Play with your dog!

by Fiona Sinclair // September 2017

Play with your dog!

My seven-year old working-type Labrador loves to play! Above all else, her favourite game is to jump in the air when I throw a bundle of leaves for her. I have no idea why this is such a thrill, but even this very greedy Labrador will ignore food in favour of the leaf game. I know this because I have tested it!  If I hold leaves in one hand and offer her a great treat from the other, she will focus completely on the leaves. So not only do we have a great game to play together, I have found out what her highest value reward is and I can use this in training. The promise of the leaf game speeds up her retrieve and her recall.

This is Meagaidh poised and ready for that next pile of leaves to be thrown; the raised paw is an indicator of her total concentration. In Dog School, we encourage owners to understand their dogs’ body language and a raised paw can be a sign of anxiety. But with body language, we have to look at the whole picture and here Meagaidh’s ears are forward, tail is raised and she is leaning in towards me with a wide-open mouth; all signs of a happy dog.

Playing with your dog is of course a great way to bond and to have fun together, but it also helps keep your dog focused on you. Like many gundogs, my girl has a strong prey drive, meaning she likes to put her nose to the ground and chase off after interesting scents, but the leaf game keeps her beside me. I throw her ball away into the woods where she can’t see it fall and then release her to go after it so that she has to use her nose to find the prize; she races back to me knowing the reward will be…LEAVES! It can become tricky at this time of year as last autumn’s leaves have mostly disappeared but we can still find a few!

How did I find out that she loves this game so much? By chance! See if you can find out what game is your dog’s favourite!