Lyra 5.5 months - play as ????

Playing with a mouthy puppy is different than playing with an adult, and takes a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what works best.

I don't get upset with Lyra for biting when we play; I simply stop moving and wait for her to let go.  At this point, she tends to go for my jacket.

I've learned that if I keep my hands open and push the sides of her muzzle while she is in between my legs, she is the less likely to bite than when she is facing me.  This lasts for about ten seconds at the most, after which she gets too wound up and the teeth start flashing.  When Lyra was a very small puppy, she was good for no more than three seconds before the teeth came out, so we're heading in the right direction.

My end goal is personal play with me rather than toy play, but this will take time and lots of practice to get there.  What I am looking for now is happy, interactive engagement.  I want her looking up at my face and interacting with me as much as possible, whether or not one of us is holding a toy.   To get this, I use unusual noises, clapping and body movement.  I also use the movement of the toy or food - this will keep her engaged in the game for a  greater length of time than I could get with personal play alone.  My experience is that if you play silently, most dogs will focus on the toy over the total interaction, so talking, clapping, and praising are really important right now.  If your goal is to improve your dog's toy play, you might find that playing silently is a better choice for you, at least initially.

To help Lyra focus on the total interaction rather than the toy, I alternate between playing tug with the toy, playing with her while she holds a toy in her mouth, and playing directly without a toy.  The toy normally winds her up and leads to biting, so sometimes I'll work her for a food reward before trying personal play.  Regardless of what I am using, I encourage her to focus on my face, hands and movement.

Lyra is starting to put some of her energy into leaping and running instead of biting - small bits of improvement over time.  Leaping and running are normally how we start our training sessions.

I have included two videos.  In the first video, Lyra is being trained in the morning when she is in a relatively good mood.  Because she is "giving" to me, I don't do a lot of chase games; I opt for more personal interaction and toy play.

This second video was taken in the afternoon; it appears that Lyra simply wanted to nap.  This is not unusual for her - she has to grow older and develop her drive on her own schedule.  To offset her quiet behavior, I'm doing more running away chase games.

I cannot know what her adult personal play style will be.  I know that when Lyra plays with my other dogs, her preference is to wrestle and bite, and I hope to redirect that behavior into opposition reflex.  I also see some chase games, depending on who she is playing with, so maybe that interest will become  jumping up in their air and other activities that allow her to use her body.  She has too few skills to know how she'll feel about games that involve personal contests between the two of us.   '

Lyra does like personal "hands on" contact in the house (petting, thumping, hugging, etc.), and I hope that I'll find a way to incorporate that interest.  Maybe I'll end up with a combination of jumping at my hands, direct physical contact against my body from the front or side, chasing me, pushing her muzzle or neck, and thumping on her sides and chest.  She might also get to the point where  she grabs my hands but does not bite down.

This is the last in my play series of blogs.  Now I would very much like to hear from other people who practice personal play.  How do you play with your dog?  What response are you looking for?  Can you take this behavior into the ring as a reward, or modify it somehow?  If you have a personal play style that really works for you, I'd love to see comments and video responses that demonstrate what you are doing.  Or if you have thoughts about other reasons that dogs play besides love of physical interaction, movement or contest, I'd love to hear about it - maybe that can lead to new games and a better understanding of how to interact positively with our performance dogs.   I'm looking forward to your replies!



I am not game to switch to personal play as the only reward for obedience in a session although we will quite often run training sessions/messing around sessions in the yard doing tricks when we will play or I’ll pick up a twig off the ground or we will get started and then I’ll decide to go inside and bring out a toy and continue the session.

Having said that we do have tricks which I use and I guess it all looks like play inside the trial ring. We are fortunate enough that I don’t think we have to remain as formal in between exercises over here so can let loose a little.

Cindy Noland

I love playing with all my dogs and especially puppies. I use play to teach them trust as well as engagement. I like a lot of hands on with puppies and rolling on the ground with them. I pick them up off the ground and let them lay on my chest, rolling back and forth so they are momentarily belly up with no ground contact and then right back onto their feet. I want them to trust me while playing/working. I believe trust is a major factor in a working relationship. I’ve had dogs jump from a pond bank into my arms or climb onto my shoulders from something high, that is trust.
I also observe them while playing with other dogs to see what they enjoy. My Malinois loved playing with my Dobe more than me, so I observed she wanted to chase something that made her run instead of just grabbing a toy flinging back and forth. So that is what I did. She loves toys and interacting with me,the Dobe is more possessive and will take her toys to a remote spot and lay with them. It is all about winning possession for the Dobe so those are games that have more value to her. Tugging and winning, so teaching her to return with the toy was more difficult. The Mali enjoys the fight and will restart the game on her own, much easier to work with. She gets satisfaction from biting, so a softer jolly ball is a favorite. I encourage her to push it against my legs, chest or neck while she bites to encorporate myself into the game. She LOVES it when I lay on my back on the ground and she can push the ball into my neck and bite. Sounds dangerous but it is not. Perhaps it feels like taking down a big game animal to her. :)

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