Why playing is so useful
You probably have this game book in front of you because you would like to do something with your dog. You would like to offer your four-legged friend something to liven up his daily routine? Perhaps you have already discovered how much fun joint activities are and need more ideas. Then you are in the right place. This book tells you how you can have a lot of fun with your dog, whether at home or on a walk, without needing expensive equipment or complicated training.
You are probably dying to get going already. A wagging tail and a smiling face are really all the encouragement you need to spend time on joint activities and you actually needn't continue reading this chapter. However you will probably enjoy playing even more when you know the positive effects these joint activities can have.
Playing at home is easy to do and a useful activity that stimulates and satisfies the dog. Bored and under-occupied dogs bite holes in our socks and rip wallpaper off the walls or, in the worst case, they tear the carpet apart. You can prevent this. Joint activities that you can easily integrate into your normal daily routine while away the time and keep your dog happy.
Canine activities are often associated with extensive walks, jogging and bicycle tours or dog sports. Many people (and dogs) also think of throwing and chasing balls and other objects. However it is not always physical exercise that makes an even-tempered dog. Rather, some dogs become wound up by too much action.
And others – due to age, illnesses or size – are hardly in a position for physical exercise. The same can apply to their two-legged partner.
No problem! The possibilities to play at home are so varied, that you can adjust them to the needs of your dog perfectly. If your four-legged friend is a puppy, for instance, then you can stimulate him mentally and encourage his development by using a mixture of brainwork as well as motion and co-ordination games.
You can offer your older dog something as well. Mentally active dogs stay younger longer and many old dogs prove with enthusiasm that they aren't past it yet at all. If your dog is wound up easily and is restless, he can learn to concentrate mainly through calm games such as nose-work or brainteasers.
The calmer participants blossom out during living room agility games or on the garden course, and gain self-confidence by passing little tests of courage. And the variety of games possible addresses the tiny Miniature Pinscher as well as the massive Newfoundland.
Overcoming little challenges in the familiar environment of your home builds up your dog's self-confidence. Not only fearful and insecure dogs benefit: when your dog gets used to overcoming little tests of courage or to solving brainwork tasks successfully through playing together, this will also increase his confidence in everyday life. Could there be anything better than an unconcerned, calm dog? He is often less susceptible to problem behaviour and doesn't get out of balance that easily.
When you and your dog are devoted to your play programme within the stress free and distraction free atmosphere of your home and are without any pressure to perform, then you are set up for success. It is not only fun, but almost without realising it, you and your canine companion complete a lesson in dog training at the same time. Along the way, you train yourself by teaching your dog little things. You learn how to motivate him, how he reacts, how you can accelerate his learning process. And your dog also learns through play to understand you better and to interpret your signals and cues.
People who can teach their dogs little tasks or tricks generally have fewer problems with important thing (from a human perspective) like "sit", "down" and "come". The difference between irrelevant and important exercises only exists for us humans, not for the dogs.
The biggest advantage of playing together is the positive effect it has on the relationship between dog and human. It is quite possible that you will get to know and cherish new talents and a fairly new view of your four-legged partner. Your dog will probably experience the same. And both of you will get better and better at communicating with each other. It is likely that your dog will become more altogether attentive and will look out for you to a greater extent – whether at home or on a walk. Maybe, the next time you call your dog, you will have invented a new activity. And of course Fido will not want to miss that.
To begin your joint play, you need time for your dog (and you should have that as a dog owner anyway), a bit of creativity, to be ready to experiment – and to have plenty of high spirits. This is all you need to benefit from the numerous positive side effects of joint activities.
Special equipment, experience in training or physical fitness is not necessary. "Just play!" is the motto of the activities presented in this book. This is why you won't find any difficult exercises or tricks, but just games, at which you and your dog can go straight ahead and be successful. Be inspired to try it yourself. Have a good time discovering the unlimited possibilities of playing!CHAPTER 2
Rules of the game and tips for beginners
There are a few things you should look out for so that you and your dog will be able to truly enjoy these joint activities. Take your time to read through the rules of the game: your canine partner will thank you for doing so by having even more fun!
