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!