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Training Games for Owner Trainers

We train with structured games. 

Play is the best way to train anything with a dog. Dogs play from birth and everything they learn is centered around play. In A Dog For Me we utilize play and games to teach the necessary skills that a service dog needs. Fitness is important through out the life of a service dog, so we incorporate Fitness Fundamentals in the program.

We are not like other service dog training programs

Fitness Games

Try this yourself. Stand still for 10 seconds. Be aware of what your body is doing. Feel all the micromovements that happen trying to gain and maintain balance.

Dogs move, it's what they do. But they need to be able to be still also and work the tiny muscles that are normally neglected.

Standing Still can also straighten the spine, handle knock knees, pigeon toes and other issues with holding the body straight. For you, it can show you where on your dog's body there is pain or old trauma that is still affecting the dog.

This set of games is to help our dogs understand that just because it moves doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or scary and that they can control moving objects. You can shape it, lure it, use a combo, or just cue it. Nelly had already learned “up” on the flat balance pads, so getting her up on the wobbly ones wasn’t a big chore.

Objects that are useful are: yoga balls, kids toys with wheels, office chairs, wagons and of course skateboards !! 

Dogs don't have natural rear end awareness, which, if not taught, can cause them to be out of balance when performing certain exercises, functions and/or basic body movements.

If you have ever watched a dog that does not have good rear end awareness, they appear to be a little gangly, may fall or miss their step often, all of which can lead to small internal injuries of the joints, muscles and/or connective tissue. 

Stretching is important, especially if you are working with a sport dog. It is the opinion of the "experts" at the time of this writing that stretching should not be done until the muscles are warm however, so do some trotting or slope work for a couple of minutes first.

A good warm up before the main course of exercise or other activity, even mental challenges, will reduce injuries and create great workouts every time. When one talks about a warm-up before exercise, one literally means warming the muscles. Your dogs warm up will increase body temperature, increase neural activation, warm up the joints, and get the nerves ready to go. Warmth decreases stiffness and increases blood flow to the muscle. It also directly reduces pain.

The primary goal in cooling down the body is to promote recovery of the muscles by allowing for dissipation of waste products, such as lactic acid. During exercise, the degree of cardiac output, which is how much blood the heart pumps through the body, is substantial. A cool down following exercise allows for the muscles to continue contracting, while the cardiac output gradually declines. This ultimately helps prevent blood pooling in the muscles and subsequent tightness.

Walking a line of obstacles helps with:

• gait training, crawling exercises, cone weaving or jumping.
• coordination, balance, strength, endurance, proprioception, reflexes and gait.
• Encourages use of all four limbs.

These obstacles can be balance pads, rubber feeding tubs upside down, steppers, two by fours, cavaletti or old tires.

Confidence Building Games

A "target" is anything that the dog must focus on and perform some action towards. The way the dog targets the intended object is either by a nose touch, a paw touch, a look, a sniff, using other body parts and even turning away from the intended object. Turning away means the dog sees the object (eye target) but can't accept it yet. This is a good measuring stick with shy dogs. How are they now targeting that object / person / dog? Trust in you and what you're asking a dog to do is a major side effect of target training. You can teach a shy dog to target a hand in order to develop confidence with meeting new people.

You’ll want to start teaching this game somewhere that your dog feels safe – probably in your back yard. You’ll do it when he’s feeling calm and relaxed. Put the leash on him, and take a few steps. Then say “Escape!” in a cheerful voice, turn quickly, and start running.

The purpose is to change your dog’s behavior by changing the way he feels about what’s happening. Suddenly, the threat is forgotten, because he knows he’s going to play a fun game, and get a treat. He’s not escaping in terror; he’s just playing a confidence-building game – one that, coincidentally, happens to move him away from whatever is frightening him.

While doing Flowgility, your dog is not necessarily going to be frightened, but he will be wary of the obstacles and activities he is being asked to do. Teaching Escape! is one of the best ways to handle this.

The majority of spotting is a type I would call "assistive" which refers to the idea that the handler intends to touch the dog from the outset and that the handler and dog have a well choreographed spotting and performance duet that will be executed within rather narrow performance limits by both handler and dog. In most assistive hand spotting the handler manipulates (i.e., touches and partially supports) the dog throughout most or all of the skill in question.

This builds your dog's confidence that he won't fall or get injured.

