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The Power of Play
It's been said that the opposite of play is not work it is depression (Brian Sutton-Smith). Play is as beneficial for dogs as it is for us. It helps them to learn, it creates lots of feel good chemicals in the brain, it helps them them to connect with others. All these things are key to successful training and to building confidence and resilience in our dogs.
Why use toys?
Many of the questions about dog training which start with the words "how can I stop my dog from..." end in a behaviour which is normal behaviour to the canine species. Barking, digging, chasing, biting are all things which are not only normal but things we have harnessed over the years, to train our dogs for specific jobs. While many of our pet dogs may not do a day's work in their lives, the instinct to do these behaviours is still part of who they are. It is far more productive to redirect these instincts then it is to attempt to try and stop them because they will eventually come out in other ways. As they said in Jurassic Park, "life will find a way!" .
While food is a great tool in training, especially for puppies and for introducing new skills, it isn't the only way to reward your dog. Using toys means you can use naturally occurring behaviours (biting, chasing) as a reward for behaviours which aren't as natural and harder for them to resist (ignoring things that move or letting go of things that feel nice in their mouth).
"Chase the squirrel in my pocket instead of the squirrels in the park" or as Grandma used to say: "when you have eaten your greens, then you can have dessert"
Training the impulse control 'muscle'
Impulse control is a like a muscle; the more ways in which it is exercised, the stronger it gets. The impulse control exercised when keeping paws on the floor when a toy is produced is the same impulse control needed to keep paws on the floor around guests or when food is on the table.
Dog's brains, like ours, are constantly being shaped by experience. As they learn, new connections and pathways are formed and unused ones die off. If there is lots of high excitement activity where the dog is just reacting rather then thinking (snatching, jumping etc), these are the pathways being strengthened. Conversely, by using play thoughtfully, with lots of pauses, giving the dog time to think and offer calmer behaviours such as 'sit' or eye contact before releasing the toy, then we can help them strengthen these behaviours instead.
Our friends at Tug-E-Nuff have written this handy seven step guide to playing tug. Check it out - and if you fancy treating your dog to a new super motivating toy from Tug-E-Nuff, you can get 10% off your order when you enter our code PEARTREE at checkout.
There are lots of ways to use toys, it doesn't have to be tugging. For more help and advice for how to use toys to help you with training your dog, please feel free to get in touch.