What does playing mean
Playing is exercise: Although there are breeds of dog which, by definition, are more passive than others in this sense, it is clear that no dogs are absolutely sedentary. No matter how little inclined they may be to play, the majority of dogs need physical activity and thoroughly enjoy running around in the countryside, cavorting, hunting for things, etc., However, as the dog’s owners and the person who has to take it for its exercise, we don’t always have enough time to do this properly. Taking your dog to the country every day or even to the local park, so it can run around and tire itself out, would be very impractical. To make up for this, whenever possible, try to take your dog out for some exercise at weekends and holidays, even if it means only heading down to the local park. If you don’t give your dog the exercise it needs, you will turn it into a dog that is lifeless, lazy, slothful, listless and probably more than a little overweight.
Playing burns up calories: Playing also serves a biological function. Calories are vitally important for every dog, but it is even more important to burn off excess calories. If your dog doesn’t burn off these excess calories it will build up calories and get fat until it becomes an obese and unhealthy dog.
Playing is good fun: your dog, just like you, needs to have some fun from time to time. Boredom is an enemy that could bring out bad behaviour in it. Likewise, a monotonous life is very unhealthy for your dog, so try to play with it regularly while, at the same time, trying to make sure that the games you play with it are as varied as possible.
Playing is motivation: When a dog plays, it is happy because it is involved in an activity that it likes and this will motivate it and will make it a better dog and also a more obedient dog.
Playing is a good way to combat stress: In today’s world, most dogs live in flats or houses where they spend the best part of the day cooped up indoors. This creates a certain degree of stress that they need to release. Playing is also the best antidote against this pent-up tension. Running around to their heart’s content, racing off in pursuit of things that you throw for them to fetch and many other activities will give your dog a well-deserved chance to blow off steam and feel freer. It will also make up for all those hours that it is forced to stay indoors without getting a chance to get out. After some physical activity, it will feel more relaxed, calmer and happier. You too, after a hard day’s work, will benefit from enjoying a few minutes of fun with your dog.
Playing is interrelating with others: It is very clear that playing with your dog will improve your relationship and will strengthen the bonds between you both. At the same time, it will let the dog know its position within the family. it will sense your loyalty towards it and will appreciate the time you spend with it. At the same time, you will be reinforcing your role as pack leader as you are the one leading the games, controlling them and setting the rules that are to be followed. In this sense, it is important that during the time you spend playing with your dog you do not let it take charge nor call the shots, as this would make it assume a position of leadership. After playing with it, it will be more inclined to obey you.
How and what to play at with your dog
We have already mentioned that it is not easy to find enough time during the week to spend playing with your dog, as it is not always possible to take it for long walks in the country every day etc. Still, you should try to spend at least ten minutes every day playing with it (or maybe less than ten minutes, but playing at more regular intervals throughout the day). Try not to roll all its exercise into a half-hour session all on the one day, as perhaps for it this fun time is the highlight of its day and he may be waiting anxiously for it to come around. You can make the most of this situation by taking advantage of any opportunity you get to play with your dog. For example, while you are cooking or browsing through the newspaper, throw something that he can chase after and fetch for fun. Something that should always be taken into consideration is that playing should not involve an element of risk for your dog whether this is in terms of its surroundings, the type of games being played or the dog’s state of health and age, etc. Given that playing takes on such an important role for your dog, you should try to think up games for it to play with this in mind. This means that these games should have rules and a simple structure so that he can understand what he is supposed to be doing. This way, its games will have a meaning for it and he will get the maximum benefit from them. To achieve this it is important that the game should have a recognisable beginning and end.
The type of games that you play with your dog may depend on a variety of factors. For example, your dog may have certain preferences (which in turn may depend on the breed of the animal), where you are playing, the age of the dog and its physical characteristics. You should take these aspects into consideration if you do not want to fail or get frustrated in your attempts at trying to teach your dog a special game in particular. For example, sheepdogs like group games that require them to pay attention; bloodhounds do not like chasing after balls, but, on the other hand, they are crazy about objects that roll along the floor; retrievers will run after, search for and bring things back to you, which is what really fascinates them most of all; etc.
