How To Train Your Dog Through Play

play with dog

When you and your dog completed her training she was a happy, confident, and well-behaved dog. But after you both went back to your usual schedule, your dog slipped back into old, behavior patterns. She may be anxious, demanding, or bored. And that can lead to bad or even destructive behavior. So neither of you are happy … and you don’t know what to do next. 

Why Dog Training Sometimes Doesn’t Work

Dog training usually takes place in a controlled environment like puppy school or dog training classes. Teaching a dog new behaviors in this environment is usually successful – your dog is active, engaged, challenged, and she soon learns where the boundaries are. And when you’re both learning, you’re more likely to be consistent about working with your dog on behavior. But you and your dog go back to everyday life … and back come the old habits

Training your dog didn’t change her mentality. That’s why it’s relatively easy, for dogs as well as humans, to change their behavior in a controlled environment. However, when you get back into your old environment, the newly learned behavior seldom sticks. 

The answer is to replace the old behavior with something new. It’s time to play with your dog!

Your Dog Needs Playtime

It really is that simple … your dog needs to play. Dogs are playful. It’s how they express themselves and get rid of extra energy. It prevents boredom, encourages your dog to use her instincts, her mental capacity, and get exercise at the same time. What could be better for your dog than spending time with her owner … chasing, searching, or just having fun while walking?  If you want a well-adjusted and happy dog, you need to find the time to play with her.  

How often and how long you play depends on your dog’s age and breed. Puppies need short, regular playtime  because they tire easily, while older dogs need more gentle play to keep them active, healthy and alert. Active working or sporting breeds obviously need more strenuous playtime than more sedentary dogs.

Playtime can be as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It can help your dog be relaxed and confident, and it can help you manage her behavior.

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How To Play With Your Dog

You can play physical and mental games with your dog. 

Physical exercises include playing fetch or tug, or agility training, fly ball or other organized dog sports. Play games like fetch and tag to teach cues like fetch, bring, search. Start with short distances and gradually increase the distance as she masters the activity. 

Remember to regularly check the safety of toys and other playthings for sharp edges or parts that can come loose and be a choking danger to your dog. Be careful not to let the games overexcite her, so stop play for a bit if she gets too rough or nippy. 

Different dogs and breeds favor different exercises, so you may need to experiment with different games to find activities that keep your dog engaged and entertained. But play can be something as simple as playing with an old tee shirt wrapped around a creaky plastic bottle.

Or you can give your dog mental exercises like scent training, or tracking … even playing hide and seek in the house. Cognitive training and problem solving games help to keep your dog mentally sharp. You can also buy interactive toys that challenge her thinking skills. 

Interactive feeders or snuffle mats also keep your dog entertained and come with in-built food rewards.

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How To Train Your Dog While Exercising

You’ll also want to train your dog while you do things you both enjoy … whether it’s to reinforce cues, or to teach her something new. 

Use your daily walks to practice everyday skills like stay, wait, and loose-leash walking. Walks are also an opportunity to learn to greet other dogs and people calmly. 

Dogs are scavengers, no matter how well fed. So if she grabs some contraband on a walk, use the opportunity to teach “leave it” or “give.”  Remember the treats in your pocket when she’s a clever dog who does what you ask!

Recall is one of the most important skills to teach your dog and it could save her life some day. Use her name and a specific word like come. Practice it at home and in your own yard at first, and then gradually build up to places with more distractions, like a park or beach.  (You may want to keep a long training leash on her for safety until you know she’ll come reliably.)

Be consistent and make time to play or train every day. Repetition is important when learning something new or reinforcing previously learned behavior. Make training through playtime something your dog looks forward to. 

To find ideas for games, you can search online for games for dogs.

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The Benefits Of Playing With Your Dog

The time and effort you invest in playing with your dog are absolutely worthwhile. Playing with your dog … 

  • Strengthens the bond between the two of you.
  • Provides physical exercise for both of you, particularly when it involves active play or walking
  • Stimulates your dog mentally, tires her out and help fight boredom … a major cause of naughty behavior.
  • Offers opportunities to reinforce training and teach her new skills. When you make it a game, she won’t even realize she’s being trained! 

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Playing with your dog is good for both of you, its’s fun, and improves your relationship. So start playing!

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