Ask the Trainer: Dog Skills

Fall 2004


Leslie McDevitt
Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Counselor
Y2K9s Dog Sports Club
Wyndmoor, PA

Leslie specializes in clicker training and using positive reinforcement to modify problem behaviors in both pet and performance dogs.


My first two columns focused on building a good
relationship with your dog by making yourself central in their lives, being in charge of "life rewards," and teaching them a rock solid recall. Here is a third aspect of relationship work: Playing with your dog!

Dogs who have a strong play drive are easier to train, and dogs in need of homes become much more adoptable if their play drive is encouraged. Rescued dogs that are shy or nervous around people will come out of their shells much quicker, and therefore be adopted faster, if they are toy crazy.

For example, my rescue dog who was afraid of kids quickly learned that kids are a great source of frisbees. She soon forgot her fears as she came to identify kids with playing her favorite game!

Tips for playing with your dog:
1.) Be in charge of the game--stop and start it. Incorporate obedience work into the game. The obedience should be a part of the game, and in the dog's mind not be separate from the rest of the game. For example: dropping a toy (on your command) means the toy gets thrown again.
2.) Don't just hand a toy to the dog--make it exciting by appealing to their prey drive. Play “keep-away” or “hide-and-seek” to build their interest. Make it move! Tug! Don't leave it about when you're not playing, and it's not "alive."
3.) You can buy toys with secret compartments for treats, for dogs who aren't naturally interested in playing with toys. These dogs will quickly become interested!


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