My hand lifts up slowly and Storm’s eyes follow it, full of anticipation and razor sharp focus. He is seated and his head is slightly low, in classic Border Collie focus fashion. The ball in my grip is his only concern at this point, and he is poised to go as soon as I launch it down the hallway behind him. Except for one thing. I have now told him to “wait!” As I let go of the ball, it flies, fast and furious, towards the end of the hall. Storm is still planted in the same spot, looking at me and waiting, waiting, waiting for…”bring it!” Upon release of the magic words, he turns on a dime and goes after the ball as if his life depended on the retrieve. He quickly catches up to it, scoops it up with his mouth, and returns it to me for another throw.
This type of scenario happens often at our house. I am a big time multi-tasker, so anytime I can shove two tasks together in one frame of time, I do it! Hence, it is wonderful for me to be able to combine ever-important training with play when it comes to my dogs. This was especially true when I was considering competitive obedience for my dog Storm. I trained and/or reinforced the wait, send away, sit, down, stay, and drop on command…all through a retrieve! Not only did it make for more efficient training, it was fun!
Here’s how you can explore this type of training with your dog (or other pet). First of all, find out what types of play your dog really enjoys. Retrieving is a wonderful tool, and even if your dog is not a natural retriever, you can teach it! Click here for a great article by the ASPCA on how to do that. Tug can also be used, or perhaps you have a dog that likes to catch things (although similar, this can be different from the retrieve…I have cared for dogs who aren’t so excited about retrieving but think catching objects in their mouths is pure awesomeness). Touches or “tags” could also work! For instance, ask your dog to sit, and then offer a quick touch/tickle wherever your dog likes one after releasing him. Perhaps then puppy gets to chase you for a moment. Be open to thinking outside of the box!
Once you’ve found something motivating, us it as a reward for the behaviors you are trying to teach! You can show your dog how to do behaviors as you play with him. Targeting is great here, because you can teach your dog to target your finger and then use it to direct the dog quickly and then reinforce the behavior with play. In other instances, you can reinforce a behavior you have taught your dog via other methods by rewarding the behavior with play after you’ve requested it.
I always say, training should be fun, and there is not better fun than training a dog while playing with him. I hope you find some great ways to play around with your dog’s training!