Watching dogs play always makes people smile. Interacting with your dog through play is also great fun, good exercise and rewarding for both dogs and humans – why then do so many of us just use food as a reward in our training???? It doesn’t matter whether you are training a pet or a performance dog .
Play is one of the most underutilised reward systems. So what do we mean when we talk about “play”? Is it having a dog haul you around hanging off the end of a tug toy and refusing to let go? It doesn’t need to be.
Experimenting with a range of toys that work for you and your dog is really important.
Build up their desire for the toy. Then you can use this as a reward after they have performed a behaviour. Using play helps to increase their desire and drive to perform a behaviour. Food will help with accuracy, however taught correctly playing tug with a toy will actually help to increase a dogs self-control.
Some dogs such as herding breeds prefer independent play – they will take a ball or other object and have a great game tossing it in the air and amusing themselves. One of my dogs has a hoop as a favourite toy – at the end of a great training session where he has been engaged he may well earn the right to perform his rhythmic gymnastics routine in his own free space. After a period of time I’ll remove the toy and it will come out as a “jackpot” reward another day.
So it’s a matter of finding the right style of play for you and your dog.
Other forms of play involve touching, pushing and using your hands on your dog in a playful fashion some dogs really enjoy just the feel of your hands on them – and the right sort of pat can be really rewarding for a dog.
If you’re not sure what style of play will suit your dog just observe them interacting with other dogs and that will give you a good insight.
Build up your dog’s play drive and then try using it as a reward instead of food, it doesn’t necessarily replace food rewards but it will certainly add another layer of enjoyment and interaction between you and your dog.
Tell us below in a comment, whats your dog’s favourite style of play?