Great video for all dog owners, not just for puppies!!
Dr Dunbar and his team discuss the idea of teaching our puppies by turning training into a game. They also refer to several games that have online instructions listed by the trainer’s name or the name of the task.
One behavior that dogs and humans have in common is the desire to play throughout our adult lives. Most other animals stop playing as they reach adulthood. So here I will write about the benefit of play in dog learning.
We often want dogs to do skills/behaviors that make no sense to them. So of course we use food as a reward to motivate puppies. When we turn the training lessons into games, the dog experiences training as fun puzzle games, that they get to do with family. The more fun the training, the more your dog will love training and the more they remember
For example, my dog Leo loves training sessions, especially when he is learning new skills that are challenging for him. I can tell when he is really into it because he takes the treats and spits them on the ground quickly to be ready for the next thing.
Let me go through benefits of games on learning using the example game I call “GO-FIND-IT.”
The most immediate benefit for puppy owners is that mental exercise is more fatiguing than physical exercise. On days when the weather is bad, I often teach Leo new skills in place of outdoor exercise. As just a 3 year old adolescent dog, he becomes more tired after 20 minutes of learning puzzle games compared to a full hour of physical running. When he was a puppy it was more like 5 – 10 minutes of puzzle time. This is a very good way to help a puppy sleep through the night.
Instructions for”Go- find-it.” (Be sure to run the words together to make the cue into one long word). Begin by hiding a favorite Toy in plain site, allow the dog to watch you place the Toy under a chair or other easy to get to place. Most puppies will go pick it up or follow you while you hide it. Exchange the Toy for a food treat after the dog has it solidly in their mouth. Reward with food for each find. Repeat hiding the Toy in the same room and in easy places about 10-15 times before moving on to more difficult hiding places, like under a pillow. Once the dog catches on to the game you can replace the food reward with a short “Tug on Toy” play. Puppy will be ready to go pick it up after a quick bit of play. It will be easier for the pup to give up the Toy each time if the dog already knows “Leave it”. Next level of difficulty is to have puppy in sit-stay, while you quickly hide the Toy just out of sight. Increase the variety & difficulty of hiding places as pup learns to find it more quickly.
Leo loved this game and would race to find the Toy. He would come back prancing, tossing the toy up & catching it in the air as he returned to me.
The game uses a combination of actions to increase learning.
1. Action: The wait at a sit until I said the cue words; “go-find-it”.
Learning: Sit-Stay and practicing impulse control, longer sounds are cues.
2. Action: search for his Toy.
Learning: Frustration tolerance, Search behaviors & Pay attention to the environment.
This basic skill can be used to teach: “GO-find-Dad” & Go-find-Kitty”, Go-find-Billy.
3. Action: Object pick up, hold in mouth, and return with the Toy and give up the Toy.
Learning: all skills for solid retrieve in sporting dogs & service dogs. Dogs don’t understand the idea of pick up, hold, bringing back objects at our request. Especially, the part of the game where they give their toy away. Game reinforces the whole sequence of skills for a good retrieve which is harder than we think. Many dogs who are not trained to retrieve, will run off with the object or pick it up and drop it until you retrieve it.
4. Action: repeating the game at increasing difficulty.
Learning: Reliability & speed
Leo quickly realized that he had to bring the Toy all the way to me. Plus, the quicker he brought the Toy back, the quicker he got to play the game again. All without any food rewards. Playing and having fun becomes a natural reward.
5. Action: Increased difficulty leads to longer and more area searched by the dog. If he came back quickly without the Toy I sent him out a second time, the third search I go with him and show him the location.
Learning: Problem solving, frustration tolerance, memory.
As the dog figures out the simple hiding places, increase the difficulty so the dog has to search more areas for the Toy. This teaches basic problem solving and frustration tolerance and important cognitive skills for dogs throughout life. One fun fact revealed by brain research into memory: The greater effort expended while learning, the better your memory becomes of the information learned.
All this from 10 to 20 minutes of fun for the two of us.