Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it. Except not all play is equal – not in your dogs’ eyes and not if you want to build a strong and trusting relationship with him either. Not all dogs even know HOW to play. Let me ask you – Would you prefer your dog loving and wanting to be with every dog and person he sees, or, would you rather your dog wanting to be with you because you are that important to him, he would rather be with you than with everyone else? – random dogs included. That’s where play comes in. For many people, playing with their dog means that he has a heap of toys in the yard so he can entertain himself. Sometimes they might throw a ball around for him. Others think its best (and lets face it, easier in time and effort) to take their dog to the offleash area and let him play with other dogs while they idly stand or sit down talking to other owners. Some play tug with their dog but don’t really get into the whole game of it and just tow their dog around, with a few attempts to pull the toy from the dogs mouth (or let him pull them around for a while). None of these approaches are truly playing with your dog and building that relationship that we so much want. Modern dog training uses a lot of motivation. We use it to initially teach our dogs how to learn by giving them clear communication and rewarding for their success. After all, no one wants to do something when you can’t see the point of doing it and its not rewarding in some way. The movitation we use is very much based on each dog and what he values the most. That’s why teaching your dog the art of play is so important. It helps build a strong relationship between you both, you can use it as a reward…. And…. It can fill some of your dogs genetic drives – being a dog, he needs to express them in some way. As with all games, there are rules to follow. We also alter the way play is done depending on each dog. Tug is my favourite game to play with my dogs and although they are big and play hard, it is so much fun. When we play, we genuinely enjoy ourselves. Your dog can tell if you are acting. If my dog looses her grip on the tug, I don’t give her a free pass. I won that exchange and she has to put in some effort to get back into the game. She has to work abit harder to recatch the toy as I move it around. Its not just a one way street though. If I loose my grip – or in some cases I let go rather than being pulled over with a particularly big tug, I celebrate her win with her. I clap and tell her how strong she is, and how clever as she trots around proudly in a big circle displaying her win for all to see. You know what happens then – she brings it back to me to play again. Why???? Because the game, the fun, the relationship is with me. Not the toy. That’s why I love the tug game. It’s our special game that we play together. Each having fun and enjoying each other. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of ball chasing. Many dogs become obsessed with their ball, and/or won’t bring it back. You know why? This generally happens when you haven’t done any other relationship building work with your dog. When you throw the ball away from you, it is the ball he is having fun with, not you. You become just the “thing” that makes the game with the ball happen. So why is playing the correct way so important? When your dog has a good relationship with you, when he wants to be with you over everything else, he listens more, and he is motivated to work with you. You can use your play as a reward. It also teaches him self confidence, impulse control, you can layer in obedience exercises into the game, promotes a healthy family relationship and it just plain fun. So go play with your dog and enjoy all the benefits it offers.