There is nothing as cute as a playful puppy (unless she plays with your new shoes or a new plant you just planted….). But, having messed up my play with Yarpen, I am very aware that playing is perhaps one of the most important activities for a happy relationship with a dog, as well as one of the best reinforcers in sports training. That’s why I was absolutely delighted when I learnt that Falka is equally motivated by food and toys/play. She will happily play tug, then take a food reward and tug again. I just hope I’m not going to mess this up…
There are several “play” related points I try to remember:
- Start when the dog wants to play – doh! It would seem that this is an obvious point, but I have already noticed that even though she might seem alert and playful in the morning, the real fun starts in the later afternoon/early evening. I want her to be fully engaged, and minimize the risk of her getting bored with playing when I offer it, so now we only play properly in the afternoons when I am 100% sure that she will be up for it, with VERY brief sessions at other times (particularly in new places, which I will write about later). I hope that combining her high energy at that time with playing will create a highly aroused conditioned emotional response (CER) to playing, which will then “activate” whenever we play.
- Using Yarpen and Pusia to my advantage – Falka is not possessive of toys, and she is quite happy to bring the toys back to me. However, from time to time when she “wins”, she wants to chew on the toy. I run away making fun noises to attract her to bring the toy back to me for more fun, but if this doesn’t work, I will call Yarpen or Pusia and show her that it is actually me (not the toy) that is the source of fun.
- Keeping sessions short – she would be quite happy to play for 20 mins at a time, but around 12 – 15mins (a rough estimate) she gets a bit over-aroused, nipping on my legs (ouch!!) and/or other dogs. It’s actually quite informative to see how they react to her, when she gets OTT they will set her down. In these situations I calm the situation a bit by asking for some sit/watch, or stuff her mouth with a toy and start a calming massage with lower, calmer voice.
- Tugs, flirts, races – in the future I would like to use a flirt pole, but at the moment she still needs to learn how to control her own body, to avoid contusions (and joint problems…). So, I do have a fur toy on a rope, but try to run in her in straight, short lines. We play very gentle tug, where I only provide resistance. It is a bit funny though, as she doesn’t really pull back, she prefers to shake it or step on it, while I hold it. I also try to support her body when we play, trying to prevent her from falling.
- Be a good looser – I NEVER win. Every time we tug she is allowed to win the toy. I then exchange it for some food, or, if I am working on Leave command, she gets it right back after she releases it. Sometimes she will lose the grip – then I do run away. As a prey animal would do….
- Every time she wins the toy, I run AWAY. I don’t stand idly, as this would be boring. I want to make it clear as day that “I” am The Fun, not the toy.
- If she plays with Yarpen or Pusia I don’t call her away, I call the other dog – this one I still have the most problems with…
I am attaching a video of us playing today. As you can see, I have all 3 dogs with me. We are still working out the dynamics, but I think it’s going fairly well… I have three toys I use only for these sessions, but other than that she has a free access to many toys, you will spot two lying in the area where we play. I am unhappy about my commands, but as they are in polish I don’t think it will matter here. I need to work on getting more consistent with my cues, as well as new commands that I will be using just for her. I find that some transfer well between dogs (e.g. sit), but it doesn’t really work well if I ask Yarpen to step back and then give Falka a release word that also releases Yarpen…