Ask the trainer | There are good games and bad games |

Ask the trainer | There are good games and bad games

Carla Brown
Special to the Sun

Dear Carla,

We have a 2-year-old male cattle dog named Buster that we adopted from a shelter about 6 months ago. My husband and I disagree about how to play with him. He wants to play tug and wrestle and I think those games make Buster mouthy and wild. What do you think?

and#8212; Busterand#8217;s Mom

Dear Busterand#8217;s Mom,

Iand#8217;m always happy to hear about rescued dogs who know how to play. Many dogs in shelters have either forgotten how to play or never learned. After they learn a few fun tricks or how to fetch a ball, their eyes light up. Playing with your dog can strengthen your relationship and as an added bonus you can train while you play!

Games can be a fun way to teach leadership and control, however there are good games and bad games. In most cases, it just takes a minor adjustment to change a bad game into a good one.

Bad game #1 and#8212; Catch me if you can: You reach to put a leash on your dog and he runs the other direction. When you chase him, the game is on!

The good alternative and#8212; Hide and seek: Hide behind a wall or tree and wait until he looks for you. You want him to succeed, so make it easy at first.

Bad game #2 and#8212; Tug of War for keeps: Your dog wrestles a toy from you and runs off with it. This often turns into Game #1.

The good alternative and#8212; Tug of War on your terms: You make the rules! Invite him to and#8220;take it,and#8221; and#8220;tug,and#8221; and and#8220;drop it.and#8221; When you are done playing, put the toy away.

Bad game #3 and#8212; Throw the ball: Your dog pushes his ball at you, staring and ordering you to and#8220;throw it!and#8221; Once you do, he gets the ball but then dances around and wonand#8217;t give it back.

The good alternative and#8212; Fetch: You bring the ball and invite a controlled game of and#8220;fetch.and#8221; You ask him to and#8220;sitand#8221; and and#8220;wait,and#8221; then tell him to and#8220;get itand#8221; as you throw the ball. On his way back, you say and#8220;bring itand#8221; and have him and#8220;drop itand#8221; into your hand.

Bad game #4 and#8212; Wrestling and play fighting: This encourages jumping up, mouthing, biting, and chasing.

The good alternatives and#8212; Tricks and mind games: Exercise your dogand#8217;s mind by teaching him to shake, roll-over, play dead, or spin.

In addition to games you can play at home, new types of organized dog sports are constantly being created. Rally-O is a fun sport where dogs must perform certain tasks to score points. Fly-ball and agility are great for high energy dogs like terriers and herding breeds. Find something you both enjoy and have fun!

and#8212; Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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