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Lyra 5.5 months – play as ????

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Playing with a mouthy puppy is different than playing with an adult, and takes a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what works best.

I don’t get upset with Lyra for biting when we play; I simply stop moving and wait for her to let go.  At this point, she tends to go for my jacket.

I’ve learned that if I keep my hands open and push the sides of her muzzle while she is in between my legs, she is the less likely to bite than when she is facing me.  This lasts for about ten seconds at the most, after which she gets too wound up and the teeth start flashing.  When Lyra was a very small puppy, she was good for no more than three seconds before the teeth came out, so we’re heading in the right direction.

My end goal is personal play with me rather than toy play, but this will take time and lots of practice to get there.  What I am looking for now is happy, interactive engagement.  I want her looking up at my face and interacting with me as much as possible, whether or not one of us is holding a toy.   To get this, I use unusual noises, clapping and body movement.  I also use the movement of the toy or food – this will keep her engaged in the game for a  greater length of time than I could get with personal play alone.  My experience is that if you play silently, most dogs will focus on the toy over the total interaction, so talking, clapping, and praising are really important right now.  If your goal is to improve your dog’s toy play, you might find that playing silently is a better choice for you, at least initially.

To help Lyra focus on the total interaction rather than the toy, I alternate between playing tug with the toy, playing with her while she holds a toy in her mouth, and playing directly without a toy.  The toy normally winds her up and leads to biting, so sometimes I’ll work her for a food reward before trying personal play.  Regardless of what I am using, I encourage her to focus on my face, hands and movement.

Lyra is starting to put some of her energy into leaping and running instead of biting – small bits of improvement over time.  Leaping and running are normally how we start our training sessions.

I have included two videos.  In the first video, Lyra is being trained in the morning when she is in a relatively good mood.  Because she is “giving” to me, I don’t do a lot of chase games; I opt for more personal interaction and toy play.

This second video was taken in the afternoon; it appears that Lyra simply wanted to nap.  This is not unusual for her – she has to grow older and develop her drive on her own schedule.  To offset her quiet behavior, I’m doing more running away chase games.

I cannot know what her adult personal play style will be.  I know that when Lyra plays with my other dogs, her preference is to wrestle and bite, and I hope to redirect that behavior into opposition reflex.  I also see some chase games, depending on who she is playing with, so maybe that interest will become  jumping up in their air and other activities that allow her to use her body.  She has too few skills to know how she’ll feel about games that involve personal contests between the two of us.   ‘

Lyra does like personal “hands on” contact in the house (petting, thumping, hugging, etc.), and I hope that I’ll find a way to incorporate that interest.  Maybe I’ll end up with a combination of jumping at my hands, direct physical contact against my body from the front or side, chasing me, pushing her muzzle or neck, and thumping on her sides and chest.  She might also get to the point where  she grabs my hands but does not bite down.

This is the last in my play series of blogs.  Now I would very much like to hear from other people who practice personal play.  How do you play with your dog?  What response are you looking for?  Can you take this behavior into the ring as a reward, or modify it somehow?  If you have a personal play style that really works for you, I’d love to see comments and video responses that demonstrate what you are doing.  Or if you have thoughts about other reasons that dogs play besides love of physical interaction, movement or contest, I’d love to hear about it – maybe that can lead to new games and a better understanding of how to interact positively with our performance dogs.   I’m looking forward to your replies!

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.

7 responses »

  1. My previous competition dog was a Samoyed and I started out using only food and praise as reward. One day while we were training at the park, she refused the food I offered her, went over to my training bag and dug out a tennis ball. After that we played fetch, or tug as her reward. I realize fetch isn’t as interactive and I certainly couldn’t take it into the ring, but she chose that reward. I found her performances got much better.
    One of our problems was the out of sight sit stay. She was very comfortable in the ring, even by herself and she’d lay down and take a nap.
    I finally began revving her up with tug and then setting her toy out on the chair. I warned her that if she didn’t watch is someone might steal it. (I realize she didn’t understand the words, but . . .) She stayed up during the sit and watched our set up and the toy the entire time.
    Since then, I’ve not had a dog that loved play as much, but I really want to see if I can incorporate it more. Thanks for a great series of posts.