In terms of safety, if your dog is one of those dogs that are bulky in stature but small, like a bulldog, for example, don’t let it tire itself out too much as this could lead to heatstroke; or if your dog is a larger dog, try to avoid it coming to a sudden halt or jumping high into the air. Every game will have its most appropriate time and place, which means that if you are playing in the country, for example, you will have much more space to move around in for all those games that need lots of space. And, on the other hand, if you are at home, you will have to change the kind of games you play to suit the space you have as well as your surroundings. Let’s take a look at a few favourite doggie games, some for playing in the house and others for playing outdoors:
Games you can play in the house (obviously, unless there is something preventing this, these games can also be played outdoors)
- Fetching objects: To teach your dog this game, first of all, tell it to sit. Show it a doggie biscuit or a ball but don’t let it get to it. Then, place this a few meters away from the dog where he can see it and give the command for it to “fetch”. As he can see the object, he’ll get to it quickly and in doing so will have learned how the game works. Then you can really hide the object so that the dog has to go and search for it, starting off by putting it in places that are not too difficult for it to find. This game has the advantage that it can be played indoors as well.
- Hide and seek: All the family can play. Somebody has to hold the dog while the rest of the family goes off and hides. When everybody is ready, one by one the players call the dog using the command “here boy”. When he finds you, tell it to sit, rewarding it with a doggie biscuit or a treat before another member of the family calls it again. Go through the same routine until he has found everybody. Your dog is bound to get plenty of exercise with this game.
- Sit: Start the game with everybody letting the dog see that they are happy and excited, singing and dancing for example. When the dog shows that he is interested, tell it to sit using the “sit” command. Change your happy facial expression to one of sadness without making a sound until he obeys the command. When he has done this, put on a happy face and start dancing and singing again then repeat the command for the dog to sit. He will find this great fun because he will associate the act of sitting and obeying the command with the game starting over again and seeing that you are happy again, singing and dancing etc. Playing this game gives the owner and his dog a great opportunity to bond.
Games for playing outdoors
- Catching doggie biscuits or treats: Standing a few meters away from your dog, throw it a doggie biscuit or a treat for it to catch. Repeat the same action, this time throwing the biscuit or treat a little higher and if it manages to catch it without it touching the ground, let it have it. If, on the other hand, it doesn’t catch it, take it from it and try the trick again, always following the same rules: if it doesn’t catch it, it doesn’t get to eat it. Or similarly, along the same lines, it can only eat the portion that it manages to catch. This game will help sharpen its reflexes.
- Playing the choir game: There should be five players or more for this game. Stand in a circle around the dog. The idea is to get the dog to face someone who is in the circle, and this is done at the same time the person it has to face calls out its name. When it gets the hang of this game, each person will call out a name and it has to then face that person. This game, in addition to being a good source of exercise, will teach your dog to recognise all the members of the family by their name.
SOME ASPECTS ON TRAINING
Taking care of your dog’s basic needs
The most important thing to bear in mind here is that your dog should have a set time for its meals. If you feed it every day at the same time, its digestive process will be regular and it will want to go and “do its business” after it has eaten. After it has its meals, take it out for a walk, and always lead it to the same spot. Stand by its side and say to it happily “come on boy” or “come on, pee-pee time” so that it learns to associate these words with doing its business. Once it has finished, tell it that it has been a good dog and head home. So it doesn’t get confused, don’t make these walks too long. Your dog may want to urinate or defecate as soon as it wakes up in the morning, after its afternoon nap, whenever it has a drink of water, after playing or before going to bed last thing at night. If you have more than one door leading out of the house, you should always use the same door to take it out, so that it can warn you by sniffing or scratching at the door whenever it needs to do its business.
Take it out of its kennel every morning and walk it with its leash on so that it can take care of its basic needs; then give it a reward. If you take it out regularly or after every mealtime, it will have no need to do its business indoors. While it is learning this routine, don’t let it run around the house unsupervised, and if you have to leave it on its own make sure it is in a room that is easy to clean, such as the bathroom. Don’t leave your dog on its own for more than eight hours at a time as this will cause problems in terms of its exercise and learning social skills. It is likely that your dog will get caught out from time to time and have to urinate or defecate indoors. Contrary to what you may often have heard, it is not a good idea to punish it for this by rubbing its nose in its own dirt, nor yelling at it, nor hitting it, nor throwing it out of the house; this form of punishment may only confuse it. What you should do in these circumstances is take it to where it has soiled and say “no” in a low but firm tone of voice. Dry it off with a piece of paper and lead it, using the paper, to where it should go to the toilet. If you watch over it, the dog won’t get a chance to soil indoors, but if you see that it is getting ready to do its business in the house, just tell it “no” and lead it to where it is supposed to go to do it.