The right game
Most of the exercises described in this book should, of course, be playable for all people and all dogs. However please use common sense and think of your dog's capabilities when choosing a game.
Your arthritis-ridden senior will thank you for not expecting him to jump over big obstacles. This wouldn't be good for your small puppy either. An especially nervous dog doesn't have to walk across the big, threatening, rustling plastic cover straight away, or jump over the neighbours' kid's arms and legs during "people-agility" and so on. You can decide best for yourself what is good for your dog.
Dogs that enjoy easy-to-do activities in the beginning set themselves up for success at games together at a later date. Always take care that you only use equipment for your games that can't hurt or injure your dog.
Rewards are the key to success
Reward the dog for playing with you? This might seem a little strange at first: aren't you satisfying him simply by being with him? You are certainly right! Most dogs enjoy sharing activities with their humans. Many games are like little exercises, though, that the dog has to learn first. Not every dog, for instance, is successful in walking through a tunnel set up of chairs and blankets or balancing over a wall at the first go. And why should he climb up a tree trunk? Or rush up to his family with his ears flying in the wind, when playing the come game?
Now it is your turn: you have to get across to your dog how much fun this can be and how successful he can become. You, too, learn best and faster, those things that you do voluntarily and willingly and that you are really interested in. And aren't you also much more motivated when something is really worthwhile? In this regard, our dogs aren't any different from us humans. And this is why we count on rewards during joint activities. You will see your dog play along enthusiastically and dare new challenges with pleasure. You can celebrate joint success and really have fun together!
Food works best
Your dog will tell himself which reward is best for him. Most dogs don't really make an effort just for kind words, and rightly so. Stroking and touch are preferable for quality time on the sofa and usually don't go down well in training. Play or throwing a toy is more for toy junkies. But this often disturbs the activities. So food is usually the best choice. It is easy to handle and it motivates the dog.
Do you already see your dog as a four-legged sausage rolling through your apartment? Don't panic, just use a part of his normal daily ration when playing together and let him work for it a little bit. Most dogs enjoy earning their food that way!
The better you know what really makes your dog excited, the better you can reward him. Make up a list of things your dog likes best: put down his top five favourite treats. Think about things that he likes just as well as his food, for instance like running or searching or catching his ball.
Step-by-step to success
Always remember: while you already have an idea of what your dog should do, he doesn't have the slightest idea in the beginning. And you can't explain it to him either, because dogs don't understand human language.
Think about how you would feel if you were alone in a foreign country. You don't speak the national language and somebody tries to get something across to you. What would make you feel better: someone who keeps talking at you, grabs your arms and hustles you around, friendly at first but then more and more impatient because you still don't understand what is expected from you? Or a nice interpreter who would help you find your way gradually, in a calm and friendly way? The latter would, of course, be more appreciated. And your dog feels the same in our world.
It is therefore your duty to introduce your dog step-by-step to all the new challenges. Be an example of endurance and patience. Try to do so without touching, pulling or pushing your dog into the right position completely during training. Never yank his collar or lead. As long as the environment is adequate (your dog's security always comes first!), you do best in training without a leash at all.
With a treat in your hand like a magnet, you can lead your dog into any position. This alternative is suggested within the instructions of this book because this is the easiest way for most of the dog-owner-teams in the beginning. For those who like more of a challenge, you can teach your dog to follow your empty hand and give him the reward out of the other hand or a pocket. Those who are familiar with clicker training can do completely without luring the dog, and can let him figure out the exercise himself. The less you have to lure the dog, the faster your dog will understand a game.
If he doesn't just follow the treat without looking, he will better realise what happens during the exercise. Of course, he still gets lots of treats.
However you proceed and whatever game you play with your dog, always take care that you keep the requirements simple in the beginning. Don't expect the perfect end result at first, but rather reward even the tiniest progress.
