What can playing games with dogs TEACH dogs about people? What can playing games with dogs TEACH people about dogs and dog behavior? The good news is A LOT and playing games with your dog doesn’t have to break your energy bank or your real bank. Dogs, like people, learn about themselves and others. Games build confidence, trust, cooperation and set limits. Games can actually make training a lot less tedious for you and a whole lot more interesting for your dog. Games can enhance your bond and mutual understanding. Playing games with your dog can reduce your dog’s stress. Yours too.
What games? There are always new games being created for dogs and their people- k9 nose work, wag it games and k9 games. Some, however, are the very same games you might have played when you were a kid. Games like hide n seek, name game, find it, watch or look at me, look at that, fetch and more are commonly used games that engage dogs proactively in the process of their training. Playing games with dogs allows for the transfer of information as in the oft given advice to jolly talk your dog (Bill Campbell of BehavioRx in Grants Pass, OR) through unsettling experiences.
Are there games you shouldn’t play with your dog? I don’t know of any surveys of dog trainers but I am asked this question regularly. Trainers may respond differently in answering this question depending on the behavior of the dog and the family setting. The primary culprit game referred to when asked this is tug of war. My answer is always, of course you can play tug (the ‘new’ name for tug of war) with your dog. Just as with the games people play, playing tug (and all games) requires that you enforce consistent rules. Protection dog trainers have a long history of having exquisite control due to the game aspect of bite work training. Agility and flyball competitors often use tug to focus and rev up their dogs before and cool them down after competing. Dog owners can do the same thing.
What about wrestling with your dog? Here’s my exception to the rule– it’s not just about whether to wrestle with your dog but if and when you engage in this intensely physical game that many dogs absolutely love. Quite simply, if you have children, wrestling with your dog is probably not a good idea. Children imitate what they see happening in their homes and elsewhere. This could be devastating for the entire family… That said, I have worked with many families with dogs in which dad regularly wrestled with the family dog and not a single person was ever hurt. In these cases, I ask that dad do so when the children are asleep. It has been the perfect way to spend some close contact bonding time between men and their dogs.
In dog training programs, games are used to instill self control on the part of the dog. Teaching self-control to dogs makes them easier to live, especially as adolescent dogs. Simple skills that are hugely beneficial to dog owners include settle (aka, doggie zen, chill, chill out and chill out fido) and placement cues (not commands anymore!) known as mat training lends to the traditional use (not the teaching methodology!) of the nightly (any time really, indoors and out) down stay.