Fun & Games…How to Make Learning Easier

It’s all fun and games, isn’t it? I mean, really, isn’t learning easier when you’re having fun?
Every time you play with your dog, there’s an opportunity to teach him something new or reinforce something he already knows. Play, I believe, is essential to the bonding process. Bonding is essential to the training process… besides, if there’s no bond between you, why do you have a dog?
“Bozo, ‘fetch’; Bozo, ‘drop it’.” Whether it’s a ball or a Frisbee, I’m betting you’ll tire before he does.
When you’re starting with a little fella, you’ll want the distance you throw (more likely, toss) the object to be short. You can ramp up Bozo’s interest in the object by fussing it up or talking to it before you toss it. Have him ‘sit’ or ‘stand’ or ‘stay’ while you toss it (once he’s learned these things of course).
In the early stages you may need to be prepared to “trade’ in order to get the thrown object back. Great! Really, you’re just having fun; the opportunities to teach or reinforce are right there.
Some dogs are adept at catching. You’ll quickly find out whether your Bozo is. If he is, catch can become part of your ball game. In the winter, catching snowballs is great entertainment!
Tug of war is always a winner. I have heard people discourage it on the basis it may make the dog aggressive. Not so, I say, as long as you have lots of rules…YOUR rules established BEFORE you start. This applies to all games with Bozo. With tug of war, a couple of things to bear in mind are:
(1) Stop the game frequently with ‘drop it’, ‘give’ or whatever your ‘give it’ word is.
Resume after a brief pause and
(2) No teeth (his) should ever touch your skin. Even if it’s accidental and doesn’t hurt, say “ouch” in a very offended tone and walk away for a minute or two. Then you can resume.
With kids, a great recall game is hide and seek. This only requires you or another adult and one child, if there are more, so much the better. Send the kid(s) off to hide, armed with a treat. You restrain Bozo if necessary (he doesn’t have a solid ‘sit/stay’ yet). Have the child call out “Bozo, ‘come’.” Let Bozo go find the child and be rewarded with the treat. If the child is old enough, tell him/her to have Bozo ‘sit’ before he gets the treat. (It’s important that you have already shown the child how to offer a treat and he/she is comfortable doing it.) Young children have a tendency to choose the same hiding place over and over. Encourage and help them to choose lots of different spots. This is a great indoor rainy day game.
So is, ‘Go To…’ if you have more than one child. Either you or one of the children has Bozo ‘sit’ beside them.
While standing very still, he/she says “Bozo, ‘Go to Jim’.“
Immediately, Jim, standing across the room, kneels down, opens his arms wide and says, “Bozo, ‘come’.”
When Bozo gets to Jim, have him sit, praise and reward him.
Then Jim says, “Bozo, ‘Go to Peter’ and back to Peter Bozo goes.
In the first few ‘gos’, Bozo can have a treat for compliance. After that, no treat, just praise. Sometimes, Jim or Peter will have to do something to make himself interesting.
As Bozo gets better, add distractions – maybe play outdoors in a safe place. The reward for this one can be ‘go play’.
Kids love the “dead dog” pose.
If you decide to teach Bozo to ‘roll over’, by using a gun finger hand signal and the verbal cue ‘bang’, kids will be more than happy to help you reinforce that one.
Consider Freeze tag if you have a group of kids. You will need to have taught Bozo to ‘freeze’ beforehand. Like the word ‘wait’, it has many uses. As always, be sure to make up the rules ahead of time, interrupt the game frequently for brief moments and supervise. Kids, like dogs, can quickly get very wound up.

Depending on your chosen breed and your inclination, you can teach Bozo to ‘sit up’ (front paws in the air), ‘shake’ (give one paw), ‘high five’ (similar to ‘shake’), ‘dance’ (standing on hind legs, paws on you or freestanding if he’s built that way, and moving to music) or balance a biscuit on his nose.
Carl, a bouncy yellow Lab who comes to The Dog House, astonished us all with his motionless, squarely placed ‘sit’ while he balanced a biscuit on his nose, then cleverly caught and ate it on the ‘OK’ signal.
Taking into account the build and personality of your puppy, you really can teach him anything his body construction will allow. Take your cues from things he does naturally, on his own. Then put it on cue.
If Bozo is not quite ready or old enough for agility class, perhaps you’d consider setting one up in your own back yard. Weave poles, a jump, and a teeter-totter are all easy enough to construct. Google AGILITY.
Hidden treasure works best outside (and in a designated area) but you can play it inside using the couch, chair his crate, pillows, etc.
Swimming, woodsy off-leash dog walks (solid recall an absolute must!), soccer, city on-leash walks… all these can be fun for you and Bozo.
In fact, most things, especially walks, are way more fun with a dog!

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