You know what’s cool? Having fun.
A famous musician once told me he spends all of his money having fun and he doesn’t care if there’s nothing left when he dies. I love that attitude. In a lot of ways, having fun is what life is really all about. But fun doesn’t mean selfishness; real, true fun is about spreading joy, feeling joy, and not hurting other people in the process.
Having fun with our dogs is the same way. You should be having fun, the dog should be having fun, and no one should get hurt in the process. It takes a level of awareness to be having fun in a selfless way, or at least a less selfish one. Let's take a look.
We love running around the yard playing with our dogs. Duh. In fact, I’d venture to say most people get a dog because they think it’ll be fun – and it is a lot of the time. However, if all we’re doing is getting our dog excited, then we’re not necessarily doing what’s best for them.
It might seem like they’re having fun, but what if what we’re really doing is throwing them out of balance? We can confuse our dogs and cause anxiety without even being aware. In fact, play without some sort of structure can lead to imbalance which eventually manifests as unwanted behaviors (barking, pulling on leash, chewing on furniture, jumping on guests, etc).
You’ll recall from basically every BDB lecture or article ever that our dogs need a calm, capable leader. If you’re not the leader during playtime, then guess what? You’re going to struggle in other areas too.
There’s nothing wrong with play, affection, or excitement, but our dogs should not be dictating when any of it starts/stops or what the rules are during that time. That is the leader’s role. If you’re just letting your dog run wild in the yard – thus creating the association that going outside = total chaos and a lack of rules and connectedness, then you can’t be upset when they don’t listen on a walk, or when they fence fight with the neighbor’s dogs.
Our dogs can’t always tell the difference contextually of when they can be highly excited and “out of control” and when they can’t. But a good human leader makes that concept very easy for the dog to understand. And why would they listen to a person who is obviously not a clear, consistent, fair leader?
Playtime is a great opportunity to build and strengthen that leader/follower relationship. If you create rules and lead the playtime it makes you extra relevant to the dog. Use playtime as a structured, bonding activity that reinforces good behaviors. It doesn’t have to be a crazy, excited, “wear out the dog quick” activity. You can add rules to play in an attempt to work your dog’s brain and not just their body.
Imagine your favorite sport without a clear set of rules, coaches, and umpires/referees. The only word that comes to mind is “chaos”. One of the things that makes organized sports so fun is the clarity around how to play the sport. The rules and follow through on those rules by the referees/umpires are what creates the need for strategy – which is the MENTAL part of the sport. And the coach’s job is to prepare the team in practice and then execute a game plan within the rules of the game.
It’s really no different with our dogs. Create extra requirements and rules in whatever games your dog enjoys. They’ll love you for it and you’ll continue building a stronger relationship.
When you provide structured playtime, your dogs will see you as the source of or the access to FUN! And nothing is cooler than fun.