Teaching dogs can and should be FUN!
Most of us have dogs that don’t ‘work’ for a living, that means they have lots of free time and energy to burn. Especially when the outside conditions aren’t safe for playing long enough to burn that energy.
One of my favorite ways of burning off that energy is to play a good, long game of fetch. My dogs typically learn how to catch a disc (frisbee), but you can substitute a ball if your dog has a preference. We like to use the softer discs to avoid damage to doggie teeth.
Burning off excess energy is not the only reason for playing a good game of fetch. I strongly advocate using this play time to teach your dog some skills that will make your life so much easier…and your dog’s life so much happier. I wrote another article here about more fun games. And here about improving communication skills when there is little else to do.
Games that Teach™ incorporate these important life skills:
- Impulse control in distracting situation.
- Patience and taking turns.
- Wait/Stay until released.
- Come back to you.
- Sit or Down.
- Fetch/Retrieve and return object to you.
- Bring you valuable things.
- Eager and yet mindful attention on you.
Watch the Video to see how it’s done.
I’ve made a video for you to watch today. You’ll see me playing frisbee with two of my border collies, demonstrating how play can be a serious time for learning important skills. I hope you’ll be inspired to partner with YOUR dogs in this fun and skillful way!
Click to watch the video:
You’ll notice that my dogs are not ‘frenzied’ or freakishly/obsessively offering behaviors they think I might want. They are alert, eager, fast, fun, calm, mindful, attentive and fully understand their jobs.
Can you see how this ‘way of being’ would be useful in anything you do with your dog? Not just in every day life and play…but for herding, agility, obedience, rally, conformation…anything you do where you need an eager, attentive dog. That’s all the time, right? 🙂
How to Teach Multiple Dogs to Play
After I released this video, I had several people write me, asking: “exactly how do you do that?”. It seems that these folks had no problem playing like this with ONE dog, but had no idea how to teach TWO or more dogs to play together this mindfully.
Here’s the quick version of how I teach two or more dogs to play like this:
Step 1. Teach each dog how to play fetch 1:1 with you.
Step 2. You and your dog already have a partnership-based lifestyle
…or at least the beginning of one. It’s challenging to isolate the teaching of a particular skill, because my approach is foundational, and holistic in nature.
So, my dogs already know:
- how to be attentive to me
- they look to me for positive leadership
- they have learned self-control in stages…it’s a way of life
- they trust me
Step 3. Teach each dog (separately) how to:
- “go fetch” upon request.
- “wait” until you cue them to go fetch…until just after you throw, until it’s halfway there, or until it lands.
- “sit” or “down” while they wait for your cue.
You should use good body language to teach these skills, you can offer treats, you should definitely offer lots of praise. You may need to gently support your dog by the collar or harness to teach them to wait. Just your hand gently on their collar should be enough.
When your dogs are easily and eagerly listening for your cues separately, you are ready to move on to Step 4.
Step 4. Play together with 2 dogs.
OK, now the fun begins! You have two or more dogs who understand the game, and who are eagerly attentive and responsive to your cues. Congratulations…you are well on your way!
Here’s the outline:
- make the game very simple at first (short, quiet throws)
- start with your ‘best’, most patient dog waiting first. So, you’ll throw the frisbee for the younger dog, while you repeat the process of gently placing your hand around your dogs collar…eagerly praising the waiting dog, making a bit of a fuss over them…while you softly throw the frisbee for the younger dog.
- for the dogs, it’s nearly as much fun to wait with you, because you are happily praising the waiting dog.
- give the young dog 3 or 4 turns. then switch places. you’ll only ask your younger dog to wait for maybe 2 turns, while you quietly throw for the older dog.
- switch places again. after a few game sessions, you should be able to ‘even up’ the game with equal turns.
- introduce the ‘control’ skills for both dogs, without you needing to support them by the collar. So, you’ll mix up the wait, sit, down etc…making it fun for all.
- when those 2 dogs are playing the game well..you’re ready to add in a 3rd dog. Repeat the process.
Do you need the ‘how to’ for teaching your dog the basics of playing fetch?
Let me know in the comments below, and if there’s enough interest, I’ll map it out for you. And, I’d love to hear how your game teaching goes!