It’s important to be respectful, when playing with dogs, of their instinctive nature. Too often I see people playing with dogs as though the dog is a toy for their amusement. Or playing with dogs without an awareness of how the dog perceives the situation. Here are some basic things to be aware of:
Rules for playing with dogs:
Start the play on your terms.
If your dog is frequently bringing toys over to you, requesting that you play, this is a test. They are questioning your authority. If you will play with them when they say so, that means that you aren’t in charge. So don’t fall for it! Yes, this might be the reminder you needed that you haven’t played with your dog for a while. Leave it 10 minutes or so until your dog has gone away and is minding its own business again, then you can call it over to play on your terms!
Keep the play on your terms.
If you initiated a game of fetch, then that is what the game should be. If your dog tries to turn it into “chase me, chase me” stop playing. If your dog tries to turn it into tug of war, stop playing (more on that later). If your dog is dropping the toy a meter away from you, rather than at your feet, remind it to bring the toy to you. If he/she doesn’t, stop playing. All of this is a test. It might be easier to believe that your dog is stupid, but trust me, it is testing you!
End the play on your terms.
When you decide to stop, stop! Don’t give in to the puppy dog eyes requesting more. Again, this is a test. If you give in, they got it on their terms, so they lose respect for your authority. It’s like parenting. If you frequently give in to your kids, they will know that they can get whatever they want from you, and will run rings around you. Stand firm, and you’ll have much more respect from them.
Don’t play tug of war.
Your dog understands that strength can mean higher authority, so they will be testing to see who is stronger; you or them. Chances are, your dog is probably stronger than you! Even if they aren’t, by engaging in this type of play, you are encouraging them to be competitive with you.
Be careful not to play too rough.
You might enjoy playing rough with your dog, but do they understand what is happening? They definitely would if they were with other canine pack mates, and they knew their place in the pack. If they think that their position in your pack is at risk, then they might see rough play as a bit too confrontational for them. Also, while you might like playing with dogs in a rough way, what about the other members of your family; or visitors? Will your dog be able to distinguish between whom it is okay to play rough with and whom it isn’t?
Remember: toys are trophies
Some dogs ‘resource guard’ and that can include guarding toys. If they believe that they are the ‘Alpha’ of your pack, they believe the toys are theirs. If you then challenge them for ‘their’ toy, they are in their right (they believe) to tell you off. The worst case I have seen is a lady who had to have a skin graft after taking a toy from her dog. Please don’t challenge your dog over toys. If your dog is resource guarding, this is easily resolved, but I would recommend that you get a professional to come and help you. (The lady I mentioned and her dog now get on fabulously in case you were wondering.)
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that dogs are living creatures, with instincts, agendas and big teeth! Treat them as such, and engage in play in a respectful way that maintains their respect for you, and you will always be able to enjoy playing with dogs. If you have any doubts and would like some one to one help please get in touch. It is possible to have a wonderfully sweet relationship with even the most challenging of dogs. Just take advantage of the dog behaviour help that is always at hand.