.

The most important thing to remember is that you got this dog to enhance your life, but you are your dog’s life. Engage them. Make working with them fun. You’re the most important thing in their life, make sure they know that. And enjoy your best friend!

More about Maria LaCombe (Einstein Dog Training):
As Einstein Dog Training’s customer care specialist with many years of experience in the dog world, my passion for dogs started long ago. As a young adult, my summers were spent in Greece bringing food and water to street dogs, which led to my passion for animal rescue. I work primarily for a rescue group in Mid-Michigan called Safari Animal Rescue, where I have fostered and helped animals for many years. Whether a homeless dog or owner surrender, I know the most important thing for that dog is training.

The most effective way for an animal and human to coexist is to learn how to communicate with each other. Learning this led me to the world of dog training. I began working with multiple trainers in the Metro-Detroit area, using troubled dogs from the rescue group that were given up for bad behavior. After seeing the transformation I could make with these dogs, I knew I wanted to be a trainer.

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