Playtime is great for you and playtime is great for your dog, but only if approached in the same manner as everything else you do with your dog and that is with you monitoring the play and taking control as necessary. Playtime involving other dogs can go wrong in other ways, not only could it lead to your dog learning to ignore you because he was having such a good time…
There’s just something about watching a dog running free and doing his own thing that is incredibly appealing to humans. We just don’t seem to be able to get enough of watching our dog prancing about and playing the fool; maybe it allows us to get in touch with our inner-child or maybe just the fact that we’re relaxing and smiling watching our dog play releases happy hormones and lets the stress melt away.
Once you have your dog walking nicely to heel on and off lead, you’ll no doubt want to think about giving your dog some play time… or not.
What about if it goes wrong? We won’t find it relaxing then, it can be one of the most stressful aspects of owning a dog. There are a number of things that you need to bear in mind when giving your dog ‘playtime’, however, unless you have trained your recall, if I was you, I wouldn’t even be contemplating it.
Picture this: your gorgeous puppy followed you everywhere from when you first started to walk out, once you were on a field you’d let him off and he’d stay really close. Then as he got older, round about the five month mark, he’d start running out in front and pausing looking at you “yes, off you go” you’d say smiling distractedly as you were walking along talking to your friend.
Sure enough ‘off your dog went’ and then a couple of months later you realised that when you let your dog off lead he went off and did his own thing, coming back on his own, sometimes without you even having to call him but more often than not, if there were other dogs around or those irresistible little furry things, you’d have to wait until your dog had had enough.
If you have a spaniel no doubt you wouldn’t see him for dust and he would have grown cloth ears… Labradors are no better. Come to think of it no breed is, some will run back and forwards nose on the ground, some will take off and track, others will start mousing, others will scent mark, others will… you get the idea don’t you? Once your dog has been encouraged to chase, track or scent there’ll be no stopping him; every walk will be an out of control hunt.
So how did we go from beautifully behaved puppy to waiting for our dog to return at his leisure? Quite simple really, lack of leadership.
When your young dog stopped and looked back at you he was doing one of a number of things; making sure he was on the right ‘hunting’ trail, trying to communicate to you that you were following an inferior track to his, making sure you were still following his lead, waiting for his pack to catch up, reassuring himself that he wasn’t alone… you can see where this is going can’t you.
For you to then give your dog permission to continue was in effect saying that he was the better hunter and tracker (which he obviously is) and that he didn’t need to be part of your hunting group. If at that time you’d taken control of the situation and called your dog to you, made him walk to heel or played with him then chances are you wouldn’t have lost your recall. A trifling thing perhaps, but not for the dog who views life very differently.
Playtime involving other dogs can go wrong in other ways, not only could it lead to your dog learning to ignore you because he was having such a good time with the other dog, he could learn, through being mobbed into continuing to play by an unruly dog that you’re not strong enough to deal with the situation and not as important as other dogs, it could also lead to your dog being fearful or aggressive.
A couple of years ago I used to walk with a friend and her dog. When her dog was in his formative months he had been to classes that allowed dogs to play and jump all over each other. As a result, her dog had learned no self-control or canine etiquette.
After a couple of times of her dog persisting to maul at my gentle goldie whilst he was lying on his back with his legs in the air, tail tucked in I stopped walking with her. Her dog could quite easily have taught my dog that the universal canine signal for “I give in / no more / don’t hurt me / I’m not worthy” didn’t work during play and my dog could, and I believe would, have used his weapons to get out of a situation he was very uncomfortable with. If I hadn’t have stepped in to call an end to the play session then my dog would have had to take control of the situation and out of fear may have approached play sessions with other dogs in the same manner.
Playtime is great for you and playtime is great for your dog, but only if approached in the same manner as everything else you do with your dog and that is with you monitoring the play and taking control as necessary.
The best playtime is balanced between your dog having some time to be in his nose and be a dog and playing with you and if you teach your dog to retrieve you’ll find playtime will take on a whole new meaning for you and your dog and your relationship will change out of all recognition.
Lez Graham MA, FCFBA, MGoDT (MT), KCAI (WGA)
Trained for Life