One of the best ways to maintain or improve a relationship with your dog is through play. Play will encourage your dog to want to interact with YOU, instead of having to go to other dogs to have that kind of fun. You should then find that your dog becomes much more responsive, which will in turn make him easier to train. However, the games that you play, and the way in which you play them are very important. These guidelines will help you:
Make sure your play sessions short – ideally end the game while your dog is still keen, and ideally use a ‘special’ toy as oppose to one he has access to all the time. Confiscating a toy and only bringing it out when you want to have a game increases its value. You should be the one to instigate and finish the game.
Use a suitable toy. This may sound obvious, but too many dogs are injured by sticks damaging eyes or spiking throats, or becoming lodged in dog’s mouths. Small balls and stones and fir cones often get swallowed, as do conkers, and they can make dogs very ill by fermenting in the dogs stomach. Remember, what you consider to be a toy, and what your dog considers to be a toy can be two very different things.
Small puppies are better with soft object to tug on, whereas older dogs can cope with harder, more solid toys.
If the dog doesn’t enjoy the game that you are playing, then from the dogs point of view, it is not a game so make it FUN. It may be that you need to try a different toy, or you are trying to engage him when he’s too tired, or he’s bored (you have been playing for too long).
If you are using a toy to teach your dog to come back, make sure that in the early part of your training that you don’t throw it too far away from you. You will need to teach your dog to bring the toy back in order to have it thrown again. If your dog or puppy is chasing the toy and then going off to play with it on his own, you’ll need to keep the toy in your immediate vicinity and encourage your dog to pick it up and offer it to you for another tug game. Until he has learnt this, it is pointless throwing it as the game should involve both of you!
Do not use the toy when out and about until you have perfected your retrieve/tug game in a variety of other, less distracting places first. This is especially important in areas that have other dogs in them, as if the toy is thrown, your dog may well pick it up and take it with him to investigate the other dog(s). The ideal time to use your toy on walks, initially, is as a reward for coming back from other dogs as oppose to using it to stop him going, as that may not work. Eventually, you want your dog to learn that you are more fun and exciting than everything else in the park. If he is near you waiting for you to throw the toy, he will not run off creating his own games by chasing joggers and cyclists. Games are a natural outlet for dogs with a high hunting instinct, so teaching your dog to chase, scent and find a toy will engage his brain and give him both physical and mental exercise.