In my last ramblings on choosing a mentor and who you look up to, I talked about a trainer who told me to go home and play with my dog.  Play, it is something that seems so simple, but is sometimes so hard to incorporate into your daily life.

The first dog I did any serious, competitive training with was Skylar.  When we started doing agility training, I was told that my dog must tug in order to be successful in agility.  Skylar never liked to tug, and in those days, I understood playing with your dog meant tugging with your dog, and so I believed Skylar didn’t play.  Anyone who knows anything about irish setters and knew Skylar, knows that for an irish setter that life is one big joke. Skylar most definitely liked to play, he just didn’t like to tug.

It took some time for me to wrap my brain around the fact that playing with my dog could look very different depending on the dog.  I have friends and family who love board games. I don’t!! Do you see the exclamation marks?  For me, board games create all sorts of bad feelings and forcing me to “enjoy” them is not going to change that.  Does that mean that I can’t enjoy playing?  Nope, it just means that for me, board games are the opposite of play.  The same goes for dogs.  A dog that does not like the game we choose, does not mean the dog doesn’t like to play. It just means that the dog doesn’t like that way of play.  Are some methods of play easier to work with when training your dog?  Absolutely. However, you can still incorporate play into any dog’s training sessions.

As adults, playing with our dogs out in public can feel awkward and embarrassing.  Someone important might see me.  The human side of the equation needs to practice this.  That someone important, might go home, and then play with their own dog.  Once you get past the awkwardness and embarrassment, you will find that you too will have endorphins released, and it will become easier to play in public.

I am finding more and more that my training sessions are becoming only 10% “work” and 90% play.  I am having way more fun, and thus find myself training more often. 

Getting to race around with “the best toy in the world” (a plastic bag for this moment) is a great way to play. It’s even better if the handler agrees that it is the best game ever with the best toy ever. Camo will readily come back to work after this as play and fun are the best part of training time.

So what does play look like in my house?  I have 3 different dogs and 3 different styles of play.  Rey, the pittie mix, loves rough and tumble.  Getting down on the ground at her level is what she likes best.  Target, my irish setter, loves slow stalking.  Playing creeping games with him followed by some sort of “prey” to get is his favorite.  Camo, who is the first dog that I have purposely brought up to play is the most versatile.  He absolutely loves to play with his flirt pole, but tug, ball, and anything to do with water are also great play things.  Our play is still not perfect, but we are having fun along the way.

One of the things I have become mindful of is that asking for play and engagement is a 2 way street.  If I believe that Camo truly is a working partner with search work, I need to give him some respect when he asks to play with me.  If I were to ignore him every time he brought me “the greatest toy in the world” (which is actually whatever toy he happens to have at the moment and could actually be a stick or a rock or a leaf), he would learn that he has no say in our relationship.  Instead, I am thankful that he thinks I am the best playmate out there and get fascinated with that awesome and amazing toy he brought me.  We get to have a relationship where we both are in a position to ask for engagement. 

So what is your dog’s favorite way to play?