Dogs build close bonds and relationships through play and physical contact. In the litter, puppies learn to play games to learn how to live co-operatively. It is important to understand the meaning of games so that your dog does not become confused about his/her relationship with the family. If we understand and control play, everybody can have fun and the dog can learn how to get things right in a human environment. 

TIP: Try to establish two types of toy for your dog. He/she will need to chew so toys like the rubber Kong toys are ideal because they can be stuffed with treats to safely occupy him/her and give an outlet for chewing. Many dogs like soft toys to snuggle up to or play with on their own. Let the dog know you are pleased to see him/her chew these toys but these are the dog's toys and are of no interest to humans so avoid playing games with them. The dog needs to have the impression that the humans in the family are not interested in playing games with chew toys. He/she will probably try to encourage you to play by bringing the toy, dropping it on your feet or in your lap. Don’t acknowledge either action, casually get up and, for example, put on the kettle without looking at either dog or toy.

The second type of toy is a play toy, e.g. balls, tuggies, soft toys, squeakies etc. Put a few of these toys out of the dog’s reach so that they are novel and you can decide when and how to play with your dog. When you want to invite a game, take out a toy and encourage the dog to play. Keep the game short and end the game while the dog still wants to play, always try to leave him/her wanting more. This helps to establish a relationship based on enjoyment and fun but where the humans set the boundaries. The family control the possessions (toys) and not the dog. 

This also helps your dog to learn not to demand attention by thrusting toys at you at inappropriate times. Remember to ignore all attempts by your dog to solicite a game with a chew toy. 

  • Start with the dog on a flat collar and trailing lead. Try to use a toy that is big enough for you both to hold without your fingers being nibbled. Wiggle the toy along the ground and encourage him/her to mouth it. When the dog takes it, stroke and praise, giggle and have lots of fun. Try not to stare and maintain direct eye contact, this could be interpreted as a challenge and encourage the dog to start an instinctive possession game. If you find that this has happened and the dog is gripping onto the toy, glance away and back again, or blink very slowly a couple of times; this should take any tension and confrontation out of the game. If this does not help and the dog is gripping onto the toy it could be that his/her jaw is becoming tense and locking. Tellington TTouch is an excellent way to release this tension and allow the dog to release the toy. TTouches on the head, face, ears and jaw line will probably be the most helpful. Click the links on the left to learn more about TTouch.
  • While you are both holding the toy, drop the lead and stroke the dog. Before you release the toy, quietly pick up the end of the lead so that the dog cannot bounce away with the toy. Avoid maintaining direct eye contact.
  • It is important that the toy is not thrown until the dog is happy to share a game, close by you, and give up the toy when you ask for it (see also the "OFF" exercise). If your dog does not learn to enjoy sharing a game with you, it may start to play the natural doggy possession game, standing off, a couple of paces away, and grabbing the toy when you try to pick it up. Possession amongst dogs is a game of rank where in the dog's mind, whoever ends up with the toy, is the strongest. It is important to teach your dog the 'human/dog' game, rather than attempting to play like another dog and win with strength.
  • When you start to throw the toy a very short distance, leave the lead trailing so that you can still control the game. Avoid looking staring at either dog or toy, it may also help to slightly turn away so that he/she feels confident to move closer. Moving towards your dog is challenging and, like maintaining eye contact,                                                                           can trigger him/her to move away from you. Quietly pick up the end of the trailing lead, stroke the dog and encourage him/her to be around you before putting a hand on the toy.
  • In order to keep the dog's response consistent, once you have reached the stage of throwing toys for your dog to retrieve, remember to spend a couple of minutes on the 'sharing' game each time the dog returns to you with the toy.

It is worth spending time to develop this game. Dogs do not automatically know if an item is safe and appropriate to explore with their mouth. Many discover by trial and error that picking up certain things is an effective way to gain the family's attention and have a good game being chased around. Whatever the dog picks up, call him/her to you and praise quietly on arrival. Then invite a game with one of the dog's toys.

Chasing the dog when he/she picks up 'something they shouldn't have' can encourage a difficult habit to overcome. Dogs learn very quickly that they can move faster and get into smaller places than humans in order to keep possession of a 'trophy'. They also learn to steal items that get your attention immediately! Try to make sure your dog does not have more fun from being chased, than coming when he/she is called.

If your puppy gets over excited and begins to rip up a soft toy or tear a squeaky toy to get the squeak out, end the game straight away. Your dog should learn to have more fun with the things he/she is allowed to play with. Life can become very trying if you are endlessly chasing the dog to recover valued possessions. __________________________________________________________

                                                                  Proprietor of Paws'n'Learn                  TTouch Guild                    APDT UK 130                       Pet Professionals Guild

©  Marie Miller - Tellington TTouch Instructor