What games do you play with your dog when you’re in the park or on a walk?
Dogs are said to be ‘gods of frolic’ because they love playing games! But they love it even more when they can make choices about how to play.
Let me explain: Most folks take a tennis ball and chukka to the park full of good intention, believing it to be a great way to ‘exercise their dog and burn off energy’. But repetitive ball throwing can cause issues:
- The constant twisting & turning plays havoc with your dog’s hips, legs and back.
- Ball playing rarely tires the dog out; usually it just revs them up, then when you decide to end the game, your dog is so wired he cant calm down.
- It prevents your dog from doing ‘normal’ (calm) activities eg sniffing, pottering, peeing! All of which are hugely beneficial for their emotional well-being.
- Fetch games can become obsessive – the dog gets fixated on you throwing the ball; if you stop they bark, whine, jump up, nip.
- It can create other behaviour problems eg the dog wont ‘drop’ the ball or ‘bring it to you’. (Usually because Fido actually needs a break and only achieves that by holding on to the ball and preventing the owner from taking it/throwing it)
Variety Is …
I’m not saying never play fetch – it can be fun in small doses. But why not add some variety to the games you play?
Try to exercise your dog’s brain as well as his body; maybe vary the tempo – mix up speed games with ones that teach your dog calm and focus; or try appealing to your dog’s other senses eg scentwork games. In fact, there are oodles of games that don’t involve relentless ball throwing. Here are some excellent ideas courtesy of Kay Laurence and Helen Philips:
- Sheep balls – Border Collies love this one but other breeds can play too.
- Marked retrieve – develops steadiness, patience and delivery to hand.
- Stalk that ball – slow, steady focus in partnership with your dog.
- Circle – This video uses a cup-on-a-stick but you could easily use a tennis ball in the cup instead of food
- Watch, Go, Stop – Fun & Focus with a Flirt Pole/Whip-it!
- Teaching ‘Directional Send’ – get that one, not those ones.
- Muffin tray challenge
- Basket ball
Choosing is part of the game!
Rather than constantly telling your dog to ‘drop’ the ball, try pausing … give your dog the choice to decide what happens next…
- If he drops the ball at your feet, by all means play again;
- But if your dog chooses to lie down with the ball – let him – maybe he needs a rest?
- If your dog chooses to ‘parade’ around with the toy – let her; surely the game is for her? So if she’s enjoying ‘showing off’ her prize, enjoy her parade!
- And if your dog gets the ball, then ‘teases’ you by doing a fly-by, maybe its his way of saying “I need a breather from all that running”. After all, how many times could you chase a ball before needing a moment to catch your breath?!
Dogs are usually unequivocal when they want to play a game. If they really want to do fetch again, they’ll give the ball to you – without you having to prompt. So try pausing and giving your dog the chance to choose – you may be surprised at how it makes for calmer behaviour, improves his or her retrieve (and avoids the fly-by), and builds a closer connection between you.
Article written by Joy Matthews
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