Before I even got a dog, I spent every waking moment reading about dogs, dog training, how to raise a perfectly balanced dog, how to have a dog that is well-trained and polite, etc etc etc. I was obsessive about my research.
Online, there was a lot of information, and lots of it was useful, but everything (surprisingly!) failed to hit on one key point: Enjoy your dog. Play with it. Snuggle time isn’t enough, you need to run around together, throw toys, play tug, work with what kinds of games it loves to make it love you.
I know this seems painfully obvious, but somehow it wasn’t. Much of what I read said things like “Don’t play tug because it encourages dominant behaviour,” or “Strong pack leaders don’t play with subordinates.”
Lots of articles just didn’t make mention of playtime at all, instead focusing on things like nothing in life is free (which I still support, if only because introduces lots of great extra training opportunities)
We did try to play fetch a little with her, but it quickly became obvious that Betsy only played fetch if given a treat after each retrieve, and was otherwise disinterested in the activity. Instead of trying to work within her interests, we simply gave up.
And so, when Betsy would jump and tug on the leash, desperate for some playtime on her otherwise boring walk, I’d be like a tree and ignore her until she stopped.
Oh how I regret it now. Her cutest, most adorable first two months with us and I was trying so hard to do everything right that I managed to get this one thing horribly, horribly wrong.
When she was about 3 and a half months old and we were on another boring walk, she had a tantrum (her one and only tantrum in all her time with us), something clicked, and I remember saying to Ben, “I just realized that we…. never… play with Betsy. Ever. I think we should try to make more of an effort to have fun with her. We’re always so serious.”
And just like that, life with Betsy became a million times better. It was already good, we already loved her, but playtime kicked it up to the next level and I really wish we had started earlier.
There are lots of reasons why playing with your dog (and probably puppies especially) is a good thing.
First of all, it’s fun. What’s the point of having a dog if you’re not going to play together? It also helps with bonding, and keeping your dog’s attention on you when you’re out and about. If your dog thinks you’re the coolest, most fun thing around, why would it want to run off to chase something else? It builds trust, it builds the dog’s confidence in itself, and in you, and as a result, it makes training easier.
Betsy and I now do a few things in play:
- I bring a tug toy on every walk, and bring it out for a few minutes as a reward after she executes a nice sit or down.
- She loves being chased, so we do a lot of keep-away with one of her stuffed animals. This is exhausting for me, but it’s probably a good workout.
- She loves hide and seek; it’s so cute to see her cautiously peering into a room and then lighting up and bounding towards me when she realizes that she’s found me.
- She also really likes “find it”, where I hide treats and then send her on a mission to discover them.
I still really wish she enjoyed playing fetch – I did spend some time working on it with her, hoping that she’d learn to love it, but it’s so obvious that she likes being chased so much more… it’s hard to force her into a game that she’s lukewarm about.
Still trying to find that perfect game that tires her out without tiring me out, too 😉