Oh, hello friends! Is it Friday again? I’m so glad, because I have a secret to share: playing with toys changed my life.
And I’m not saying that lightly, either. As a young chap, I was a very nervous dog. I didn’t usually know what I was supposed to do, and I had a lot of energy. I would often use it on chewing up things, baking, or redecorating mama’s apartment in my own Chicklet style. Mama thought it was because I was a very naughty boy, but in reality? I just didn’t know how to be calm!
Then we went to training, and mama and dad were shocked that their first assignment was to play with me as much as possible. It was music to my ears! Mister Lee told mama that we should play as much as we can, but that she had to make the rules. She decided when it was time to play, when it was time to quit, and what the “terminal penalties” were.
There were a bunch of reasons that Lee wanted us to play. It was good for our relationship and for me being able to trust mama, it was a good way to burn off some of my energy and help me be calm, and it was a positive outlet for my natural inclination to chase, catch, and bite things. By teaching me to play fetch or run a lure course, mama could say “here is your opportunity to chase and catch,” and “chase this ball, not that squirrel.” Mama says she can’t healthily control whether I chase and catch, but she can control when, how often, and what the subject is.
I adore playing fetch and tug almost as much as I adore my mama and dad and brother Doodlebug, and that’s saying a lot. And lately I’ve discovered a brand new love that may be my most naturalest expression of my instincts: running the lure. The lure is a simluated rabbit chase course using a series of pulleys, a motor, some thin chord, and a real rabbit (although they say it’s fake, I just don’t believe them). For dogs who love to chase small animals, it’s healthy, positive, controlled, rules-based, and awesome!
Dude and I have also been participating in some water sports with mama and dad lately. Water sports are different than chase and fetch games. They sure do tucker us out physically, but in a very different way. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are balance games for dogs. They force us to be aware of the placement of our bodies, be careful how we sit or stand, and pay attention to the little muscles that we normally don’t notice — especially those of us who are anxious or reactive and normally focused on everything BUT our own bodies. Obviously, I make this look easy. But just try standing on a balance board for an hour and a half and see if you don’t need a nap afterward! A dog like me can run 10 miles and still be ready to party afterward, but put me on a kayak or SUP for an hour and I’m done for the day. The mix of physical and mental concentration and focus will wear me out like little else can.
And there are so many other dog sports that folks in the know participate in with their dogs. Sure they’re fun for the owners and the dogs, but they provide a lot more than just something to do for a couple of hours every Saturday. Ever wonder why you see so many border collies on the agility field? Because they are very smart, high-energy dogs that need more than just a jog around the lake to help them chill out. Sports like agility, weight pull, air scenting, and tracking are amazing for building dogs’ confidence, channeling their energy, exhausting them mentally, and helping them to relax around people and dogs – especially those who are worried or anxious, like me.
Mama knows lots of dogs who are reactive, destructive, hyper, and irritable because they don’t know what to do with themselves. There is nothing wrong with them, they just need a job. Once they start to channel all of that energy into something challenging and positive, other things can fall into place!
Have any of you had a transformative experience involving play or dog sports? Tell us about it!