Play to Train

What it is:

Simply put, use playtime as training time! Playtime is an excellent (an efficient!) way to get your training reps in all while having a good time. Utilizing playtime as training time has the following benefits: keeps your dog active with cardio, helps fade out the use of treats by reinforcing good behavior with something other than a food reward, is an opportunity to bond with your dog, a great outlet for an energetic dog and challenges your dog to respond to you in an excited state.

Why do it:

Most dogs love to play. Play can be a game of tug, fetch, hide and seek, “find it”, or any number of any activities a dog finds enjoyable. The key here is that it is something the dog enjoys - focus is on the joy!

For a fearful, nervous or anxious dog, playtime can be an excellent way to train because they are in a happy and relaxed state. This can also be particularly useful if you have a dog that was originally trained with aversive tools and techniques.

Playtime is a crucial aspect of having a happy and well-rounded dog. Using playtime to train is a fun and effective way to get more reps in with the dog in a heightened state. If you only implement training during your typical sessions or out on walks, you are missing out on a major opportunity to improve reliability and impulse control.

Using playtime to train can also help you fade out the treats while enhancing your bond with your dog. It’s likely that you have fun playing with your dog which has untold benefits for your health as well 😊.

How to do it:

When using play to train, use cues that your dog has already learned and that you know they will be able to do in that context. If you have a dog with a crazy ball drive, you will start small by maybe asking for a 2-second “sit” and progress from there onto other cues only when the dog is capable.

Keep in mind, a dog is likely more excited during playtime so be realistic with what you are expecting when you try this. For instance, if the dog can give you a 10 second “wait” when you’re not playing, start out with a 2-second “wait” and build from there.

Another example would be that before you toss a ball, ask your dog for a “sit” or a “down”. You may even progress to working on a “wait” as well as a “stay” so long as you follow the rules of those cues and set the dog up to succeed.

Because the dog is in an excited/playful state when asked to perform, this can translate to better reliability in the real world because the dog learns to respond when it is in that heightened state. This has untold advantages for impulse control.

In a game of tug, you can reinforce your “drop it” cue in a fun and engaging way. Doing this will also help you gauge if your “drop it” cue needs more work.

By incorporating training into playtime, you will be getting more reps in without you or the dog even realizing it. Once you do it a few times and it becomes a habit, it is second nature to ask for a “sit” or a “wait” during playtime – which in turn reinforces your reliability.

Start small and lower your expectations initially to set you and the dog up for success. Training during playtime should not induce stress for you or the dog. Rather, it should be a fun activity that does not feel like training at all.

Go and try some training during play for yourself – I have a feeling you will see the value in it all while having a great time!

©Kate Godfrey 2018                      (904) 236-3780