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Have Fun WITH Your Dog!

Obedience is the most important thing you can teach your dog. Or is it? While learning skills like down, stay and come are important for safety and managing your dog, the process of learning obedience can be a little, well, boring. Frankly, obedience can be boring for both human and canine. I mean, how many repetitions of “down” can you do without being bored out of your mind? After asking for 3 or 4 “downs” I’m ready to move on – and so is my dog.

The process of learning IS exciting for your dog. Think of obedience type classes as a foundation for life-long learning. Rather than “obedience”, I use the term manners for my dogs. Skills like down, stay and come are critical for dogs to live in human households. But keep in mind that those skills primarily benefit the people in the house. Obedience or manners helps your dog understand expectations and it improves human/canine communication. Our dogs may comply to make us happy, but that is very different than having fun with your dog.

Frankly, I prefer fun over manners. Don’t get me wrong, it is a little scary when my 145 pound dog greets me enthusiastically. But, to be perfectly honest, there is nothing more delightful in my day than seeing my dog acting like a dog, which might mean when I get home my dog might greet me “enthusiastically” (code word for jumping up or sniffing me all over or maybe zooming around). Do you see the contradiction? Should my dog greet me and behave like a dog or not? And if I sometimes greet her with enthusiasm and allow jumping and other times I don’t how is she supposed to know what I want her to do? No wonder dogs get confused! Confession: I may have hurt feelings if my dogs don’t rush to the door to greet me. Being home with my dogs really is the best part of my day. So, a little jumping might happen.

I do think basic manners are important, but it’s not the end of my dog’s education. In fact, learning manners is only a small part of life for my dog. I’m much more interested in having fun with my dog. That’s why I have a dog!

While going to the dog park might be fun (it could also be stressful and scary), your dog wants more than a place to run around – your dog wants you. Your dog wants to interact with you. That has a little bit to do with obedience skills and a lot to do with the relationship you have with your dog.

There are 3 basic types of interactions with our dogs. First, and what we do most often, is just existing together. Being near each other, but not necessarily being engaged. As I write my dogs are lounging nearby. We’re in the same room, we’re sharing space, but we’re not paying attention to each other. I call this passive interaction.

The least amount of time is spent on husbandry interactions. Husbandry is like personal hygiene – trimming nails, cleaning ears, applying flea/tick prevention. Dogs need to learn skills, like standing still for ear cleaning and offering a paw for nail trims. This is occasional, but important for the welfare of your dog. Husbandry skills can be learned. Nail trims and ear cleaning don’t need to be a struggle.

The third type of interaction is what I call focused interaction. The amount of focused interaction will vary according to the needs of your specific dog. At a bare minimum this should be an hour a day. What is focused interaction? There are so many possibilities for this one! Play is the first thing that comes to mind. Fetch, tug, hide & seek are great games. Walking, running, and hiking are healthy for person and pet. Learning new skills, like tricks, parkour or nosework also fall into this category.

When you combine these kinds of interactions life becomes more fulfilling for you and your dog. Here are a few examples:

Playing tug is a simple way to combine training, physical exercise, and focused interaction. As a physical work out, your dog is developing strength and balance. While playing tug you can include some training skills, such as “drop it”, “wait” and “all done”. For many dogs, tug is a favorite game to enjoy with their favorite human. Myth buster – there is no correlation between playing tug and dominance. Please, play tug with your dog!

Taking a walk together can include focused interaction (no phones, please), physical fitness, training and passive interaction. Walking together is a shared experience for person and pet. We’re moving through space together attached by a leash. While on a walk, my dogs and I will practice skills like checking in (paying attention to me), targeting (usually a hand target), and parkour (over, under, around, on, back up, through, and wait). When we pause for a sniff break, we’re still together but we’re experiencing the environment separately – there’s no way I can distinguish odors like my dog and my dog probably isn’t enjoying identifying plants like I do. That’s the passive interaction part of our walk. I’ll also play hide & seek and find it with my dog during walks.

For people and dogs who enjoy group classes, this is a fun way to learn new things together. When I do a group class with my dog the goal is having fun. We are not the best students in most classes, but we do have fun and laugh. When Ursa and I took a Rally Class we were the class clowns. Really, we just couldn’t get it together. Rally is not our thing. We did have fun, which is all that matters.

If your dog is attention seeking (barking or mouthing) or being destructive, you might not have a behavior problem. Rather, your dog may need more focused interaction. An hour every day is the minimum your dog needs. It doesn’t need to be all at once. Two 20-minute walks and a 20-minute play/training session is a good way to start. Adolescent dogs need more focused interaction than a senior dog. Breed can play a part, too. An athletic dog (labs, retrievers, bully and herding types) may need 2-3 hours of focused interaction a day, while the giant breeds are often content with an hour or two of focused interaction per day.

Have fun WITH you dog! Need some help getting started? Try a group class like Nosework, Parkour, or Tricks. Group classes don’t fit your schedule? Hire a trainer for training sessions at home. Many of our clients do both. We can help you discover what having fun with your dog is all about.

Paws up!


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