Gameday Tuesday | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gameday Tuesday

Yesterday, we played a lot of games all day long. A large majority of the interactions we had was through games and it was a lot of fun for us both. I love using games as training and I feel they can teach a lot of the very things we want dogs to learn in a fun way for both dog and human alike.

The games I play with Wally are mostly mentally focused, though there is usually a physical aspect as well. They also often relate to a behavior we've been working on and it gives him a safe-yet-practical application of that behavior, with the pretext being having a good time, so there's no stress involved.

Here's the games we played most of the time - all of these were played indoors:

Hide And Seek
How to play: Have the dog stay in one location while you move out of his sight. Then call him. In the beginning, call him at regular intervals, then do so less and less as he becomes better at the game. You can also cover his with a towel or blanket so he can't watch you leave. This will have to use his ears to try to get an idea of where you might be going. Adding challenge can also be done by going farther away. This can cause the sound to become less exact in where it's coming from, requiring him to pay more attention to locate the sound relative to where he is.

Often times, I put little "obstacles" in his way that he can clear using a behavior we've recently worked on. For example, yesterday I left cracks in the doors I went through to have him open them with his nose in order to get by instead of just leaving the door open. Back when he was learning to go up and down stairs on his own, that is when I started hiding on different floors of the house.

If for some reason he just can't get to me, he can bark (him calling out to me). This may help teach him a skill I hope we never have to use - if for some reason we get separated, stay put and bark. That will allow me to follow his bark to find him, hopefully.

Rapid Cues
How to play: Have the dog in front of you, and then start calling for various behaviors that he knows, allowing just some seconds between them. The dog has to change positions/perform the behavior correctly and in time before your next direction. After so many correct responses, reward him and play another round. If he doesn't get a response correct, start over and the dog gets no reward.

This can be a challenging game, both mentally and physically, so start slow and with just a few behaviors. It is also best to stick with known behaviors he's performed reliably since this game is more about how fast he can remember the behavior and then perform it. As he gets better at the game, increase challenge by speeding up how fast you call out behaviors, by increasing how many correct responses you require before getting a reward, or by throwing in more behaviors you'll call out (and when he or she gets really good - you can do ALL of those: Speed up and require more behaviors while calling out more and more of his known behaviors).

It is hard to recommend a time to start with and how to decrease it since it will depend on the dog, how fast (s)he picks up on what you're doing, and what you're asking of him/her. I will suggest that this is a game you might want to use little tidbits of food you like (for example, I use bits of bread or deli meat) as this seems to add a competitive aspect to the game and that seems to make Wally get even more into it. Not only is a wrong response preventing him from getting food - the food goes away! (I eat it)

Directions Game
How to play: I use the coffee table as a barrier and I stand on the other side of it and back from the table a few feet. I then indicate a direction with an arm signal and the verbal name of the direction (I just use left/right - I know, how imaginative). Remember, that the direction is always relative to the dog, so if he's facing you, his left is your right and vice versa. When he comes around the table in the proper direction, he's gets rewarded. Of course, you can almost play like the Rapid Cues game and have him going in different directions multiple times before you let him around the table for the reward.

One variation is using targets and put them to the left, right, and behind the dog. Call and indicate the direction and when the dog touches the proper target, praise (or click if using a clicker) and reward him. Like before, you can play it in a Rapid Cues style, having the dog return to the center position each time (which can help teach him "front" as well if you have the center lined up with you).

Find It!
How to play: Simple. Hide something, make your dog find it. You can start with treats with a strong scent or anything that has a scent he can pick up on. Usually, I'll wrap up some well-loved treat in a towel, then put another towel on top of it, and then put in some location where he'll have to go looking for it.

Wally got good at this really fast some time back so I pretty much have to make it hard for him or else he's done in like 30 seconds. I'll ball up towels, wrap them in another towel, tie the outer towel into a knot, cover that knot with ANOTHER towel, and then put it somewhere so he has to go looking for it. Once I threw in that last part (going to look for it) this put the challenge up for him and he had fun going to all the different places where it was - to find out it's not there - and then expand his search pattern. For even more challenge, I cover his eyes and walk/move quietly as possible to not give away where I am placing the towel via sound.

I hope you and your canine(s) enjoy these ideas. If there's games you like to play, feel free to share them as a comment on the blog, or email me and I'll include them in a future post after trying them out on Wally to see how he reacts to it!