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Play With The Dog In Front Of You

Motivation

Play With The Dog In Front Of You

Playing is an aspect of dog ownership that is very important for me. If I don’t have a lot of time and need to pick between either playing with or training my dogs, I will pick playing.
It is bonding, it teaches us about our dogs and – if done right – it is plain fun.

The title of this post is a play on the saying “Train the dog in front of you” – i.e. individualize your training approach to suit the needs of your dog, which may be completely different from the needs of another dog. There are dozens of different ways to teach your dog to sit or heel, and we should not train a generic dog – but the individual in front of us, who we know better than anyone else does.

The same applies to playing in my eyes.
There is not just playing tug and playing fetch. Games have many different layers just as training does. We have wild and dynamic play, silly play, calm play and everything in between.
It is our task to find out what type of game our dogs prefer the most.

My two Border Collies for example are very different in their play preferences.

First, there is Fusion:

Fusion is not the typical high drive Border Collie. He is rather laid back, and wild fighting for a toy is not really his thing.
Over time, I found out what rocks his world: tracing things moving across the ground (not really a surprise for a Border Collie!).
He invented a quite sophisticated game that we call Treppenball (German for stairway ball).

Fusion lies in top of the stairway. The game is played with only one tennis ball and zero movement on his part. The human who has the honor to play Treppenball with him stands at the bottom of the staircase, throws the ball up and Fusion catches it. Then very carefully places it at the edge of the top step and nudges it with his nose just enough so that the ball starts bouncing down the steps one by one. Over time he has perfected the technique with which he has to launch the ball so that it touches each step (he seems disappointed if the it arrives at the bottom too quickly).

He watches in great delight as the ball travels down, where his human play mate has to pick it up and throw it back to him. This is repeated as many times as the human is willing to (for Christmas he has been gifted with Treppenball sessions of up to 2 hours, probably the happiest days of his life).

This is not just a silly little Fusion game, though – I have over time found that many dogs that refuse to play with balls can be enticed by not throwing, but “bowling” the ball close to the ground. The more ground contact you can get, the more tracing moving prey is resembled in the game.

 

I worked with a Standard Poodle who would not play with his humans. He had learned that only dog-to-dog play was fun and flat out ignored any attempts of his owners to play with him. This made it difficult to shift his interest from other dogs to people – dogs were playmates to him, people not.

In the very first session of tennis ball bowling he already showed a bit of interest (I don’t look for any more than the dog tracing the ball with his eyes for a second or two at this point, no movement on the dog’s part is required at all). It was tricky however to make him aware that we were going to roll a ball for him his eyes and focus were a bit all over the place and often the fridge making a sound or a bird flying by would capture his attention and make him miss the ball.
I didn’t want to constantly chant his name, so we came up with another idea.

 

We got some squeaky tennis balls and devised a game in which the ball would first be squeaked – a sure way to get his focus – then as soon as he locked his eyes onto it, we rolled it across the ground. This needed to happen very fast, before anything else would capture his attention. He soon started to cautiously trot a couple steps behind the rolling ball – success!
We kept the sessions very short and made sure that the ball was kept in the living room (but out of the dog’s reach), where the owners would take it a few times a day, squeak it and play with it themselves enthusiastically, before putting it back on the shelf without involving the dog – for many dogs this is a sure way to make them very interested!

Comparable scenarios have since come up many times for me, and the combination of a squeaky rolling ball has turned many play refusers into very happy players for whom the ball even became a jackpot reward!

Another game Fusion enjoys is extremely simple and effective – rolling food (pieces of kibble work well for this) across the ground. I toss them one by one, again making sure to roll/bowl rather than throw through the air, and letting him run after them to catch them.
Even dogs that show absolutely zero interest in toys can become playful in “hunting” their food that way.
I often play this (as well as toy games) on walks to let the dogs experience a bit of the kick that comes with hunting, and associate this kick with me – rather than squirrels 🙂

My Border Collie Kix is very different from Fusion – loud, wild, driven and always up for a fight.

While she enjoys tugging and everything that goes along with wrestling over a toy very much, I found out a different game that is great fun for her:

She takes a toy into her mouth and then I hardly touch her or her treasure at all – instead, I myself go a little crazy. Sometimes I sit on the ground and slap my hands on the floor, like I am drumming. She bites her toy, growls and also starts slapping her paws on the ground, hitting my hands and every now and then jumping up in the air from too much fun 😉 Other times I run back and forth, she comes after me and every time we pass each other I push her chest or shoulder a little bit before racing away again. She gets more and more crazy and determined to “catch” me, while also shaking and growling into her toy.
As silly as it must look, these are moments of pure joy for us. No strings attached, no training required, just playing for the fun of it.

 

I am still learning a lot about the play preferences of my 8 month old puppy. I take a lot of time to explore all kinds of toys and ways to play, as well as giving him the time to find his play personality.

We play several times a day, especially if he initiates it by bringing me something. As long as it is not too inappropriate (of course I don’t play with anything unsafe or breakable), we play with it.

One of his special interests are the little plastic cones I use to hold up cavaletti poles. When he was barely as big as those cones he was already dragging them all over the house, eventually leading up to bringing them to me as a game invitation at the most awkward times – often I came out of the bathroom to find a little puppy sitting right in front of the door next to a plastic cone, looking longingly at his priced possession and asking me to have a game of cone tug and fetch.

Invest some time into learning about the very individual play ideas of your dog, no matter how strange or unique. The more you adapt your play style to your dog’s, the more fun you will have!

Ready to play and looking for some new game ideas?
Check out our Game Online Classes:

Brain Games 

Outdoor Games

Frisbee Games 

And now, happy playing.

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