Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Did Someone Say Play?

Playing With Your Dog
Author, Jan Casey

It was really the
highlight of my weekend. We decided to have a little recreation time, something
that is too rare lately. Jim and I packed up the picnic supplies, my mom, some
towels, and Buzz, our adolescent golden retriever. It was time for Buzz to
experience the open water at Burgess
, after all, he
comes from a long line of hunting dogs who love to swim. He had been showing
interest in swimming every time we walked at Cane Creek Park, so we decided a more challenging
environment was just the thing Buzz needed. He had a great time playing
“splish-splash,” learning about slippery moss on rocks, and swimming when the
bottom disappeared. He slept most of the way home. It was great, but not the
highlight to which I refer.

No, the highlight came
after we got home. Buzz’s two favorite young people, Brian and Winston, came to
visit after we unpacked the car. My first thought was “Buzz will be way too
tired to play anymore today.” I could not have been more wrong. Jim and I, too
worn out from the earlier exercise, sat down to watch the threesome play.
Football, soccer, and water retrieval from the kiddie pool, all seem to be an
element of the game with each player taking a role – Buzz was running back,
Winston was place kicker, Brian was tackle. Yet there was no official structure
to any of the play, no rules, no penalties, just fun. The games ended when no
one could run any longer.

I felt more relaxed
watching them than I had in a while. It dawned on me that we dog owners who are
saddled with responsibilities and aging spend a great deal of time training our
dogs, worrying about whether they will impress our friends with their sits and
downs and tricks. Some of us participate in organized sports, where the
challenge to perform and bring home the ribbons and titles can take away a
great deal of the pleasure of just partnering with our canines. Maybe with all
the stresses of the current times – gas shortages, politics, and economic
crises – maybe it’s time to stop and just play. Including the furry,
four-legged family members adds an exciting new dimension.

For some, it’s hard to
think like a kid when you have passed that age chronologically. So, like me,
some of you may need some ideas to get you started. Several recent books have
been published by several of my favorite authors: Dr. Patricia McConnell/Karen
London and Pat Miller. The McConnell/London book is titled Play Together,
Stay together.
As stated in the description at, this booklet
emphasizes the importance of play in maintaining a healthy relationship with
your pooch. Both physical and mental games are included to help those of us
lacking that creative gene, which obviously must have gone to other members of
our family. Pat Miller’s book, Play With Your Dog, establishes the
benefits, both behavioral and physical, of playing games with your dog. The
games in her book are a compilation of games submitted by trainers around the
country. I’ve got both books on my Christmas wish list.

So what games can we
play while we wait for Santa? There are plenty of standard games available. I
love to play hide and seek with my pups. Once they are occupied with other dog
interests, I go out of sight, then call them using an urgent, but happy “Pup,
Pup, Pup!” More often than not, I get a thundering herd of dogs seeking me out.
They have learned that finding Mom will be rewarded, either with a treat or a
game of ball or Frisbee. This is a great game indoors or out (well, maybe not
with a Frisbee as the reward inside). It not only puts their tracking skills to
work, it enhances any recall work you may be doing.

Tug is a favorite game
for all my dogs. Just be sure to follow the rules that are found at
. Maybe you can play a shell game with your dog by hiding a treat under one of
three cups, then shuffling them. Got an old neglected radio controlled car? The
terrier breeds will think they are in Heaven chasing one of these. How about
putting a toy under a box or behind a door?

The games you play will
only be limited by your ability to think and act like a child again. If that’s
a problem, take a moment to watch kids and dogs playing. You might be inspired.
Most of all, you might find yourself relaxed and smiling at a time when the
rest of the world is not.

Jan Casey is a
reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc.
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services Mrs.
Casey is a member of the Association of Animal
Behavior Professionals.
Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet
and Kid's Korner .
This column was originally written for the Herald-Citizen

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