Games for self control

Here are some excellent exercises that are a must to teach your dog self-contro Self control is all part of growing up. Your dog needs to learn that he can’t have what he wants when he wants it. It will teach your dog patience in many parts of his life, not just play. He will be a calmer and much more contented dog, and so will you!

So it is important to have rules for games. It is perfectly fine to play tug with your dog, as long as he is willing to give up the toy when you say ‘give’ (or whatever word you choose to use). If this is not the case, then you need to teach your dog to give on command, before you use tuggy as a reward.

This brings us to rewards. It is important to always reward your dog with whatever he deems a reward. For some dogs that will be treats, others will be a chase of their ball, others will be tuggy and some may just be happy with some fuss. Try different things with your dog and decide what he likes best. Remember that the harder the exercise, the higher the reward you will need to give him. So for a sit next to you, a happy ‘good boy!’ and a caress will do, but for a sit at a 20 foot distance, then perhaps a small bit of sausage will make it more worth his while in concentrating on getting it right. Remember, the more we ask of the dog, the more he has to concentrate and the harder it will be for him – make it worth his while in trying to get it right, otherwise, he will not bother next time. Always make it successful for him and progress in little steps.

Teaching your dog through games is the best way for him to learn and it will form a strong bond between you both. So, when practicing these exercises, always make it fun for you and your dog. Give him the command happily and seem genuinely happy when he gets it right – just imagine how it feels when you crack a difficult problem and how wonderful it felt when others congratulated and acknowledged you as well.

Here are some excellent exercises that are a must to teach your dog self-control:

