Play Time

Humans and dogs are connected on many levels, namely we both love to play. Dogs are always at the ready for a game of fetch, tug or chase. Humans too are readily involved in play environments, be it actively or passively (how many readers watch game shows and competitive sports on television?). This similarity helps our two species get along so well and find the other so riveting.

 Human/Dog Connection

Scientists have noted that humans tend to exhibit paedomorphic tendencies. This means that humans tend to be juvenile versions of their adult ancestors. This adolescent behavior accounts for approximately one third of humans’ lives. Human infancy is extended compared to their nearest ape ancestor. Dogs exhibit this same characteristic in regard to wolf infancy.

With this commonality, our teachableness increases to account for the preset survival skills we weren’t innately granted. Also, our need for play and our versatility with learning promote the generation of more cerebral tissue. A win-win: fun to do and good for you.


My retriever happens to be the worst of them all! No, he’s not a maniac fetcher who tires my arm out. Rather, he’s the keep-away type who taunts me with his find. Given that I’m playing the game to tire him out, he’s taught me a thing or two on how to master his game.

1. Low, slow and close. If fetch is a new concept for your dog or if he plays his version of fetch, start by keeping the game short and simple. Keep the height of your ball toss only a few feet high and don’t throw further than 5-10 feet away. Your dog will be able to track the ball more effectively within these restrictions. Until your dog is consistent, only toss two or three times to keep the game successful.

2. Forget the Force. Never try to pry the ball out of your pup’s mouth. With your forcefulness, you are teaching the dog that there’s something great about the ball and hence, more reason to retain the booty. Rather, entice your pup with a succulent, highly palatable treat as an exchange.

3. Two Balls are Better than One. This principle is similar to that made with number 2 in that you have an item to exchange for what she holds. If your dog only gives you a good retrieval (including a drop) by integrating an additional ball, it’s a great first step. After accustoming her to drop at your feet, gradually eliminate the second ball.

Take small steps and keep the learning sessions short and focused. Play is a component of training and should be viewed with the same focus as you would in teaching any command.

Dogs are highly inquisitive and are eager to please us, their humans. With training, there are times that your dog’s mind will be hard at work trying to figure out what is being asked of him. He’ll go through a gamut of known tricks (all of which might be incorrect) only to end up confused. Remember not to scold or reprimand behavior that isn’t entirely correct if the animal is learning something new. Just take it back a step and focus on a known skill.

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