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The Importance of play

When most people think of dog training they conjure the image of a dog being asked to sit, obliging and being rewarded with a dog treat. Although yes this is absolutely correct, it means that play as a reward is very often overlooked.

The definition of positive reinforcement states it is ‘the process of encouraging behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is performed’ and what this reward is depends entirely on the individual exhibiting the behaviour. In many cases, thankfully, food is intrinsically rewarding to our canine companions and most often you can do all of your basic training with just food rewards.

However, play and games are also intrinsically rewarding to dogs and therefore a really powerful tool in our training. Games aim to allow dogs to express components of the predatory action sequence which are:

  • Scent and track

  • Stalk and chase

  • Bite

  • Possess

  • Dissect

  • Consume

There are plenty of games that mimic each stage: scent games, fetch and tug of war for example. Different dogs will enjoy different games so when considering play as a reward, consider which one motivates your dogs more; think about past experiences with your dog, what have they enjoyed/disliked? Do they have any physical disabilities to consider? What breed are they and what was their breed designed for? All of these factors will be essential to find games right for you and your dog.

Dogs place the different value on food and play, I’ve had owners report dogs that are not food motivated but recall brilliantly to a tennis ball, or others that will do almost anything for a piece of chicken, regardless of the context. In training it is important to find out what works for your dog, but when it comes to play, don’t give up too early! I hear many people say ‘my dog does not like toys’ but are often not using the right ones to suit their dog, or are not using them to interact correctly with their dogs. Sometimes it requires trial and error and patience.

My Clients Bubba and Blue enjoying a game of tug with me to help build a bond.

A favourite game of mine is using a chaser toy to help teach and maintain a reliable recall. Food works to set up a recall but for dogs that enjoy chase and tug games, toys can be more exciting which helps to compete with exciting distractions such as other dogs or people. I always have my chasers on me for recall training, they mimic the stages of ‘chase, bite and posses’ on the predatory sequence and make for a great game to engage your dog with you! Have a go, these are some tips to keep in mind:

  • The chasers that you use for recall should be reserved for just that and not be given freely in the home and left in your dog’s toy box.

  • Practice playing this game where there are no distractions in the beginning and aim to build to more and more distracting scenarios slowly.

  • Make sure your dog has fun! Each time you recall let them chase the toy first, when they catch it make sure you make it worth their while by having a good 1 minute+ game of tug.

  • Work on a successful drop to be able to safely get the toy back- I always pair the end of the game with a scattering of food rewards in order to help your dog de-rouse.

  • Limit how often you play this game per walk in order to keep your dog motivated, if it is all you do on a walk, when a more exciting distraction presents itself, it becomes harder to use it as a reliable recall tool.

  • Have fun! The more fun you have, the more your dog will engage with you.

If you need help with your dog’s recall, please get in touch with me and I can help!

All of my dog training toys are purchased from I highly recommend the faux rabbit fur chaser or faux sheepskin. If you use the code PARTNERSINPAW at checkout you will get free delivery!

Here is a collection of photos of my clients enjoying a game with my Tug E Nuff chasers!

Play is not just important in our canine pets, oh no! Play sessions with your cat are a fabulous way for them to express normal behaviours which in turn will reduce the chances of them developing problematic behaviour. Felines as you may know, are very well adapted predators but they often live a lifestyle that does not allow them to be, such as those that are indoor cats. To keep your cats stimulated it is ideal to have multiple short and appropriate play sessions throughout the day. This can be as simple as tossing around a toy mouse, or interacting with a feather on a string letting them chase and capture the toy. As I have said with dogs, this play mimics natural predatory behaviour and for this

reason to avoid frustration it is ideal to finish your games by scattering a small amount of food for your pet.

My clients Candy and Jensen enjoying a play session


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