My soul animal, Chance, and I were regulars at Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach, California. He was 12 years old on this particular day. We were there doing our usual. Chance caught some pop flies. When he decided he was done, we sat in the sand and people and dog watched.
A young woman and her newly adopted puppy approached us. After brief chit chat and admiring the beauty of both of our dogs, she said, “You two have such a deep connection. I noticed when I first spotted you. I really hope my dog and I can have a connection like yours.”
“You will,” I told her. “It just takes training, plenty of puppy games, and lots of love and affection.”
Just like anything that’s meaningful in life, building a bond with your puppy takes effort. Spending time with your pooch, whether teaching or just goofing around, both contribute to the bloom of mutual adoration.
What’s the difference between training and playing games?
“The line between training and playing is fuzzy,” says dog trainer, Annie Grossman, owner and co-founder of School For The Dogs, which is a dog training center in New York City.
She explains that dogs are learning all the time. She says, “If you’re trying to teach your dog something specific, you might call that training. But if you’re training something that’s fun for your dog and fun for you, I would call that play.”
Is there a time or age limit for training or playing?
“There’s no such thing as too much playing,” says Annie. “Dogs are learning all the time whether training or playing. Their learning brain is always going. Try and use that to your advantage.”
Annie advises that the younger a dog is, the more of a blank slate he or she is. The age between 8 and 12 weeks old is a crucial learning period. This is when puppies are learning about the world fastest.
If you adopted a young adult or even a senior dog, don’t buy into the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Adult dogs are still good at learning. Annie explains that older dogs have a lifetime of experiences of living in a human world to draw upon.
1. Enroll in training classes together
The young woman at the beach was right about Chance and me. While our connection was immediate—love at first sight—our lasting bond started with training classes. Taking training classes together builds trust between you and your dog.
Find a local program that focuses on positive reinforcement, like School For The Dogs in New York City. Chance and I enrolled in a positive dog training course at Petco and it changed our lives. I learned how to communicate with and meet the needs of my super-smart, high-energy Australian Kelpie mix.
Another great program where you can instill confidence and good manners in your dog (and yourself, for that matter) is the Canine Good Citizen™ (CGC) program. It’s a two-part course that involves mastering ten skills, passing the CGC test together, and taking the Responsible Dog Ownership pledge.
2. Teaching tricks
Don’t stop at the basics. After you teach your puppy to sit, stay and come, keep going. Dogs love to learn!
Party tricks are cool and fun. A repertoire of tricks builds your dog’s confidence and keeps his or her mind sharp. Check out these easy dog tricks you can teach your dog.
Athletic tricks are fun, too. Teach your dog frisbee. Let your dog give skateboarding a whirl. Give him or her a seat at the front of a paddleboard and enjoy the ride. (Be sure you both wear your lifejackets.)
3. Playing with flirt poles
Annie explains that flirt poles allow you to play tug with your dog without getting your hands too close to their mouth.
“One of the downsides of playing fetch with a dog who doesn’t like to bring the ball back is you end up chasing after the ball,” she says. “With flirt poles, everything is self-contained and attached. It’s a good way to get crazies out of their system.”
You can also use flirt poles to assist to teach your puppy a couple of basic commands. Best part? No slobber involved! Here’s how:
- Practice “Drop it.” Say it loudly, then drop a lot of treats. Dogs tend to pick up on this game quickly. They associate that anytime the human says “drop it” they give me something delicious for my mouth.
- Practice “Take it.” Tell your puppy to take the toy again.
If your dog has any issues with possessive aggression, PetMD warns that tug games are not a good choice of play for the two of you.
4. Playing the hot & cold game for puppy
If you’re looking for a way to increase your puppy’s listening skills, the hot & cold game is a fun one for your dog to learn your voice tones. Here’s how it works:
- Hide a treat when he or she isn’t looking.
- When your dog moves away from the hidden treat, use a calm tone of voice.
- As your dog gets closer to the hidden treat, increase the excitement in your voice.
The two of you will create your own special language.
5. Challenging puppy with puzzle toys
To help improve memory and focus on tasks for longer periods of time, Annie recommends puzzle toys. Here are just a few that will challenge your dog:
- The Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel is great for curious pups who loved a stuffed animal.
- Clever pups who will do anything for a treat will enjoy the Seek-a-Treat Shuffle Bone.
- The Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball is a good choice for pets who are new to puzzle games.
6. Teaching with the Treat & Train remote-controlled treat dispenser
This very cool device delivers treats with the push of a button on a remote control. You can use it to teach your dog to:
- Be alone
- Get comfortable in a crate
- Listen to the tone of your voice
- Sit down and stay in place
All these skills help your dog to feel secure (prevent separation anxiety) and stay focused (no going wild when the doorbell rings).
7. Social networks
Dogs are pack animals. They’re naturally social beings. For puppies, Annie recommends at least 20 to 30 minutes of play a day with humans and age and size appropriate puppy friends. It makes them happy.
You can check with your veterinarian for local playgroups. Meetup is an online service where you can often find local dog playgroups.
Train. Play. Bond. And always have fun!