Another key component in building this relationship is controlling activities. Focus the fun on you and, as mentioned before, have your dog earn the paycheck. This is important with dog training in general. Dog training is, at its core, manipulating the environment to achieve the desired outcome. The goal being happier owners and dogs.
Has This Happened to You?
Picture this. You are sitting at the desk, working away, you’ve walked your dog, played fetch, gotten in belly rubs, and now must get things done. Your dog is wandering about, bored. They pluck a favorite ball off the floor from a scattering of ten other toys. They come over and drop the ball on the floor. “Sorry, Fluffy, got work to do,” you say. They pick the ball up and start nudging you. Again, you demur, but they won’t be ignored. Now the ball gets dropped in your lap and they are barking, “Come on! Throw the ball!” You cave and chuck the ball.
Who has been trained here? What sort of relationship is being established? Dogs are smart. That’s one of the many reason we love and are fascinated by them. They learn any time we are interacting with them. Here the dog has learned that if they are persistent enough, their human will play.
Now picture the yourself outside with the same dog, you are trying to get them to come inside because you must go to work. Fluffy isn’t bored anymore. There are all kinds of fun things to do out here and now you’re not very interesting. In fact, your presence and intent are signaling that the party is over. They have the same ball but it is much more fun to play keep away from mom or dad now.
It happens. All the time. An owner loves their dog, dotes on them, but has never taught them reliable behaviors or established a solid structure. There are no set expectations to follow.
Earning the Paycheck. Just as we used food to gain relevance and teach the dog to focus on us, so we use the toys. Don’t have five or ten toys down for them to pick from. Give them a Kong or a favorite chew toy that is available so they can occupy themselves, but something that we don’t use to play with them (this is especially important with teething puppies, find something they like to chew and provide it). But if you use a ball, tug toy, or anything else, to interact with them, keep it out of reach. Don’t engage when they are demanding it. Pick a time, especially when they are being good, and then break it out.
You can use the toy, if it has high enough value, in the training itself to teach focus, a solid come command, and all manner of behaviors. In fact, K9 Heights Dog Training uses toys as much as treats in training. This method is especially useful with higher level obedience training where you want the dog extremely motivated to work.
In their article, “Why Train with Toys,” on the International Association of Canine Professionals website, authors Linda Martuch (Pres. Genuine Dog Gear) and Brenna Fender state:
“Toys provide many advantages that treats do not. By using toys, dog trainers can turn practice sessions into fun and games. Linking work and play can create stronger drive, increased confidence, reduced stress, and a happier dog. Dogs that think of their obedience or agility performance as play are more likely to find the work reinforcing, even when the toy is not present.”
“Linking work and play”, that’s a great idea! Harness this energy and desire. Use it to teach your dog what you want them to do and have fun doing it! Don’t let such a valuable tool go to waste. By controlling the activity, ensuring that you are initiating it, making it fun and productive, you are building a strong bond with your dog. You are teaching them obedience commands and focus that are valuable in daily life. Equally important they are learning follow your lead, they are seeing that all the action is with you. This benefits you and your dog across the board.
Whether a ball or a tug, make sure to teach your dog a solid “out” command. Reward them when they do out it when you are beginning to teach the command, either by an immediate return to play, or with a treat. Remember to use praise. And make sure that, at the end of the session, you are the one who ends play. You don’t want the dog ending it by getting bored and wandering off with toy or losing interest altogether. Also, make sure that you end up with the toy. Put it up until the next session.
As with all the components in this blog series, there is a reason for everything. Dog training isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about just getting Fluffy to sit for a treat. It’s about shaping every interaction we have with our dogs in such a way that they are always learning. And so are we. This change in paradigm can change your life and your dog’s life for the better.
If you and your dog need help with reaching your training goals, or if your dog has behavioral problems, contact K9 Heights Dog Training today: 1-734-419-3903.
In the first two blogs on this topic I covered the need for the right relationship, one of relevance, with your dog. Then I explained how to use food as a part of establishing this relationship. If you haven’t read these articles yet, I encourage you to check them out – Here and Here.