The importance of play
I’m pretty old, so I remember a time when ‘playing’ with your dog wasn’t really something you did. We might have thrown sticks for our dogs on walks or in the garden. Not that we really walked our dogs that much. We certainly didn’t train them!
Likewise, dogs played with each other if they lived together, or met on a walk. They might have got into a fight, but that wasn’t that big a deal. Even 30 years ago, a family dog would regularly get into scraps with other dogs, but it wasn’t considered a crime.
How far we have come! Nowadays, we value our dogs so much more. Well we pay a lot more for them to start with! We expect them to be a loved family member and we don’t want them being beaten up by other dogs when we are out. Unfortunately, whilst our expectations for our dogs have changed massively, our ability to manage them hasn’t quite kept up.
Engaging with your dog
We are starting to appreciate that in order to manage our dog, we need to engage with him. I first learnt about ‘play’ with my dog only a few years ago. When doing agility, I have always been taught to reward their training, usually with by throwing a toy. Some dogs don’t really respond to this as a reward and need to have a treat instead.
I have gradually learnt that the best way to reward your dog is to teach them to properly play with you. This means getting a toy and playing ‘tug’ with you. Watching my puppies, I have discovered that they naturally do this. It is clearly a way to get the best bits of food. It’s rather grisly, but puppies will fight over entrails and when you watch them with a toy you can see this behaviour.
What this play does is make your puppy think you are fun. This is the key. They then know that you are the source of happiness! Fantastic! Your puppy will then know that coming to you is a great idea. This is how you get the best and quickest recall.
Reward the recall
It’s not quite enough to play with your puppy. You also need to provide tasty treats. Call them, reward, then play. Play, then call them and reward. I have noticed that if I want Quin to give up the toy, I need to let go, then call and reward with a treat. He will usually drop the toy to take the food.
Remember to wait! You need to be patient. It takes time for puppies to process the instructions. Don’t always expect instant reactions.
DO NOT keep on calling! Don’t call their name repeatedly. If you keep saying their name, it just becomes white noise. Blah blah blah.
“Quin come.” Wait. Here he comes. Hands together between your legs. Bring your hands up so he sits. Say “YES!” nice and clearly. Give a treat. Well, a bit of a treat.
Train when hungry
My top tip for training your puppy: make sure he is hungry. Don’t try and train him straight after his meal. Equally, don’t train him when he is tired.
Play with other dogs
This brings me to another key point: play with other dogs. I don’t do much training when I have more than one puppy, because they are just too busy and too focused on each other. It’s lovely to see dogs playing happily, but it does need managing. If you a young dog (1-3 years old) and a puppy, chances are they will play all day! That’s lovely, but you won’t get much concentration from the puppy unless you keep them apart for some of the time.
DO NOT assume that your puppy MUST play with every other dog it sees! On the contrary, teach your puppy that YOU are the most exciting thing on the walk. I’ll talk about that more in my next post..
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