I was in Marietta last week working with a new Home Dog Training client and his one-year-old Boxer named Max.  I love Boxers and Max was just a great puppy.  The most pressing problem that my client was experiencing with Max was his lightning-fast sprint to the door and out-of-control jumping on guests “trying to get inside”.  Besides that, my client said that “Max would always listen, if he was in the mood”. 

How Important is Playtime for My Dog?

Both of these problems demonstrated to me that Max needed to be educated on “who was the boss”.  His running to the door ahead of my client demonstrates that he believes that he is the leader, and it is his job to be the gatekeeper.  The fact that he “listens when he wants” clearly shows that he believes he is the boss.  The boss gives the orders and, at times, listens to his “underlings”.  Max clearly believed that he was the boss.

With that information in hand, I quickly taught my client “how to be the boss” and how to let Max know that “he no longer had the corner office”.  Within a few hours, Max was politely staying away from the front door and would attentively listen to my client when given obedience commands or behavior directives.  My client was thrilled. 

As we were finishing up, I asked my client if he had any more questions or if there were any other inappropriate behaviors that we needed to address.  He thought for a moment and said that he was happy with everything he learned but had a question on “playtime”.  How important was playtime and how much playtime should Max have?

I told my client that this was an excellent question.  Getting this answer correct for Boxers was critical because of their extremely high level of pent-up energy and natural excitement.

I told him to think back to his (and my) grade school days.  We would come to school and normally be in class for a few hours.  We would learn History and English.  By the end of our English lesson, the entire class was starting to become restless.  That is when we would go outside for recess.

Recess was great. We could run and jump. We would play kick ball or handball.  We would make fun and pick on each other or just hang out and “see what was happening in the world”.  When we came back inside, it was time for math.  We were all refreshed and ready to go.  Everything seemed just right.  So recess, even though we weren’t studying books or memorizing what was on the board, was a very important part of our school/learning experience.

So, what did recess do?  First of all, it allowed us to just let loose and drain any pent-up adrenaline.  Next, it allowed us to learn how to productively interact with others around us.  If we were dominant, how would our friends respond?  How do we effectively respond when someone is dominant towards us?  Also, how do we feel about the natural world around us?  As “stuff happens”, do we feel safe and how do we respond?  (Recess was really far more important than any of “us kids” ever imagined!)

The same is true for Max and every other dog.  Learning obedience commands like Come, Sit, Stay, Place, etc. are important so that we can direct our dog as the situation dictates.  Having them behave and not jump on people, stay off the furniture, don’t steal food, stop barking, etc. are important for everyone’s well-being. Playtime is the glue that holds all of these things together.

Playtime allows Max to productively drain his adrenaline so that he is not “all crazy on us at inappropriate times”.  It builds a strong relationship of trust and respect as we play directive dominance games with him such as fetch.  It establishes us as a safety figure as we show him that, while outside in the “real world”, he can feel safe and secure while we are there.  Finally, it allows him “just to hang” and understand that “all is good”.

I strongly suggest getting your dog outside to play as much as possible. If once a day is all the time you have, that is better than nothing.  I normally recommend two or three “outside and play” times during the day.  If you have a “high energy dog” like a Boxer or many hunting dogs, I would suggest getting them out to play more often.

“Outside” is not opening the front door and letting your dog freely run through the neighborhood.  This is because you don’t have control of the environment and can not assure his safety.  We always suggest that your dog’s play zone is a fenced in environment that will contain your dog.  The fence should be high enough so that he can’t jump over it and secure enough so that he can’t get through it or dig underneath it.  There should be no obstacles near the fence that would allow him to use them as “jumping off points” to get over the fence.

If you don’t have a secure, fenced area, we suggest getting a long training lead (normally thirty or fifty feet) and staking that in the middle of a large, open area. Make sure that the area is relatively peaceful and devoid of inappropriate distractions. As you interact with your dog (as I will discuss below), make sure that you keep your activities within the confined area.  You don’t want him constantly reaching the extent of the training lead.

How long you stay outside depends on the weather and is strictly a safety concern.  If the temperature is in the mid to high eighties or warmer, I would not spend more than fifteen minutes out engaging in active play. If you have a short-snouted dog (i.e. English Bulldog), I would limit the time even more.

If the weather is temperate, you can stay out as long as you wish. When outside, always have a large supply of cool, clean water easily accessible for your dog.

We regulate our heat by sweating (all over our body) and having the breeze blow over our sweaty skin to cool us down.  Dogs can only pant with their tung.  Air passing over their moist tung helps cool them down.  Because of this, our dog’s cooling process is far less efficient than ours.  This makes being out on a hot day far more dangerous for them than us.

“Outside playtime” with your dog is made up of “active play”, “calm interaction”, and “me time”.  As you can probably guess, “active play” is often activities like fetch.  It is important that you are always the dominant figure within any active play activity you initiate.  “Fetch” is fine because you are throwing the object and you are requiring your dog to return the object. You can also practice simple obedience commands such as Come, Sit, and Stay as part of your “active play” activity.

Tug-of-War is bad because you often get bored and drop the object to do something else (like text on your phone).  In this case, your dog ends up with the object. This makes him the winner and “boss of you”.

“Calm interaction” times can be where you are grooming him in the back yard or just sitting with him on the back porch.  This time can be “breaks” between your “active play” time.  They help build up a bond and sense of safety between you and your dog.

“Me time” is for your dog.  This is where he just goes off and explores.  He normally does this because he now feels comfortable that you are keeping him safe, and the area is secure.  This allows him to confirm that “all is OK” and for him to answer the question “I wonder what that is”.  It helps establish his sense of security of the area and your ability to successfully safeguard his world.

As you can now determine, playtime is a critical part of your dog’s development and very important in establishing a strong and healthy bond between you and him.  Don’t skimp on the time you spend playing with your dog.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.