Pawmates as playmates!!

Hi! Here’s Dr. Dolittle reporting from a park in suburban area in India on the conversations overheard from a congregation of doggies as their owners were engaged in a chitchat of their own…. Raja, the Rajapalayam­?–?Hi Guys! What’s up? Sasha, the Terrier?–?I am so bored, nothing exciting ever happens in my life. Magic, the Golden Retriever?– I agree, It’s the same old walk again, the same old smells and the same frogs and lizards.

Daisy, the Labrador?–?All I do is eat and sleep and of course I enjoy all the cuddling! But I need something more to cut down this heavy blubber around me that tires me so much.

Sasha, the Terrier?–?We need to find more meaning to our lives! Why doesn’t the human race realize that we need stimulation, some fun, some occupation, that we are social creatures and we crave to develop social relationships? Dear readers, do you think you need Dr. Dolittle to decode your pets’ feelings? Don’t you think that some of our pets may reflect the same sentiments as expressed by these dogs? Well, I am sure most of us do, But for the uninitiated others, here are reasons to play. People who regularly play with their dog develop understanding, respect and communication. It also keeps your dog from getting bored. And remember, your attitude while playing is important. Most dogs will have fun if it’s clear you’re having fun, too.

Some wonderful activities you can enjoy with your dog – Hide and seek

When you are out of sight of your dog, call her to you. You can either use your normal “recall” command or just her name. Be very excited when she arrives. Start making it more difficult by “hiding” behind doors, couches, etc. If she doesn’t find you at first, call her again. If your dog is very good at “stay” you can use this to keep her in place while you hide. Some dogs will use their noses for this task, others will just look. Most of them will learn a faster recall. This is a great game for kids to play with dogs, as long as the kids don’t encourage the dog to chase them.

Treasure hunt

Put your dog in a down-stay and place a treat (food or toy) within sight. Return to your dog and release her, and encourage her to go to the treat — she can eat it or play with it. Repeat this, varying where you put the treat. Next time, “hide” the treat where the dog can’t see it, but she can see you putting it there (behind a piece of furniture, for example). Release her, and let her get the treat (show her if necessary). Next, hide the treat further away, then in another room, out of sight, and if she stays in her “stay” let her find it. You can increase the distance, difficulty, and even number of treats (several small food bits) as your dog gets better at “stay”. This is especially good for dogs that have begun to learn “stay” but are nervous about having their people go out of sight.

Clean up your toys

Get a box or bucket and collect a number of toys and other dog-safe items (don’t start with things your dog likes to hoard or that you don’t want them ever touching). Scatter the toys in a small pile on the floor. Through shaping and teasing, get the dog to pick up the items one at a time, and place them in your hand. Once the dog is lifting the items high enough to get your hand underneath to receive, you are well started. Be sure to reward each “gift” with a food treat. Make it harder and harder to put stuff in your hand, while maintaining the fun of this “return for refund” game. Each item retrieved is dumped into the bucket. The dog will leave harder ones for later, so over time make substitutions that make the items increasingly difficult for the dog. Some dogs take the leap and start putting things directly into the bucket themselves.

Tug of war

The secret to playing this game successfully is for you, the human, to control it. For this game, choose one particular toy that will be used as your tug rope (don’t use one of your socks, or food items, or the leash!). Never play tug with any other toy. You start the game by picking up the toy and encouraging your dog to also pick it up. Give a particular cue that the game has started, like “Let’s tug!”. Some dogs will refuse to do this with you, especially if they’ve been punished for tugging in the past. You can start small by clicking and treating them for holding one end while you hold the other. However, tugging is instinctive for dogs (it’s a cooperative act in packmate feeding) so your dog should catch on quickly. Tug a few times, then tell your dog “drop it”. (You can use the same cheerful tone of voice you use for “sit” or “come”). You can reward him for dropping it with either a treat or another round of tug (preceded by “Let’s tug!”).

Fetch

This time-honored game requires nothing but a lightweight ball of relatively soft material. Make sure the ball isn’t too small, otherwise he could accidentally swallow it while leaping. The objective is of course to have your dog bring the ball back to you. That isn’t always the case; sometimes the dog trains the owner to run after the ball. Unless you don’t mind running at your dog’s whim, here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t play if your dog pushes the ball at you, then snatches it away as you reach for it, or if he dances around with the ball in his mouth, teasing you. You’re just reinforcing the idea that he can give you orders.
  • As the pack leader, YOU decide when to bring the ball out and when to throw it. Keep the ball in a special area that your dog is aware of, so when he sees you bring the ball out, he becomes excited and eager to please.
  • Follow the practice of performers to “leave ’em begging for more.” In canine parlance, that means quit the game while he’s still interested, not when he becomes bored.
  • Lavish praise on him immediately when he retrieves the ball and brings it to you.

Hula hoop

Begin by holding a hula hoop (still available at most toy/ sports stores) upright, but on the floor. Lead your dog through the hoop, then reward him with praise or a treat (or both). Repeat several times. Raise the hoop several inches off the ground and lead him through again. Then let him go at it! Keep raising the hoop a little more each time to make it more of a challenge, rewarding your dog each time he makes it through. Quit before he gets bored or no longer wants the treats.

Football

Did you know you can teach your dog to play soccer? Start the game by gently kicking the ball along the ground toward your dog. Encourage him to get it. The ball is too big to pick up with his teeth and it will take him a few minutes to figure out that he must push it with his nose or bat it with his paws. Give him lots of praise as he begins to catch on. As he gets better at it, you can include more people in the game. For breeds too small to handle a soccer ball, soft rubber balls can be found at pet stores.

Mind games

Does your dog get into mischief when you’re busy doing something, like getting ready for work? Give him a problem to solve! Put a treat inside a cardboard box and let your dog work to get it out. Make it easy at first – start with a box without a lid and let the dog see you put the treat in it. Work up to more difficult ones, like boxes that open from the side. Depending on your dog’s skill, you may end up with pieces of box all over the floor but you’ll have a very happy and busy dog throughout the process. The “Buster Cube,” a toy available in pet stores, is based on the “get the treat out of the box” principle and has been known to keep some dogs occupied for hours. A sturdy plastic cube, it’s designed to be stuffed with kibble. The dog must turn it this way and that to make the kibble come out piece by piece.

So go ahead, play some games and have some fun!!

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