Please, let me be clear: in no way am I suggesting that dogs are our children. However, as I discussed in my last article, many of the same principles when working with children apply when you are teaching or playing games with your dog. Previously, I discussed the first two ways that teaching and playing games with children and dogs is similar:
1. First, the environment in which a child learns greatly impacts how and what a child is able to learn. Similarly, the environment in which a dog learns greatly impacts how and what a dog is able to learn.
2. Children learn best with a person they trust and whom they have bonded with. Similarly, dogs learn best with a person they trust and whom they have bonded with.
In this article, I would like to explain two further ways in which working with children and dogs is similar:
3. One of the most effective and enjoyable ways that children learn is through playing with toys and by playing games. Similarly, one of the most effective and enjoyable ways that dogs learn is through playing with toys and by playing games.
Which did you like more when you were in school: a pop quiz, or a game of Jeopardy using the science content you just learned to review concepts? Hands down, games are more fun!!! As an elementary school teacher, I quickly realized that the way to children's hearts and the key to positive and effective learning is through games, and so I was constantly on the look-out for how I could turn every-day lessons into games.
Playing games with your dog is not only a great way to bond and have fun with your pet, but has numerous other positive benefits. Dog trainers and veterinarians I've interviewed emphasize that learning using dog games is much more than just fun and games for your dog (though it certainly is fun)! When your dog manages to solve a challenge that you've set out for him, it does far more than just occupy his time; the dog feels that he has really accomplished something. That sense of achievement your dog gets when he solves a challenge you've set out for him with your help can lead to increased self-confidence and can contribute to a more developed sense of trust towards you.
Further, dog games can assist in the prevention of unwanted behaviours. Mental and physical stimulation using toys and games can help to prevent common issues of dog owners including separation anxiety and destructive chewing in dogs, can assist in crate training, offers dogs stress and boredom relief, and can prevent unwanted barking and digging. Like children, positive and effective learning experiences using toys and games can help contribute to your dog's long-term positive associations with learning.
4. Children love and need meaningful, purposeful, problem-solving challenges. Similarly, Dogs love and need meaningful, purposeful, problem-solving challenges.
Mental stimulation offered through meaningful challenges can even be seen as more important than physical stimulation for your dog. Giving your dog a job allows your dog to be stimulated physically and psychologically, which results in helping your dog to burn off excess energy. Taking the time to play games with your dog will help to prevent a lot of unwanted behaviours! Dogs are highly intelligent animals, and like children, they need mentally stimulating challenges. Further, Jean Donaldson (1996, 2005)notes that "it is very unlikely that you will ever over challenge your dog. The vast majority of dogs are severely under challenged in their day to day life" (p. 43). Playing dog games and giving your pooch numerous different kinds of intellectual challenges will not only help your dog to feel relaxed and fulfilled, but it will contribute to the closeness you feel with your pup.
Donaldson, J. (2005). The culture clash. James & Kenneth, Berkeley, CA.
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