Downeast Dog News

Dog's just wanna have fun!

Learning Games Rock!
By | Aug 01, 2017
Photo by: Diana Logan Sarah, my assistant, plays a "perch-stay" game with two puppies at PupStart, my day school for puppies. These puppies are learning the concept of stay at a distance by playing the perch game.

Dog's just wanna have fun!

Dogs are a “neotenous” species; juvenile traits persist throughout their lives, unlike most other mammals. They don’t care about “working” or personal responsibility – they just “ wanna” have fun.

Puppies: what isn’t to love? They are full of vim and vigor, action and enthusiasm. When observing puppies, it’s clear that much of their time is spent in the pursuit of play. They play with toys, furniture, rugs, each other… and anything that moves - such as the family cat or that roll of toilet paper. Playing teaches them about the world, about boundaries, about problem-solving. It’s an essential part of development.

We can take advantage of the tremendous power of play when teaching everything from good manners to coming when called and everything in between. Introducing the concept of “learning equals fun” early in your pup’s life will build an amazing foundation – and you will be at its center acting as his personal activities director. Your puppy will become addicted to learning the right stuff if it’s “gamified.”

Many behaviors that we want from our dogs are actually trained skills rather than innate behaviors. Our puppies will be more likely to learn and maintain a solid recall if it is introduced as an exciting game that will result in “winning” instead of a game they risk losing something for. The same goes for sits and downs, for leash walking, and for nail trimming. Pretty much anything we want to teach our dogs we can teach by “gamifying” it. It's never too late to gamify things, though, so keep the games rolling with your older dogs, too!

How to Gamify:

Does your dog want the toy you are holding? If he offers you eye contact, he wins it! Does he love to tug? When he voluntarily drops the tug toy (you may have to trade it for a treat at first), he gets invited to tug again! Then there’s leash walking… if he can walk beside you without a tight leash, he gets to move forward. If not, he goes nowhere. For handling such as nail trimming or grooming, I make sure there’s lots of food and very short sessions. Handle/feed simultaneously for 3 seconds, then stop. Repeat a bunch of times and Puppy will beg to be handled some more.

Anytime your puppy wants something is the perfect time to train. Capitalize on as many opportunities as you can, and those good habits will take hold and blossom! If humans don’t gamify it, Puppy is sure to do so on his own, and his rules leave a lot to be desired.

The more fun something is, the more likely we are to do it whether we are dog or human. After all, who wants learning to be boring, or at worst, intimidating or painful?

From James Paul Gee’s book on gaming:

Games provide instant feedback;

• Games cultivate progressive learning; increasing a player’s competence through an increase in level of difficulty while remaining achievable;

• Games allow players to be producers and not just consumers.

Visit to see how gamification can alter human behavior, from driving the speed limit to taking the stairs vs. the escalator.

Now, go play with your dog... and have fun together!