Learning Games Rock!
Dogs are a “neotenous” species; juvenile traits persist throughout their lives, unlike most other mammals. They don’t care about “working” or personal responsibility – they just “wanna” have fun!
Puppies: what isn’t to love? They are full of vim and vigor, action and enthusiasm. When observing puppies, it’s clear that much of their time is spent in the pursuit of play. They play with toys, furniture, rugs, each other… and anything that moves - such as the family cat, that roll of toilet paper, or a human hand. Playing teaches them about the world, about boundaries, about problem-solving. It’s an essential part of development.
We can take advantage of the tremendous power of play when teaching everything from coming when called to cooperative nail trims… and everything in between. Introducing the concept of “Learning Equals Fun” early in your pup’s life will build an amazing foundation – and you will be at its center acting as his personal activities director. Your puppy will become addicted to learning the right stuff if it’s “gamified.”
Many behaviors that we want from our dogs do not come naturally to them; they need to be intentionally trained. Coming when called is easy to train successfully if it is introduced as an exciting game that will result in “winning” instead of dreaded exercise that may result in losing something. The same goes for sits and downs, leash walking, polite greetings… pretty much anything we want to teach our dogs we can teach by “gamifying” it. It’s never too late to gamify things, though, so keep the games rolling with your older dogs, too!
How to Gamify:
Does your dog want the toy you are holding? If he offers you eye contact, he wins it! If his teeth make contact with your skin, you stop playing (don’t even say anything). Does he love to tug? Teach a great “drop it” and reward with more tug! Why not play games when your dog is in heel position? There are many options, but the “Catch Up Game” is one of my favorites. [Toss a treat behind you, invite him to come to your side, treat him a few times, then toss another treat behind him. Take a few steps forward. Repeat.] If you have a happy tugger, you can play tug when you are leash walking him. For recall, move in the direction you want your pup to go… and make it exciting. Most pups can’t resist a party.
Any time your dog wants something is the perfect time to train. Capitalize on as many opportunities as you can, and those good habits will take hold and blossom! If humans don’t gamify it, your pup is sure to do so on his own, and his rules leave a lot to be desired. He comes up with things like, “if I grab ahold of your pant leg, you will pay attention to me!”
The more fun something is, the more likely we are to do it whether we are dog or human. After all, who wants learning to be boring, or at worst, intimidating or painful? Our dogs are quick to figure out whether or not fun might be involved. Make sure it is!
From James Paul Gee’s book on gaming:
• Games provide instant feedback;
• Games cultivate progressive learning; increasing a player’s competence through an increase in level of difficulty while remaining achievable;
• Games allow players to be producers and not just consumers.
Gamification can alter human behavior, too.
Now, go play with your dog... and have some fun together!
Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine
www.dianalogan.com | 207-252-9352