Interacting / Playing with your dog

Dogs naturally want to play. If you watch puppies at 8 weeks old, their interaction and desire to play with each other is evident. Playing is a "pack" behavior that is usually suppressed when humans come into the picture, especially when the owner has only one dog. Very few owners know how to play with their dogs.

There are different ways to play with your dog, however, I highly recommend a game of tug-o-war. This game is beneficial to those who are interested in personal protection or protection sports and even for regular house pets. Tug-o-war requires the dog and the owner to be very active participants and the close contact strengthens the bond between the two. The first thing people need to do is understand something called "prey drive". This is the dogs desire to chase something that moves such as a rabbit, cat, etc... Prey drive can be greater in some dogs depending on their genetics or the way a specific dog was raised. When playing tug-o-war with a dog, we are tapping into its prey drive.

When playing with a young dog and building their prey drive, begin by hooking a leash onto the dog's flat collar or harness. You want the dog to be able to lunge forward comfortably. Then tie the other end of the leash to an immovable object such as a tree or pole.

Get a small towel and tie a string to it (the string should be about 3 ft. long). Hold the string in one hand, dragging the towel to make it "come alive". This small towel is the dog's prey. Tease the dog with the towel. Move it close to the dog and then as soon as the dog lunges forward to bite it, pull it away. The prey should move randomly in no set pattern which will spark the dog's interest. Tease until you see it is really excited and constantly lunging forward to bite whenever the towel gets close. Don't be alarmed if the dog starts to bark. This is actually very good.

When you finally let the dog bite the towel, praise it, and play a slight game of tug o' war. Pull the dog forward so there is no slack in the leash for a few seconds and then let the dog pull you forward two or three steps. After a few seconds of this tug-o-war, let go of your end of the string and allow the dog to "win". Make the dog work, but always allow the dog to feel like won in the end. It is no fun for a dog to play a game that it always loses.

If the dog lets go of the towel while you are playing tug-o-war, go back to teasing the dog, however, tease it with the towel a little longer before giving the bite. Make it want the prey really bad. In addition, you may want to let go of your end and allow the dog to win a few seconds earlier.

Once the dog has won, stand next to your dog and cup your hand under its mouth, holding it steady, to calm the dog down. Allow the dog to enjoy its win for a while. If the dog spits the towel out, kick it out of the dog's reach and start the game over again. If the dog keeps holding the towel, grab the collar and pick the dog's front feet off the ground. This will cause the dog to spit the towel out. Kick the towel out of the dog's reach, then let the dog's feet back down on the ground, and repeat the game.

If the dog starts to sniff or lose interest, you've played too long. You want to end the game when the dog's interest is at its peak. If you play too long, next time it will want to play less. I will discuss how to build your dog's interest and enthusiasm for playing in another article on "building toy drive".