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Bowwow Haus

Encouraging Play with your Pooch!

While I grew up with dogs in my childhood, Lucie, my golden retriever, was my first dog that was all mine and as an adult. Looking back, I see that I was awkward in my new dog parent role - I remember feeling like I had two left feet at my first group class, trying to maneuver a wiggly pup on a leash, and feeling self-conscious using my "happy voice" to praise effusively when she pooped outside... But most of all, I didn't really know how to get Lucie to play with me, and I often felt silly playing fetch with myself in the park.

Luckily, a friend recommended a great dog trainer and I booked a few private sessions (on a sidebar note, puppy training was the BEST investment I've made towards the sweet, happy, playful dog I have today!!!) - and I realized that I had to learn how to play with my dog AND that I had to teach my dog how to play. Sounds simple, I realize... but it was a lightbulb moment.

At the shop, we often hear customers say that their dogs don't like toys or that they don't like to play. But especially for our urban dogs, play exercise is a must for keeping them physically and mentally stimulated... and just like we train our dogs to learn any other command or behaviour, we can teach and encourage dogs of all ages to find joy in play. Play sessions can help tone muscles, maintain a healthy heart, reduce stress, and alleviate boredom. When dogs are under-stimulated, it can contribute to behavioural problems (excessive barking, food guarding, separation anxiety) and destructive behaviours (chewing, digging). All dog people know: a tired dog is a good dog!

A few tips on encouraging play:

* Have a couple SUPER special toys: It's great to have a few toys that your dogs can play with anytime, but get a couple new toys that are only pulled out when you are playing with your dog. With Lucie, I chose a ball on a rope and a big stuffed animal - both of which she showed no interest in at first.

* Be enthusiastic: A couple times a day, I pulled out one of the toys and played with it by myself - having an exaggeratedly fun time throwing the ball in the air and catching it with glee, chasing it down the hallway with energetic flair (did I mention I felt v. self-conscious??!!) then when she started to express interest, I let her get close enough to sniff for a second - then put the toy away while her interest was still piqued.

* Once they're playing, keep it short: After a few days of feeling silly by myself, I started snaking the toy on the ground in front of her until she started wanting to chase it then we'd play for a minute or two until she was really, really into the game - then at the height of her interest, I'd stop and put the toy away. The key was for ME to end the play, rather than playing until she lost interest. After a week or so, when a special toy was pulled out, she was raring to go!

* Signal the start of playtime: Once she was starting getting consistently excited about our play times, before taking out the special toy, I marked the start of playtime by saying "ready, ready, READY??" in a super-happy, excited voice. Now at the park, when I'm ready to play fetch, I just have to ask "ready, ready, READY?" to have my dogs happily leaping expectantly.

* Not all play has to involve toys either - they can play with just YOU: For me, our playtime tends to involve reinforcing a training command, which also keeps the dogs enthusiastic about responding to them. Here's a couple of my simple faves:

a) COME :: You'll need about 20 small but super-tasty treats for this. If you have a pup, I'd recommend starting indoors (long hallways work well) - but unoccupied tennis courts work well too. Start by standing on one end of the hall with your dog, making sure that she is watching you, throw one treat a couple feet behind you. While your dog chases the treat, run towards the other end saying "Lucie, come" in a happy, fun voice (really, the voice makes a big difference). She should naturally start chasing you. At the other end, praise quickly and happily with a "GOOD COME!" and a little pet, then without any delay, throw another treat a couple feet away, and run back to where you started, again while saying "Come". Continue until you get tired, or your dog appears to start losing interest. Remember you always want to end your play sessions while your dog still wants more.

b) SIT-STAY :: This works well for dogs that already have a pretty good sit stay, but with a second person, it can work with pups too. Find a space with not too many other distractions initially, then work up to a busier space to test their sit-stay! Sit and stay your dog - walk away however far away you can leave your dog before she jumps up to follow. If she hops up, remember to walk them back to where they were supposed to be sitting and make them sit and stay again (and don't walk away as far). Ideally, you should be at least 10-15 feet away. Wait for 30 seconds, then in an excited voice, ask your dog to COME! They should come racing to you - then happily fuss and praise. Lucie has always been a fairly low-energy dog, and this is one of the only ways I can get a full-fledged RUN out of her (usually when I'm so far away from her at the park that I have to use hand signals to get her to come). If your dog doesn't have a good stay, you can ask a friend to hold at one end (and maintain a sit) - until you call from the other side.

If you have any tips on how you encouraged play with your dog, we'd love to hear them. bow wow haus carries a great selection of engaging toys for doggies of all sizes. Come by one of our locations and let us show you some of our dogs' favourites!


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