How this works in detail is explained within the instructions for the respective activities. All games are described so that people and dogs with no training experience can also understand them.
Even though you won't find complex exercises and tricks in this book, a little knowledge of our dogs learning behaviour might be useful. Accurate timing, for instance, is very important. Dogs learn quickest when they understand what they are rewarded for. To achieve this, you have to be as fast as lightning when rewarding them! When your dog does something that you like, you have little more than a second to react. Otherwise it is likely that your dog won't really know what he is getting his reward for.
The easiest way is to choose a short and clear word, a marker word, that you always say the moment your dog is doing something great and has earned a reward for it: try "good", "hey" or "yes" for instance. In order that your dog understands the meaning of your marker word as an announcement of a reward, say it to him a few times and immediately give him a tasty treat. After that you can use your word during play and training.
By the way, this is the principle clicker training is based on: with the aid of a clear sound (a clicker is a little plastic box with a metal tongue inside that makes a clicking sound), you can clearly indicate the behaviour required of a dog. Through accurate timing and rewarding the tiniest attempt at showing the right behaviour, the dog always knows exactly what his trainer is expecting from him. "Clicker-dogs" therefore are especially enthusiastic training partners. They work very single-handed and show a lot of own initiative.
Helpful training assistants
For some games, for instance when trying the tunnel during the living room course or the come game in the garden, it can be useful or even necessary that you await your dog with a treat at the other side or the end. If your dog has learned to wait at a certain spot, that's great. If not, then a human assistant can be of help, staying with the waiting dog. He can, for instance, use a treat to help your dog stay in position. He could also carefully hold on to the dog. This will be most comfortable for your dog when he is wearing a harness. That your helper shouldn't try to hang on to a struggling dog goes without saying.
Keep it simple and easy
Keep your play and training sessions short and frequent rather than long and exhausting. A few minutes at a time are more than enough in the beginning!
Always end your play with that feeling of success. If your dog does not manage the new challenge, take a step back and reward him for something he can already do.
What if it doesn't work?
There are always situations in which nothing seems to work. Then think like a good instructor: ask yourself how you could improve in order that your dog can be successful and understand you. Consider how to change the training situation so that your dog can get on with it as your own personal challenge. Lower the criteria for instance, reward him more frequently, choose an environment with fewer distractions and so on. Take into consideration that your dog also has a bad day from time to time and isn't always in optimum shape.
And when you realise that despite all efforts a game doesn't work or you and your dog aren't really having fun, then just try something different first. Problems often disappear in this way.
Stubbornness and impatience, nasty words and getting rough shouldn't be part of your joint play. Make it your aim to completely avoid saying "no", "stop it" or whatever. Try to get across to your dog what you want from him in a nice and gentle way instead of diffusing stress and bad temper!
Your dog is the best indicator of good mood
Your dog will always tell you whether playing with you is really fun and relaxing for him. Become familiar with his body language and his expressions and learn to read him. Excitement, barking and jumping around or excessive panting during play, for instance, are a sign of too much agitation and that your dog probably can't cope with the situation. A tucked tail, ears back, a stiff or crouched posture can show that your dog doesn't feel comfortable at the moment.
Maybe your dog gives off so-called calming signals during some of the games, like licking his nose, blinking, yawning, turning his head away or sniffing the ground. This is your dog telling you that he feels a little uncomfortable.
Now it's your turn again. Consider changing the training situation. Little things often improve the situation such as crouching down, for instance, instead of bending over the dog, giving him a little more space or lowering your criteria and keeping the training steps smaller. In case of doubt choose a different exercise, one that your dog likes better and that makes him feel really comfortable!
By the way, while developing this book we tried to make sure that our photo shoots were pleasant and stress-free experiences for our four-legged friends; around 40 dogs and their owners were participating. Pictures were taken mostly in people's homes or in other familiar environments, places where the dogs felt comfortable. Most dogs are demonstrating games that are already part of their daily life.