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Cisu – Play as Physical Interaction

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Here is a video of personal play with a physical, interactive dog – she has strong opposition reflex and likes “hands on” play.  This video shows my dog Cisu playing with me; we play a ton in the ring between exercises.  The only thing in this video that I would not do in the ring is push her with my knees or stop moving.  Always move to your next exercise as you play, unless the judge in not ready for you.

Note that Cisu always comes to me; I do not pull, prod, grab, or restrain to keep her attention.  If it is painful or irritating to the dog, it is not play – it’s a person being annoying.  To use these skills in the ring, make sure you keep your body relaxed with your hands open, high and visible, so the judge can see that you are not grabbing your dog.  You may need to tone it down depending on your dog’s behavior.  Before you try playing in the ring, videotape yourself with your dog so can gauge the appearance of your play.  Never never never grab your dog’s ruff or collar in the ring, no matter how much fun your dog might find that interaction.

I teach my dogs that open hands are an invitation to play.  To encourage a jump up, my hands are held high.  To encourage movement, I move the dog from my left to my right side, simply by varying which hand is available and changing my body postion.  To encourage the dog to push back at me, I place my open hands against the sides of their muzzle or neck.   If I need the dog to be quiet and contained, I hold my hand close to my side with my palm facing me – my dogs are trained to come into that space between my hand and my body, but they don’t’ have to heel.  They can jump if they wish.   Sometimes I pull Cisu in close to my body so I can pet or hug her, but most of the time I encourage her to move around so she can release any nervous energy that has built up during work.

Cisu is always either working or playing; there is no dead time.  This is how we trial – 100% structure.  Play is highly interactive and fun for the dog, but it is still focused and structured.

When training the beginnings of interactive play, remember to always move away from your dog.  If your dog turns away from you, your job is not to follow but to back away.  Most dogs will turn back when you do this and you can praise, cheer, and offer another opporunity to interact.  If your dog is prone to running around when excited, you’ll have to keep this sort of play toned down and highly structured.  Try teaching in a small space so “zooming” is not an option.  Feel free to use food in the beginning to keep your dog close, unless your dog begins to focus on the food – then practice short bits of play simply for the fun of the interaction.

Here’s a video of Ali in his first play session.  For those who are interested, Ali is the grandson of Cisu, the dog shown above.  He is also Lyra’s sire.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

18 responses »

  1. My obedience instructor uses a pressure-walk-in type thing for dogs that are sniffing or are otherwise distracted when training. Not sure I’d call it a correction, per se, but it breaks the dog’s attention off whatever is distracting him and bring his focus back onto the handler.

    Maybe it’s a different type thing than how you are moving away from the dog, so I can’t compare, but I thought I’d ask if you have an opinion about the pressure of moving into a dog? Thanks. 🙂

    • I think using body pressure can be a fine correction for the right dog. In play, if you lose attention move away instantly and most dogs will reorient – unless they are truly distracted, which is a different situation altogether.

  2. ok, i just tried this with my mouthy and talking dog (never stops talking) Loki. he responds to it wonderfully EXCEPT, he is always mouth open and always “aarrrggh”… which can seem aggressive but i know with him it’s not, he’s jus playing and he loves to play loudly. since i’m not competing in a ring it’s no big deal, but how do you teach a quieter form of play for a loud and open mouthy dog like him? i tell him he’s good when he plays back when quiet? for now i just want him to push back at me and play back. but over time fade the loud mouthyness? how? the only thing i can think of is by calming myself a bit and he’ll match it. for example when we’re downtown and i notice he’s a bit tense for whatever reason (a big dog stared hard or anothe running amok unleashed) I always give him a jump and few fun “get in” turns and then a few more jumps to release tension and he’s very quiet when we do it. so i know he can “play in public” quietly. it’s probably just my own body language. i’m louder at home i think!

    i also tried the “down or sit” while in the air during a touch from the last post. OMG, he got it in like 2 seconds. he’s faster on sits but slower on downs but does do them for me. he loves that kind of speed in working. I’m so happy your blogging! in fact, he’s happy you’re blogging! his mind is back to being a bit challenged!

    • If it’s happy noise I’d just ignore it, especially if you have no plans to compete. You will probably find (as you continue to work on your play skills) that specific things you do cause noise. Cisu has triggers that make her bark. At home I don’t care but in the ring I avoid those trigger activities.

  3. Loads of fun following your trials, tribulations and thought processes, Denise and I can’t wait for the seminar in May in Nelson, BC!

    I’ve got mother/daughter Duck Tollers….both very play oriented, both like to roughhouse, both use their teeth….a lot! I’m thinking it’s a fine line between turning them off play for using teeth and keeping them motivated to play. Mother is nearly 8, so has some very ingrained stuff, daughter is 11 months.

    Suggestions? They both loved the physical play tonight and I love it because I don’t have to have toys on me.

  4. I loved seeing this in action and will definitely try this with my little girl, but it’ll have to wait since she’s already quite tired tonight. I am curious though, by what you mean when you say “open hands”. Is that both hands palms together, but spread a bit apart – or is it spread/splayed fingers? That’s not clear to me.

    I have to brag that between your blog, my other reading and the clickcompobed list, I’m getting some wonderful results with my 17mo Dalmatian girl, Gimme. Twice now, when she realized I was about to end a training session, she drove into heel position and I couldn’t peel her off me. Somehow I’ve made heel a preferred activity – who knew….

    • Open hands is spread fingers; judge knows you aren’t pulling on your dog, and dogs seem to easily understand that this means you want to engage. Cool about Gimme!

      • Thanks. Today while woods walking, I used the splayed fingers to invite play and she instantly knew what I wanted. Then realized as I was walking, I’ve actually been splaying my fingers naturally at times. When we walk in the woods, she runs about and then always comes back to bump me and I reach down and push her back a couple times. Today, I noticed that when I do that, I naturally splay the fingers of the hand that I’m pushing back with. How about that! So Gimme already knew what that means – now all I have to do it work on it purposefully.

  5. i’m interested in the teeth play too… because mine does that as well… seems scary to anyone else but me or another “alligator” owner…

    thanks for your reply! i’ll have to try to make a semniar some time!

  6. Any suggestions for a barky barky player? He likes these kinds of games,but there is lots of noise going on from the second we start them. I am working very hard to get the obedience exercises without barking — basically turning away and ending the chance for reinforcement when he barks, which is working, but I have been releasing him to play and allowing some barking there. It seems to be a very natural behavior, because he has done it from day one and barks a lot when playing with other dogs too. I don’t know how much barking you can get away with between exercises in the ring before they start deducting.

  7. Just curious – why do you call it *personal* play? Do you mean this as playing with a person as opposed to a toy?

  8. What about settling dogs down after you’ve played with them? I have a super active super playful Corgi, but it’s not hard to get him into Zoomie mode. Any tips on playing without taking him over the top?

  9. I will post videos of my various dogs and how I play with them over the next several weeks, and hopefully that will give folks ideas for different types of play with different types of dogs. I can’t really problem solve people’s dogs without seeing them (not to mention there is a time issue as well), so some of you may wish to sign up for a video lesson with me at: If you want to work on play, then that’s a fine topic to work on.

  10. I really like this video, Denise. I see far too many people (including myself – drat) getting too vigorous or too hectic and they cause their dog’s brain to scatter instead of orienting the dog to the handler. This video is a lovely demonstration of personal interaction. I’m going to work on this; I don’t have to worry about my dog’s teeth on me, so this is a great model for me. Thank you!


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