We were doing the last chapter in our ecollar course when Marko made a comment for those watching the “create more activity” in the heeling section.
“Any dog who likes protection can have more power in their heeling.”
I thought about that for a moment. Something so simple struck me as very profound.
For Marko, combining protection in nearly all elements of his obedience comes insanely natural. He loves a dog who fights, who shows power and simply having it in one phase is not enough for him. So using the reward of “protection” in his heeling is something he does regularly, I just never realized it.
All that power in his heeling comes from playing in a way that was really more like a battle.
A battle the dog is addicted to. Sure, the toy was great, but the chance for a protection style fight in the middle of heeling was five thousand times better.
Not all of us want that much fire simmering below the surface, however, most handlers could use a tablespoon or two. But the ability to play in a way that the dog finds highly stimulating isn’t something you see in handlers everyday.
Play is something that remains largely amiss in most IGP clubs world wide. Through my career and early club days, I never gave this one inkling of thought until meeting Marko, who explained that even in his youth, instructing newbies on how to play with their dog was common place in Finland’s Schutzhund clubs.
Playing effectively with your dog provides a couple crucial keys to success. It teaches fighting and releasing that can be transferred to protection and creates a dog who seeks you out for interaction, rather than running off with the toy. Rewarding in obedience with play can happen with or without the toy, in cases where the handler has really mastered it.
The most important element of proper play is showing the dog that interacting with you is more enjoyable than keeping the toy to themselves.
Such a simple concept, yet so many handlers’ success depends on their ability to implement this correctly.
What many call “feel” can be mostly broken down to the ability one has to read a dog, and playing in a way that your dog values depends entirely on one’s ability to read their dog. We’ve all seen the pet dog owner who showers affection on a dog who doesn’t value it, either because it happens too often or it’s tedious and at worst, irritating. Dogsport handlers are no different.
So how do you play with your dog in a way that allows you to do better obedience, better protection and have better trial results? The most important thing is showing the dog a challenge without being overwhelming. How vigorous depends on your dog, but making it challenging replicates the play they might have with the helper. This can be unpleasant for some handlers. We don’t like getting jumped on, slammed into and nipped. While understandable, in acknowledging what a dog is, we have to realize these are the factors that go into a dog truly having a good time. Anything else can be compared to playing football with grandma.
It’s just not going to cut it.
So first take a measurement of where you’re at in developing this. Does your dog grab the toy and split? Does he come back for more eventually? How long does it take? Some dogs like to do a couple loops before coming back, and that’s perfectly ok. Allowing them to have their victory lap can be an important element after they “win” a tough battle against you for it. All of our personal dogs enjoy their play rewards a little bit differently, but we are always assessing how eager they are to return. If you’ve gotten your dog to the point where they gladly shove it back to you, you’ve probably done a good job in showing them you're a crucial element in getting rewarded. If you have a ways to go, you’re at the right place, enjoy this mini course and share your progress with us.
Here you go! Watch the course
The most common mistakes keeping handlers from connecting with their dog through play are:
Giving the toy without any interaction afterwards.
Taking it away as soon as the dog returns or quickly after.
Tugging in a tedious fashion.