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K9 Buddy Curriculum: Playing with Your K9 Buddy

Let’s Have Some Fun!
One of the things that can help your dog stay healthy and bond with you is to provide enjoyable and stimulating activity everyday. A play session should last long enough for your dog to feel a true release of any pent-up energy – 10 to15 minutes is a ballpark estimate. Although most dogs’ need for additional energy release declines as they mature into senior years, all dogs need and benefit from “fun time.”

Just as humans have individual ideas about what they consider “fun” (think roller coasters or going fishing), so do dogs vary in their preferences about desirable activities. One dog might love a rowdy game of “tug” while another dog would much prefer quieter interactions with its partner.

Here are a Few Common Play Options

  • Free running in a safe, enclosed space
  • Tug (see below)
  • Fetch (toss a Kong™ with an underhand throw down a carpeted hallway)
  • Hide and seek games (see below)

Tug is an energetic, interactive game for you to play with your dog. Using an appropriate tug toy, you and your dog can pull back and forth as each player attempts to wrench the object free.

Many dogs will vocalize with grunts, growls, or possibly barks while they are playing with you. This vocalization is normal, though if it makes you uncomfortable you may want to pursue a different type of play. Taking breaks and asking your dog to “Sit” will help keep them calmer.

Take turns with your dog; be sure that you each have the chance to win. When playing an exciting game with your dog, always retain the ability to stop the play with a “that’s enough” verbal cue, which tells the dog that play is over, and they should release the toy. Stop pulling on the toy; yet keep a solid hold of it. If your dog does not release the toy, try offering them a kibble in exchange for doing so.

If your dog accidentally makes contact with your hand while grasping the toy, end the play session. Your dog should be aware of avoiding your hand, but this is a play style that involves their mouth being near your hand. When playing, keep the tug toy down at dog level - this will help encourage “four on the floor” rather than jumping up and grabbing.

Keep in mind your dog’s strength as relates to your size and physical capabilities. Tug may not be an appropriate game for all teams, especially very young children or clients with significant balance or strength challenges.

Store the tug toy out of the dog’s reach and only present it when you are playing with them directly.

Tug toys are not chew toys. Do not allow your dog to hold the toy except during the active tug game. Your dog only needs a few minutes with a tug toy to destroy it and the small pieces can be dangerous.

Hide and Seek Games
Many teams, especially youth clients, enjoy playing hide and seek. You’ll need a helper for the game to hold the dog for you while you hide. Remember to not tell your dog “Stay” or “Wait” before being called. First practice by going across the room and asking your dog to “Come.” Do this a few times. Now you’re ready!

Next, find an easy place to hide like around a corner. Now call your dog by using their name and saying “Come.” If your dog has trouble finding you, call them again using their name. Be sure to give them a piece of kibble and lots of praise when they come to you! Start off with easier hiding places, and as your dog gets better, you can find harder places to hide. Remember to only play this game in safely enclosed areas such as inside the house or in a safely fenced area. This should be a fun game for both you and your dog!

Some Safety Considerations
While arranging fun activities for your dog, keep in mind the possible hazards associated with playtime:

  • The ground should not be slick as the dogs can slip or fall, injuring themselves.
  • Prolonged running and skidding on pavement may cause bruised or bleeding pads. Check the ground for dangerous objects (e.g. broken glass, metal shards, etc.).
  • A Flexi-Lead or retractable leash may be an option for play in unfenced areas. Please use caution as the following scenarios may occur. It is easy for the long leash to become tangled or wrap around objects, people, or other dogs. If the dog runs to the end of the leash while playing, the leash can be wrenched from your hand, and the sudden jerk on the collar and dog’s neck could injure both dog and handler. If you are interested in exploring this tool, please discuss further with GDB staff as you prepare for your partnership. We can also provide additional safety tips at that time.
  • Do not exercise your K9 Buddy dog with unfamiliar dogs. Give your dog time to develop a positive and established relationship with whom they will be playing. Avoid dog parks and their unpredictable dog encounters.
  • Toys need to be an appropriate size relative to the size of the dog. Avoid toys that fit entirely inside the dog’s mouth since it could be a choking or ingestion hazard. Throw away any Nyla bones™ that have been whittled down in size as well.

Many dogs love to chew. A sturdy chew toy can provide oral satisfaction and mental relaxation for your dog. We recommend Nylabones®, Benebones®, and Goughnuts® as quality products that hold up well to a dog’s strong jaws. Kongs® and West Paw® toys are also a sturdy option for some, but it is possible for dogs to chew off pieces and ingest or choke on them. It will be important to monitor your dog closely when introducing a new chew toy to ensure they are not ripping pieces off. A hollow Kong stuffed with moistened kibble and then frozen can be a pleasant diversion for some dogs. Be sure to compensate for these extra calories when feeding your dog its regular meal. See this reference for information about stuffed Kongs. All toys need to be checked after each use for any splintering or sharp edges. All toys should be cleaned regularly, especially if the hollow Kong is stuffed with food. A bottle brush works well to dislodge any remaining food particles, and most toys are dishwasher safe. Discard any toy with significant damage.

The following is a list of toys that GDB advises against:

  • Cow or horse hooves
  • Pig ears
  • Rawhide bones
  • Real bones
  • Antlers
  • Bully Sticks
  • Greenies

A good way to remember this list is that if it comes from another animal, it is not appropriate or safe for your dog!

Consider any fabric or stuffed toys carefully, and it may be wise to discuss this with your instructor as you are learning your dog’s tendencies. Some dogs enjoy the softer toys and play gently with them. Others may be more rambunctious and enjoy tearing them up. Soft toys are not recommended for strong chewers with a propensity to destroy them. Tuffy® brand dog toys generally hold up well and provide a sturdier option. Keep in mind that soft or plush toys often have a squeaker inside of them. Should the toy be destroyed, the squeaker poses a risk for ingestion or choking, so monitored play is important.

There are numerous accounts of dogs injuring themselves by overzealous gnawing and ingestion of all sizes and shapes of toys meant for entertainment. Often it results in emergency surgery to remove the object, lacerated gums or dental surgery to repair or remove broken teeth. A ball or toy lodged in the throat can asphyxiate a dog and foreign objects blocking the intestines can have dire consequences as well. Toys should be chosen carefully and introduced only when there is someone present to supervise.

GDB does not recommend dogs playing with the following items:

  • Frisbees® or flying discs
  • Tennis balls, golf balls, any medium or small size ball
  • These can be dangerous, as it is easy for a dog to chew up and/or even swallow a small ball.

Not only is playing with your dog good for their mental, emotional and physical health, but it is great bonding time for both of you. Having your dog as a play companion is one of the “perks” of having a K9 Buddy dog in your life. So have fun!

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