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Incorporating play into your training practice

Want to add some energy and enthusiasm to your dogs obedience skills? Try using toy/play rewards. Obviously this works best for a dog who is highly motivated by play. Tug is usually the play-reward of choice, since it is interactive with the handler and most dogs really love it, but you can also reward by throwing a ball if that's your dogs preference.

To use toy rewards while training, it helps to have some rules. First, make sure you are using a clear indicator to the dog when it is allowed to take the toy and begin play. "Okay!" or "Get it!" is usually fine. Make sure you use this every single time your dog is allowed to take the toy -- otherwise your dog may start "helping himself" to the toy, and its value as a reward is diminished.

You should also have a routine for when each individual play reward is over. The dog in this video, "Pippi," is still learning her "Drop it" cue in real life and she's still on 100% reinforcement for successful dropping. So I don't want to use that cue just yet to take the toy back. Instead, when I'm going to get the toy back "I need that," take the toy, and go back into an obedience drill. Contrast this with "Drop it" practice -- I say "Drop it," she spits it out, and I immediately reward by letting her chase it again.

Once the "Drop it" command is more solid, I can begin using it during play training practice.

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