Giving any animal control over the environment and his responses to it is rare in the training world. Reach and Withdraw is not 'training'. We create curiosity not conflict about the movements, sounds, and smells of prey. The resulting response seems to come from the dog knowing he can control the situation and the outcome, in Panksepp terms 'seeking not survival'. The goal in Reach and Withdraw is to change the dog's impulsive response to prey by giving him the most powerful reinforcer of all, choice, decision and control of his environment.

Using reach and withdraw methods the dog is in charge. The dog is allowed to remove himself from the trigger by simply moving away and seeking a better reward. Our dogs, born into this world as dogs, are built to interact with the environment in ways that may be unique to dogs. Is there anything more tragic than living one's life without ever having the opportunity to participate in activities you are not only capable of doing but are built to find highly reinforcing? Our job is to teach them how to gain those rewards without conflict and in a manner that humans find appealing.

Focus, like attention, should be self-directed. In other words the dog should be choosing to focus on you instead of being distracted by or scared by the objects in the environment.

Proprioception Games

Proprioception is more than just finding the rear end with a dog. Proprioception also means knowing where all your body parts are and even knowing the sound (name) associated with each part.

Proprioception also means being comformation with having all your body parts touched by your owner and by strangers you meet at the groomers. If you are a poodle or doodle and any breed with hair instead of fur that grows continually, you will need to see the groomer every 6 to 8 weeks!

In most cases, out pet dogs never really learn that they have a rear end, and especially don't learn that they can move it consciously and even independently from the front end.

Find the rear, moving the rear, even being able to target something with a specific paw is wonderful for your dog's confidence and flexibility.

Obstacle Games

Second hand sports store often have tons of balance pads and even foam boogie boards that are super inexpensive. Teaching Paws Up is easy when you first have a lower platform. These also show a dog that just because it moves under the feet, it's safe.

You can create quite the obstacle course with chairs, ottomans, broom handles and string. Ottomans and chairs also make a higher platform for doing paws up and teaching a dog that jumping on or in something is safe and fun.

Obstacles for a dog can be as simple as a line of soda cans filled with sand, or an elaborate setup of railroad ties, hay bales and boards. One of the simple ones we build is with PVC Pipe laid on the ground, or suspended with the ends into the holes of cement blocks.

Walls are everywhere. Many walls are just hanging out there is space, especially at parks. Walk The Wall is a great game for teaching balance, small space walking and confidence.

Walls do not have to be very high. You can use the curb at the side of the road or the parking bumps in a parking lot.

FlowGility is not the speedy game that Agility is, but you can still have slow, strenthening movements on basic agility equipment. And you don't have to stick with regulation size! The dog walk, tunnels, the seesaw, hoopers hoops and pause tables are great for FlowGility

Strange surfaces can be scary for a dog. In most cases, a pet dog has the house and the backyard. So they understand carpet, tile, and/or wood flooring. Outside it's grass, turf, rock, sand and even weeds. But once you start going on adventures the surfaces can be different that what the dog is use to.

Steel and other metal, grates and stairs with holes or slits, leaves, pebbles, even blacktop can be scary the first few times.

Set up a series of surfaces for your dog to walk on. You can use baby gates flat to the ground, tin foil wrapped around cardboard, a large piece of scratchy material, foam, and even a tiny water bed.

Puzzle Solving Games

There are many puzzles you can buy both online and in pet stores. Most of these puzzles are just interesting ways to feed your dog. Food is a great motivator, but not the best. Most of these puzzles can be duplicated without the price of store bought. Some ingenuity and spare materials can create puzzles for your dog to solve.

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Learn to repurpose anything! By doing it yourself (DIY) you can be sure that the lessons you wish to teach your dog are exact. You can find materials anywhere. Garage sales are great for buying cheap materials to make DIY puzzles with.

In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate, confusing structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, the monster eventually killed by the hero Theseus.

You don't need to build a maze as intricate as the one at Knossos. Start small and simple and build it up. Your dog can learn to think his way through the maze. 

There is a great new sport out there called Barn Hunt. The dog looks for PVC pipes that have live rats in them hidden throughout a pile of hay bales. Hay Bale Puzzles are a simple way of creating a maze and planting scent at strategic locations for the dog to find. Or you can place toys or food for new dogs getting used to searching. The hay bales offer a higher level of mobility and flexibility than a string or pvc pipe maze. The hay bales can be climbed and the dog can jump from one to another.

There are four games that I love the most that turn boxes into puzzles. You can create more, but I love these four.

Material Mountain in a Box
Russian Dolls (nested boxes with a prize inside)
Find Your Toy (toy in a box hidden in different rooms)
Yer In Yer Out (using a box, teaching the dog it's safe to go in and out of small spaces)

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