Games People Play — With Dogs
The key to understanding what constitutes a good game versus a bad game to play with your dog is:
When YOU are the one guiding the play in a proactive way, it is a good game.
When YOUR DOG guides the action and you are simply reacting to what he does, it is a bad game.
Good games are an excellent way to tire out your dog by using his mind. They can also be an enjoyable way to proof your dog’s obedience.
Bad games are an excellent way to teach your dog that misbehaving is a way to get your attention. They can also teach your dog that it is okay to ignore your commands.
Here are some examples of bad games and – some ideas for good games.
Bad game: Wrestling and rough play
Many people like to wrestle and play roughly with their dogs. When we engage in these kinds of games with our dogs we encourage them to treat us like another dog. Think about it. When two dogs play together, they jump up on each other, bite each other, chase each other and test to see just who has more power. This is a VERY bad game as it teaches your dog to rudely jump up on you, bite you and challenge you. Sadly, I see many dogs that start out playing these kinds of games with their owners (often children) and end up biting them severely.
Bad game: Catch me if you can!
Your dog grabs an item you don’t want him to have. You call him to you to try to take it away, and instead of coming he runs off with it in his mouth. You chase after him and try to catch him to get the item back. This is a bad game because it teaches your dog that he can out-run and out-smart you. It is also bad because teaches him to run away from you instead of coming when you call him.
Good game: Hide and Seek
Find a place where there are only minor distractions. Hide in a place where you are easy to find and call your dog so that he can search and find you. Give him a BIG reward (love, petting, play, treats) when he finds you. As he gets better at the game, hide in more difficult places or play the game in areas where there are moderate to strong distractions (depending on your dog’s skill and reliability). This is a good game because it not only teaches your dog to come when you call him, it also builds a drive to search and find you when you’re not in sight.
Bad game: Wild or aggressive tug games
Playing a wild, aggressive, no-holds-barred game of tug-of-way with your dog, a game where he growls and bites at your hand to win, or where he learns to run off with the toy is a bad game. This game teaches your dog that if he challenges you, he might win. It also tends to make a dog more likely to bite and nip at hands and often turns into game where the dog runs off with the toy and ignores you.
Good game: Polite tug games
In polite tug-of-war games you initiate the play by showing the toy to the dog an inviting him to play tug with you. Hold the toy and give the dog a command like ‘tug’ or ‘take’ and encourage him to take the toy in his mouth. If the dog plays too roughly, you must end the game immediately and start a training session with the dog. If he plays nicely, continue on a bit making sure that YOU decide when each bout of tug ends. Unless you have a timid dog, only play this game in small bits. Be sure to end the game immediately when the dog gets too excited or nips at your hands. This game builds self-confidence in a timid dog. It can increase self control in dogs and it shows the dog you make the rules – but ONLY if you play it correctly!
Bad game: Throw for me
If your dog shoves or tosses a ball or other toy at you and TELLS you to throw it for him – you are playing HIS fetch game. If your dog refuses to release you the toy you’ve thrown or won’t bring it back to you, he’s playing a game with you. These games teach your dog to challenge you, to ignore your commands and to see you as a fool to toy with.
Good game: Fetch
In a good game of fetch, you initiate the play by showing the dog a ball or toy, telling him to sit and then throwing the toy after he sits. The dog politely brings the toy back and either drops it at your feet (not three feet away!) or – better yet – in your hand, so you can throw it again. This is a good game because not only does it teach your dog to listen to the SIT, WAIT, FETCH and DROP commands, it also shows him that you are the one who initiates and ends games. In a good game of fetch you should always end the play when the dog wants more.
Bad game: Sending your dog outside alone to entertain himself
Dogs are social animals. Your dog craves companionship, YOUR companionship. Sending him out into the yard (even a safe, securely fenced yard) is NOT a good way to exercise him. Leaving him out on his own for long periods of time gives your dog an opportunity to choose his own methods of entertainment. And in many cases these will not be things you would like him to do. This can teach your dog to bark incessantly, fence fight, dig holes, eat poop and engage in other bad habits. It also teaches your dog that you don’t have much interest in having a relationship with him.
Good game: Take a walk with your dog or play in the yard with him
Your dog LIVES to spend time with you. Dogs evolved to be our companions in life. Spending quality time with your dog — time where your focus is on sharing time with him in a constructive way – is the key to building a meaningful relationship with him.