  1. Walking on a loose lead: Your dog needs to learn that you dictate where and at what pace you explore the world. You certainly do not want him dragging you around on a walk. That’s a sure way to spoil a walk! So grab some nice treats and when your dog is walking by your side, mark it by saying something like “yes!” (or use a clicker), then give him a treat. If he gets ahead of you, stop and wait for him to look at you – do not entice him, just wait silently. He will ‘eventually’ look at you – hurray! Mark it with a yes’ and show him the treat so that he comes by your side to get it. Repeat. You can also turn the other way when he gets ahead of you. He will catch up with you and when he’s by your side, reward him. Slowly increase the number of steps you take before you reward him. Make sure you do not put the treat by his nose. You can initially hold the treat (or ball) in your hand close to your chest, quite high up, so that he does not jump up to get it. As you get better at it, then you will be wanting to hide the treat in your pocket or in a treat bag. When you decided to reward him, mark it with a yes! And then either give him the treat or throw the ball for him. The trick with lead training is to be 100% consistent. That way, your dog will learn that he needs to stay close to you when his lead goes on his collar. If you do not have time to train him, then use a harness or a head collar to get you where you need to go without him pulling you. However, my recommendation is to use your walk as a training session and only get to your destination with a nice, calm and controlled dog. How far you get doesn’t matter as much as how you get there. Your dog will soon learn that he gets there faster if he sticks near you. If your dog is walking calmly on a loose lead he is going to be less likely to over-react to exciting things or other dogs on a walk. He will realise you are in control of the situation and he will feel safe and happy.
  2. Give and Take: This is pretty much one of the most important things you can teach your dog, mainly because it will help avoid any possession issues, which can escalate to aggression and secondly, because it means that you will be able to get hold of anything dangerous that he may get hold off without any conflict. Thankfully, this is one of the easiest exercises you can do. All you have to do is to simply exchange what your dog has in his mouth with something he wants more. So, start with a boring a toy, say ‘give/thank you’ or whatever word you want to use, and then swap it for a titbit. Really praise him, and let him have his toy back. Repeat, over and over again, until you see your dog being really happy about swapping the toy with you. Once this happens, then do the same, but don’t let him see that you have a titbit; put the titbit in your pocket, let the dog come and give you his toy, praise him and then give him the titbit. It’s important that there comes a point in training where the dog cannot see the titbit, otherwise they will only exchange it only if they see a titbit. This applies to all training. Start off with letting the dog see the titbit, but after a few tries, keep the food in your pocket or treat bag. Once you’ve mastered this with one toy, move unto a toy the dog likes more. Master the exercise with that toy, then move unto another toy. Practice with anything you can think of and always keep a happy tone, so that the dog doesn’t think he’s going to lose his toy – it’s just a swap. He will soon learn that it’s better to give something up than to keep it. Needless to say, if your dog gets hold of your most expensive shoes, do not tense or shout at him, that will just make him nervous and want to keep hold of it. Call him to you in a calm and happy tone, and then do a swap. This is much better and faster than challenging the dog and being in danger of getting bitten. You should never challenge your dog in an aggressive manner, it’s a guaranteed way to make the problem worse!
  3. Tug:  Dogs love to play tuggy!! It’s what they do with their playmates, and sometimes it can be used to test the other playmates strength or to establish their authority. So, it is important that before you use tuggy as a game or a reward for doing well, that the dog has learnt to give things up. To achieve this, do exactly the same as the ‘give/take’ exercise, but tug the toy a little bit, stop tugging and keep your hand still (do not pull) and happily say ‘give’. At first you will need to use high-reward treats and you may even need to put it in front of the dog’s nose. Repeat 4-5 times, then stop the game, give your dog a titbit and put the toy away. Keep practising tugging a little bit more each time, but remember do not get your dog too hyped up at first, until he is giving up his toy as soon as you say ‘give’ in a happy manner. As with all training, set it up so that your dog always succeeds.
  4. Wait: This is another exercise that’s extremely important to teach your dog. Especially if your dog travels in the car. We have all heard so many stories of dogs launching themselves out of the car and being run over. If the dog knows that he is not to move until you say so, then you will be able to clip the lead on, have a look around to ensure it’s safe and then ask your dog to come out. This exercise is also one of the most important in teaching your dog self-control. There are 2 parts to this exercise, one is duration and the other is distance. You will need to work on each of these parts independently, until each part is mastered. So at first, ask your dog to sit, then say ‘wait/stay’ or whatever word you want to use in a soft, calm manner, then after 1 second give him a titbit, repeat over and over again slowly increasing the time the dog has to wait to get his titbit. Ensure he stays sat down. Also, don’t always increase the time. Make it a fun exercise, so that the dog doesn’t realise how long he has to wait to get the titbit. Sometimes 2 seconds, sometimes 5, sometimes 1, sometimes 10. Once you see your dog totally relaxed during this exercise (some dogs will actually lay down or shift their hip down), then you can move unto distance. Now, you will just move one step back and immediately come back and give your dog a treat, do not wait, walk back to your dog immediately. Then take 2 steps and move back to give him a titbit. Slowly increase the distance you move away, but always come back to reward your dog. Again, make it unpredictable. Sometimes move 5 feet, then 1, then 10 feet, etc, etc. Once your dog looks totally relaxed at this stage, you can then incorporate both parts and move away a short distance, wait 1-2 seconds and then move back to reward him. Again, make it unpredictable and variable. You can increase difficulty by changing where you practice this exercise. Remember, if you move into a new environment, you will need to start from the beginning and progress slowly. You will notice that you will progress faster each time. Just because your dog can stay in your kitchen does not mean he will be able to stay in your back garden, there are more distractions and it will be difficult for your dog to concentrate on the job at hand. Always make it successful and enjoyable for your dog and start from scratch in each new place. Slowly add distractions and you will soon get a dog that will stay wherever and whatever is around. Practice getting your dog to wait in doorways, in the car, whilst you prepare his dinner, before and after putting his lead on, etc. In fact, the more situations you can practice this in, the more experienced and relaxed your dog will become.
  5. Waiting to get his food/treats: This is another good exercise to teach your dog self-control. Once you have taught your dog to ‘wait’, you can ask your dog to sit and stay, place his dog bowl far from him, go back to him and reward him for staying and then release him to get his food. Do the same with treats, but place them far away and ensure you can get hold of your dog or the treat if he decides to break his stay. You do not want your dog to learn that he can get hold of the treat quicker than you! Slowly move the treat nearer to him, say ‘leave’ calmly, ensuring you can cover the treat if need be, so that he cannot get it. Always reward your dog for staying, either with another treat or the same treat you put down. If it’s the same treat as you’ve placed down, you need to take it yourself and put it in his mouth. He is not to break his stay and get it himself, as the point of the exercise is not to get the treat himself. You will be able to slowly move it closer and closer, until you can place it in your dog’s paw, say ‘leave’ and then give it to him after one second or so. This is a real winner for kids – they love to show this trick off! You can also try this on his nose, but remember to master the easy ‘leaves’ before you ask such a difficult thing from him.

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