How To Let Your Dog Know When it is Appropriate to Play
We have all lived with, or visited a dog that seems obsessive compulsive about playing. You are sitting quietly watching TV or trying to get some work done when a sloppy, slimy tennis ball is thrust into your lap, leaving a stinky mark behind!
Whereas I believe it is crucial to your relationship with your dog to play together, it can also be vital to be able to get some work done or to let your dog know when it is and is not appropriate to play!
From Your Dog’s Point of View
In order to resolve any behavior problem, I believe it is critical to understand the behavior from your dog’s point of view. Understanding is fundamental to change.
Boredom increases the likelihood of all kinds of naughty behaviors, least of all being an annoying invitation to play! Some dogs chew drywall, shred carpet and get in all manner of trouble in order to entertain their minds and/or interact with you on some level.
Remember that ANY interaction from you, even negative is at least SOME kind of interaction. Dogs are pack animals and need social interaction even if it comes in the form of yelling and screaming.
Dogs need exercise! Mental stimulation keeps their minds strong, but they also need physical exercise. Play helps them both mentally entertain themselves, it also helps them physically to burn off some steam and keep their bodies healthy.
Animals are more proficient trainers than we humans could ever be; their patience far surpasses our own when it comes to waiting for rewards. This is a wonderful attribute, most of the time…BUT this is also why dogs are so incessant and willing to poke and prod you for hours on the chance that you will throw the ball just once!
As humans we are easily distracted and move on quickly if we are not rewarded rapidly. We are very impatient mammals!
But, dogs have learned if they just stick it out long enough, they might finally be rewarded.
For example, if he barks LONG ENOUGH while in his crate you will let him out. If he continues to thrust his ball in your lap, or bark at it on the ground you will eventually give up and toss it for him. This release or final toss, makes it even more rewarding when the moment comes to pass. Imagine waiting weeks or months for a reward…when you finally get it; it is almost more exciting than you can stand!
These moments built on sustained patience and the eventual very high value reward means that your dog is even more willing to be MORE patient and incessant and wait you out the next time!
What You Can Do?
First and foremost is to understand that your dog needs exercise and interaction!
If you need to, schedule time for your dog! Get up early and throw the ball with him, and make time to throw it after dinner and perhaps again before bedtime.
Be sure that you can tell yourself honestly that you have given him all of the attention and exercise he needs and deserves before you get angry that he is demanding your attention.
Make training and playing on your schedule and on your terms. If you stick to a schedule your dog will get to know it and will be less demanding at other times during the day.
If your dog is getting enough exercise he should be too tired to be toooo demanding! So, if your dog normally comes to you at 2pm while you are trying to work, try taking him out at lunch time for a game of ball, or a walk, or a run so that he will be tired at his normal 2 o’clock play time.
Take his favorite toy away and only bring it out when YOU want to play! Leaving him access to it all the time allows him to chew it and bring it to you in an attempt to get you to play with him!
Give him something else to do! Keep him busy by teaching him to retrieve other items for you or having him lay by your feet or under your desk.
Working dogs like Service Dogs are so happy because they constantly feel like they have a job to do! Even if that job is just laying quietly at their person’s feet, the dog feels needed and enjoys “working”. Give your dog a job!
This one is important: DO NOT GIVE IN
No matter how incessant he is, don’t give in to his demands! This only reinforces his demanding behavior.
If he continually bugs you with barking, pawing, or the thrusting of toys get up and leave the room. Or, you can put him outside or in another room for a bit until he calms down.
Once he realizes that demanding that you comply to his playtime ends with you or him leaving the room he will begin to stop showing the behavior.
But, remember that his patience and insistence has paid off in the past and so counter conditioning him will take longer than simply teaching him a new behavior.
- Give him the exercise and play he needs on your schedule and your terms!
- If he is bored and has pent up energy, he deserves to be played with!
- Put his favorite toys out of his reach so he can’t be so demanding!
- Give your dog a job!
- Be patient and don’t lose your cool!
- Whatever you do: Do Not give in to his demands or you will ruin your success for counter conditioning!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.