Dog sports are becoming increasingly popular, as more dog owners discover the joy of watching their dogs do what is often instinctual to them.  The fun part is that when our dogs play some sports, the rules and structure of the activity are only limited by our imagination, and the benefits of the game can be endless.

Consider the merits of children playing sports

When a child is exposed to a sport at a young age, they view it primarily as fun and games, a very important component.  Hopefully, these “games” will spark an interest in the sport, resulting in a child more motivated to learn skills and play more often.  As a parent, we also want to see if our child has a natural ability for a particular sport, or determine if our child has an inclination toward team sports or individual sports.   For those of us who have participated in sports, or have children involved in sports, we also understand that our child is learning key life lessons at the same time.  They are learning about rules and structure, consequences, and navigating the dynamics of playing on a team.

We should provide a similarly enriching environment for our dogs

One of the top ways we interact with our dogs is through play.  The downside is that our dogs often dictate the games we play, we go along for the ride, and the end result is not always a fun experience for us!  By adding structure to the games they already play, and modifying the rules, we are actually training at the same time.  These two concepts – playing and training, provide the best results when they are intertwined and not done exclusively.  Hands down, the best way to learn is to have fun while doing it.

Teaching three cues helps us be random

Our dogs will remain engaged and looking toward us for direction during play if the game is fun, random, and worth it to play.  To begin, it’s best if your dog knows a minimum of two different cues. For example, let’s assume I have a ball-obsessed dog (which I do), and she knows how to sit and lie down, I can train her as we play fetch.  The faster she offers one of these behaviors, the faster I will throw the ball. Training is occurring when we apply the Premack principle to provide structure and rules.  This idea is similar to an example of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” On the first throw, sit is practiced (something I want her to do) prior to getting to chase after a ball (something they want).  On the next throw, they are asked to lie down prior to the throw.  Next, maybe my dog stands still and looks at me before the throw.  Three different behaviors provide the unpredictability my dog needs to stay engaged in the game.  As a result, game time is training time, and potentially an introduction to a more structured sport (such as Treibball).  The highlight of training while playing is that there are always more games to play, we just have to look toward our dogs for guidance.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a “gamer” with your dog, reach out to me for simple things to do in the comforts of your own home, no formal classes necessary!