Playing and learning at home
Interacting with other dogs
Dogs love to play and they learn best through fun. Make each learning experience a game. Some Games to play anytime:
- Fetch – toss a favorite toy and reward when they return with it
- Find the treat – a simple problem solving game for dogs. To play let your dog watch as you place a treat under one of three cups. You then shuffle the cups around and encourage them to ‘find the treat.’ The shell game gives your dog plenty of mental stimulation, and helps them work on problem solving skills.
- Find Me – hide behind furniture or in another room
- Tug – Playing tug will not make your dog aggressive, and letting them win will not make them dominant. Letting your dog win just makes the game more fun for your dog, and it will encourage them to play more. Dogs that play tug with their owners have been found to be more obedient and have higher confidence. Tug is a great way to exercise your dog as long as you have your dog follow a few basic rules such as “the game stops if your teeth touch my hand”. Be careful with tug games, gentle on teeth and on necks.
- Puzzles – you can purchase many mind game puzzles
Dog owners often have difficulty distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate play. Some think that perfectly acceptable play behavior is bullying because it involves growling, biting, and pinning the playmate to the ground. Appropriate play can, in fact, look and sound quite ferocious. The difference is in the response of the playmate. If both dogs appear to be having a good time and no one’s getting hurt, it’s usually fine to allow the play to continue. Thwarting your dog’s need to play by stopping him every time he engages another dog, even if it’s rough, can lead to other behavior problems. With a bully, the playmate clearly does not enjoy the interaction. The softer dog may offer multiple appeasement and deference signals that are largely or totally ignored by the canine bully. The harassment continues, or escalates. Any time one play partner is obviously not having a good time, it’s wise to intervene. A traumatic play experience can damage a dog’s confidence and potentially induce a life-long fear-aggression or “Reactive Rover” response — definitely not a good thing! Some bullies seem to spring from the box fullblown, meaning there could be a genetic element behind this type of personality. However, there can certainly be a learned component of any bullying behavior. By definition, a behavior that’s reinforced continues or increases — hence the importance of intervening with a bully at the earliest possible moment, rather than letting the behavior become more and more ingrained through reinforcement. As with most behavior modification, prognosis is brightest if the dog is young, if he hasn’t had much chance to practice the unwanted behavior, and if he has not been repeatedly successful at it.