  2. I am not game to switch to personal play as the only reward for obedience in a session although we will quite often run training sessions/messing around sessions in the yard doing tricks when we will play or I’ll pick up a twig off the ground or we will get started and then I’ll decide to go inside and bring out a toy and continue the session.

    Having said that we do have tricks which I use and I guess it all looks like play inside the trial ring. We are fortunate enough that I don’t think we have to remain as formal in between exercises over here so can let loose a little.

  3. I love playing with all my dogs and especially puppies. I use play to teach them trust as well as engagement. I like a lot of hands on with puppies and rolling on the ground with them. I pick them up off the ground and let them lay on my chest, rolling back and forth so they are momentarily belly up with no ground contact and then right back onto their feet. I want them to trust me while playing/working. I believe trust is a major factor in a working relationship. I’ve had dogs jump from a pond bank into my arms or climb onto my shoulders from something high, that is trust.
    I also observe them while playing with other dogs to see what they enjoy. My Malinois loved playing with my Dobe more than me, so I observed she wanted to chase something that made her run instead of just grabbing a toy flinging back and forth. So that is what I did. She loves toys and interacting with me,the Dobe is more possessive and will take her toys to a remote spot and lay with them. It is all about winning possession for the Dobe so those are games that have more value to her. Tugging and winning, so teaching her to return with the toy was more difficult. The Mali enjoys the fight and will restart the game on her own, much easier to work with. She gets satisfaction from biting, so a softer jolly ball is a favorite. I encourage her to push it against my legs, chest or neck while she bites to encorporate myself into the game. She LOVES it when I lay on my back on the ground and she can push the ball into my neck and bite. Sounds dangerous but it is not. Perhaps it feels like taking down a big game animal to her. 🙂

  4. My Ozzie is like Cindy’s Dobe! After tug ends he takes his toy to his lair! He doesn’t like interacting with me on a one-on-one play basis. He likes to be chased (not practical for me)! Pushing him away from me to initiate play drives him away from me…he doesn’t like it. How did you move forward with Dobe????

  5. Denise – you know that I’ve been working on this for awhile and we’ve come a long way. Gus loves interactive play – I have to make some adjustments for his size relative to me – but even my husband has commented on his LOVE of play just for the pure joy of it. He asks us to play with him. Pippin is just starting to build some more intensity and willingness to play – she was more shy than Gus as a puppy, but I can see her starting to realize that she likes this kind of hand wrestling thing we do. She doesn’t have the same duration of interest as Gus, but I can see it developing.

    I’ll try and get some video of the play – I have tried very hard to let them tell me what they want – rather than forcing an idea of play on to the interaction. Alot of the wrestling we do is on the bed, but I can also get down on the floor and do this with them. They both like to chase me and like opposition reflex games (Gus especially – at this point, Pippin seems to see them as a bit too confrontational, so I take it very easy with her).

  6. Layla loves poke and tag games. It took a LONG time for her to see any value in interacting with me if I wasn’t directly paying her with a treat or toy, but now she’ll work for our little games. She mostly prefers not to be touched and would be horrified if I petted or hugged her, but the little pushes and pokes I use when we’re doing our tag games seem to amp her up just the right amount where she doesn’t mind them.

    Dobby still tips too quickly into aggression, but continues to improve. He and I can play now as long as he’s got a toy in his mouth, and it’s great to watch our own little games starting to come together. He’s getting there, and he’s going to be such a great little sports dog! He’s always been thrilled to interact with me regardless of whether there are toys or treats in the picture. I can’t wait for you to see him again in December!

  7. I have been reading and re-reading all of your posts about raising Lyra for almost a year now in preparation for my new puppy. Well, he’s been here almost 2 weeks and I have been trying to use all the information I gathered from your posts! My 2 goals are to have him play with me and want to be near me – I don’t care if he doesn’t learn anything else!
    I’m having a hard time not playing too rough with him, but still keeping him interested/engaged.
    I worry that I’m not playing the right way with him, but he seems to be having fun 🙂


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