play – played – playing – playful

A happy (playful) puppy with a stick.

A happy (playful) puppy with a stick.

So I don’t know if I said it here yet, but I joined a class at Fenzi dog sport academy called “Relationship building through play”… or something like that.

I sort of thought, despite the title, that it was about using play to enhance your training where in fact it’s about using play to make your dog love working with you. Which is great! Because Lu would often prefer to go sniff stuff than play with me. And I guess that if she likes playing with me more, she’ll get more reward out of playing.


One of the tasks we had to do was film us playing using the 3 types of play- personal, food, and toy, in their order of least preferred to most. So I did it in the order I just wrote… and I found something really interesting… personal play- running around chasing me, backing up, jumping into my arms, biting me got her excited and happy– food was pretty good- she enjoys catching food and she’ll chase food if I throw it back and forth like the two ball game- and toys… well, I had this piece of very anti-vegan Slovenian fleece on a rope which she loves to chase but I felt like that was “intense hunting” rather than “playing for fun!” and when i threw a ball for her, she fetched it ok, then wanted to sniff. So… that was really eye-opening.


I still have this feeling of unease- I think it’s anxiousness about training knowing she might go off and chase the horse. I went there yesterday for 20 minutes and kept her on lead and just rewarded her for looking back at me after looking at the horse. I know Silvia’s said in an article that if a dog does this that rewarding for looking back can just reinforce taking her time to look back, and if her dogs don’t want to work, she puts them away and works another dog. I guess this could work for a very intense, high-work ethic dog that understands that… but I saw Lu go from: looking at the horse and staring, A LOT, when we first started… to glancing at the horse, and looking back quickly – and looking at me more than looking at the horse, even when we’re just standing there. I think she needs to be rewarded for the looking back to know that doing that behavior is more rewarding than staring at a horse. This obviously doesn’t solve the wanting-to-run-off issue but maybe it’ll help. I worry that my anxiety about her chasing the horse is making her want to run off and chase the horse more… like a viscous cycle. I really want to do some DW training, but because this didn’t go so well the other day with the horse, I’m hesitant to do it. I think feeling like I’m NOT ABLE to do it is just making me more stressed. Ugh.



5 thoughts on “play – played – playing – playful

    • Em says:

      I was going to ask you about how you’ve been overcoming the anxiety circle 🙂 the class has only just started- only bronze places left though (which is what we have, too)

  1. Penny says:

    The ‘put them back in a crate and get them out later’ thing when they are distracted is something I don’t understand. I just don’t get how that works. I tried it so often with Pan and Jav and got absolutely NO change in their willingness to work. With Badger I could see how maybe it would work….but I still don’t have much faith. So interesting stuff to read from you. I always love to hear your opinions

    • Em says:

      Yeah I saw on one of the forums for the play class that Denise Fenzi hates that method, too. I think we (me especially) sometimes have to be careful of worshipping at the temple of Trkman. (More a reminder to myself than saying anything about you!!!) Sometimes the ways that work for her won’t work for me/us and it has to be ok to look outside that. Sometimes I forget to.

  2. Oh such heavy thoughts for such happy title! I’m happy to hear she loved to play with you so much! Do you think that her lessened desire to chase a ball could be influence by something else? IMHO any dog that runs over DW like Lu does really wants to get that ball, no? But anyway isn’t it AWESOME that she found you more exciting than a ball? That is something that would never happen with my dogs! I had to make a veto that no one else throws balls. Just me. That’s how bad it is.

    Putting Ruby away when he disengaged worked wonders for him (I didn’t learn it from Silvia, though). I tied his leash to a tree and played with frisbees by myself. He went bonkers! Suddenly frisbees were much higher valued than before. Java was such a good pup that she generally didn’t need it, but during her first heat she would sometimes just wander off and sniff. One time I let her wander right to fence and tethered her there. Then I walked away to play by myself. I only had to do this on two occasions. It really drove the message home that she can either play with me or be bored – there is no middle way.

    Then there was my friend’s sheltie who never seemed to get better after a timeout. He was such a momma’s boy – he loved nothing more than being with her, but sometimes he would just disengage. I’m thinking he was probably sniffing because he was anxious about something (either about sounds or about my friend not being happy) so a timeout only increased his anxiety. Ruby on the other hand was not anxious at all – the world was his oyster and he wanted to enjoy it ALL!

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