Playing with your dog is great mental and physical stimulation, but learning how to calm down after play is also important.

Playing with our dogs is an amazing way to create a strong bond and give your dog a physical outlet.  Many people use play ONLY as a way to use up excess physical energy, but what if you could tweak how you play with your dog to make it a mental and physical workout, while relationship building? Doesn’t that sound great?

Well-meaning play can create bad habits

Unfortunately, play can become a source of bad behavior or an unhealthy mental state for your dog if we don’t take the time to set some rules.

Playtime is a quality time activity and when playing with your dog there are several things you can do to make these interactions more meaningful. Let me give you an example… fetch is a very popular game and often just about getting the dog to run to wear them out. Unfortunately, this does nothing for the dog or your relationship and can often turn into a compulsion or OCD behavior for many dogs.

When I work with dogs, I want to help create mental stimulation for them as well by tweaking how I play with them. Instead of just throwing the ball or toy and contributing to a bad mindset, I like to have them calm down first and wait before throwing the toy or playing with them in any game. I really take the time to have them practice being still and waiting for their reward. Calming them will give them the opportunity to think, “What do I need to do to get the toy?”

Part of play needs to be learning to calm down

What I want to create in any training process is an opportunity for the dog to learn to calm down in order to get what it wants, not just physically, but mentally. There is a difference between a dog that is sitting and one that is calm. By consistently requiring a calm mind, your dog will learn that calm is the default mode to get what they want, no matter how exciting of an activity it is. This helps to build an off switch in any situation and it’s often where people struggle the most. It’s very easy to get your dog excited but turning it off takes practice. I like to refer to play activities as “artificial excitement,” meaning that we can use toys and play to practice calming our dogs down in a safe and controlled way. Once you have this down, it will be so much easier to calm your dog down in situations you can’t control, like walking by a fence with a barking dog on the other side, because you’ve practiced it. This will help build a relationship of trust and respect with your dog.

The big finish

No matter what game you play with your pet, practice getting them excited, but then calming them down using these methods. I always finish these activities with a slow, quiet, deep massage to make sure they don’t end on a high and get frustrated with the sudden change in expected behavior. It’s always wise to take some time to give them aa little relaxation before putting them in their crate to rest.

A happy and well-behaved dog understands your expectations of him and that helps both of you create a warm, bonded relationship of trust and affection.

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Heather Beck has dedicated her life to saving the lives of dogs all over the world by providing the tools, education, and training that canine professionals and dog owners need in order to improve behaviors and transform relationships. For more than 25 years, Heather has worked with shelters and rescues, other trainers, and dog families to teach them how to be heroes for their dogs. Much of this work has been done within the walls of her training, daycare, and boarding facility, K9 Lifeline, located in Draper, Utah. K9 Lifeline works with dogs of all ages, sizes, and temperaments by helping them learn proper behaviors and socialization skills. The facility has not only been critical for the families in the community, but has hosted education workshops to help trainers from around the world improve their skills to better serve the dogs in their care. Heather Beck and K9 Lifeline have been able to save dogs and help them to live happier and fuller lives.