If, after following these instructions, your dog is still urinating or defecating in the house, as though it were marking its territory, then have a talk with your local vet as this may be the result of a rebellious nature or perhaps due to a behavioural problem.
Dealing with certain forms of problematic behaviour or situations
It is quite likely that your dog will develop some of the following bad habits or forms of behaviour that we are going to mention, as these are the most frequent. The most important thing you have to do is try to work out why it is behaving in this way and, without a doubt, sort out the underlying problem behind its behaviour.
If it chews up something that it shouldn’t: Dogs really love chewing on things, it’s instinctive. They do this especially when their new teeth are coming through, to try to soothe their sore gums. Chewing on the wrong things is not a good habit in a dog and, as such, you should try to get rid of this bad habit before it leads to further problems. If you surprise it chewing on something that it shouldn’t be chewing, point this out to it by saying “no” or “hey there”, while using its toys to divert its attention. Stroke it and tell it in a loud and happy tone that it has been a “good boy” once it starts chewing on its toys. You should also bear in mind that if you find it funny when it chews on something that is “forbidden”, and if you let it get away with this because it is old or broken for example, it will not understand why you scold it at other times for doing the same thing with something that may be new or more expensive. As far as your dog is concerned, the two things are basically the same. For this reason, you should never let it get away with chewing anything that is not your dog’s. You can buy products that smell or taste bad, though non-harmful to your dog, to spray on furniture or objects that you don’t want it to chew on or bite. If you choose to use these products, make sure that they are suitable and safe both for your dog as well as for your furniture.
If it growls or bites: You should discourage this behaviour. An adult dog that bites does so because it wasn’t properly trained as a puppy. Never trust a dog that is known to have bitten in the past. If it growls, tie it up using its leash and tell it “no”, then carry on playing with it. If it doesn’t stop growling, stop playing with it for the time being.
If it barks a lot: Dogs always bark for a good reason. Your dog may be barking because it is bored or stressed, because it is protecting its territory or because it is trying to get your attention. What it boils down to is that barking is its way of communicating with you. Correct it if it is barking too much by telling it to “be quiet” in a low voice. You can stop it from barking so much by rewarding it when it doesn’t bark and take a couple of minutes every day to make sure it gets enough exercise. If it continues to bark a lot, tie it up using its leash and repeat the command for it to “be quiet” while getting it to sit and stay in that position. Then you can reward it. If it barks when you go out, leave its toys for it to play with as this should keep it occupied for a while.
If it has the bad habit of begging for food: Don’t give it food when you are eating at the dinner table as it will always want you to do this. Feed it before you sit down to eat and ignore it if it sits by the dinner table. If it begs for food, just say “no”. You may have to take it to its kennel or teach it to go and lie down in its bed while you are eating.
If it rummages through the rubbish: When a dog is searching out its quarry, it is securing its territory, which is something that will make correcting this problem more difficult. To correct the problem, however, take your dog out for walks using a long leash so it can wander off and have a rummage around on its own. And when it gets to the end of the leash’s run, tug on the leash and say “no”. it will soon learn after this is repeated several times. It may also be a good idea to put some spicy food in the rubbish to discourage it from rummaging through it in the future.
If it digs holes in the ground: It may be doing this because it is too hot and is looking for a cool spot to lie down in. On the other hand, it may be bored or maybe doing this because it wants to bury something or because it is attracted by the smell of something in the soil. Whenever you see it digging holes in the ground, tell it “no” and play with it to take its mind off what it was doing. It is important for it to have a constant supply of fresh drinking water (not too cold) to quench its thirst. And it is equally important for it to play regularly, as this will keep it occupied and give it the exercise it needs to stop it from developing these bad habits.
If it tries to run away: Show it the garden boundaries or the area that it shouldn’t go beyond. To teach it these boundary limits, walk it around the perimeter of this area wearing its leash and tell it “no”, making it back away every time it goes beyond these boundaries. Even so, the best thing to do is to block off the area that it shouldn’t go beyond or tie it up with its leash when you are out of the house.
You can teach a dog to do many things. But to do this it will have to first learn a series of basic commands without which it will be impossible to get it to learn to do other things. Getting it to come to you: call it while it is eating by saying the word “here”, and reward it immediately when it comes to you. Get it to follow you when you say the word “here” followed by its name. The “leash” method: sit on the floor just a few meters away from your dog, who should be wearing its leash. In a jovial tone, say the word “here” followed by its name and gently tug on its leash. Greet it on your knees with open arms. When it comes to you it might be very happy and may jump all over you or even urinate from sheer excitement. Don’t chastise it for this right away, let it show you how happy it is and then make it sit once it has come to you.
Getting it to sit: Hold up a doggie biscuit for your dog to see, just about level with the dog’s head, while saying the word “sit”. Move the doggie biscuit to just above its head and then move it back towards its neck while it is sitting. Reward it with the doggie biscuit.
The “leash” method: Position the dog on your left-hand side and hold its leash in your right hand. With your left hand, press down on its rump while gently pulling the leash upwards. While you are pulling on the leash say the word “sit”. Reward it when it sits. Then give it the command while pulling on the leash but this time without pressing down on its rump. Once it gets the hang of this exercise do it again this time only giving the command so that it learns to obey it.
Getting it to lie down: From the sitting position say the words “lie down” while using a piece of food, a toy or your hand to entice it to lower its snout towards the floor. Then, as you take your hand away, or as you remove the food or the toy, it will follow it. Reward it when it adopts the posture that you are looking for.
Getting it to stand still: With the dog on your left-hand side, hold its leash above its head, tugging on it just enough to get it to stand still. Place your raised left hand, with your palm facing outwards and your fingers together, besides its snout and say the word “stop”. Place your right foot in front of it so that it can’t move. Repeat this step, moving one or two paces away from the dog each time. If it moves towards you repeat the command while you move towards it and raise your two hands with your palms facing the dog. If it moves towards you or starts to move away, don’t call it back: physically bring it back and start again without moving too far from the same spot, to begin with.
Getting it to stay by your side: With your dog by your left-hand side, take a step forward with your left foot. If it doesn’t move, tug gently on the leash then call its name and say the word “side” while turning to the right. The dog will stay behind you and will follow your lead and come to your side. Reward it for this. If it moves off, leave it and it will come back to you when it gets to the end of its leash. You could try using a doggie treat or its favourite toy to get its attention and motivate it. Every time you stop, say the word “sit”; in the end, it will learn to do this automatically.
A few home-spun tricks
The following commands are the most basic commands that every dog should be familiar with and obey, but naturally, you can teach your dog many other things as well. Your dog’s ability to learn is not limited to what we have explained here and you can teach it more complex tricks and commands such as the following for example:
Getting it to fetch your slippers: First of all your dog has to associate the word slipper with your slippers. Teach it to fetch your slippers using some old slippers, as until it learns what it has to do with them it will only want to play with the slippers; it will bite them and won’t want to let you take them from it. Start off by throwing the slippers a few meters away from the dog and tell it to go fetch and bring you the slippers. When it does this, reward it and go through the same routine again, this time putting the slippers in another place, making it more difficult for the dog to find them. Once the dog gets the hang of the exercise it will do it every time you ask it to fetch your slippers and it will feel happy when it knows that it has pleased you.
Getting it to turn on the light: This will come in handy if you ever find yourself unable to turn on the lights yourself, perhaps because you are unable to move around (when you have a broken leg, for example) or simply when it gets dark in the evenings. Dogs can find their way around better than humans in the dark and if they know where the switch is they will find it without any apparent difficulty. To teach your dog this trick, get it to stand with its front paws on the wall beside the light switch (of course, it will have to be tall enough to reach up to the switch). Once it gets the hang of this routine, reward it. Touch the light switch with your hand and then take the dog’s paw in your hand so that it can touch the light switch as well. Turn off the light and when you turn the light back on again, tell the dog to turn on the light and reward it for its efforts. It will take a couple of run-throughs for it to pick up the trick, and every time you tell it to turn on the light, it will do just that.
Getting it to wave bye-bye: This is a trick that is easier to do with smaller dogs as they have to lift up their front paws, but larger dogs can do it just as well. Get your dog to sit in front of you and hold a doggie biscuit or a treat just above its head in front of it. it will raise its front paws to try to get hold of the biscuit or treat and will keep its balance. Then you can give it the biscuit or treat as its reward. Once it has learned to keep its balance with its paws raised, put your hand out so that it can put its paw in your hand. When it does this, greet it by saying the words “say hello” and giving it its reward. Put your hand out a little further each time to get it to stand on its hind legs properly. Besides interacting with your dog, your guests will be very impressed by how well trained it is, you will feel very proud of it and it will be glad to see that you are so proud of it.