How To Break Your Dog’s Bad Habits Using Play

We’ve all got a few bad habits, and dogs are no exception. 

From running off and not coming when called, to stealing food off the table, chewing up shoes and furniture and excessive barking, behavioural problems are common in lots of dogs.

They can be frustrating to live with and make going out and about a chore. They can also stand in the way of successful training – so it’s time to get them ironed out.

At Tug-E-Nuff Dog Gear, we specialise in making motivational dog training toys that get results – and we design them all based on our years of experience at training dogs and helping break their bad habits.

We know that there is one trick that every dog owner has up their sleeve that can be the key to changing behaviour for the better: play. 

Play is absolutely essential, but it’s often overlooked. When we say play, we don’t just mean throwing a ball every now and again. We mean engaged, intense bursts of play with your dog that really gets them fired up and raring to go.

Why is play so important? 

Good quality play time improves bond, releases pent-up energy or frustration and gives you some crucial one-to-one time with your four-legged friend.

A dog that is well-stimulated is less likely to display destructive behavioural traits and, once your dog falls in love with play, it becomes the perfect reward for good behaviour (so you can utilise it as part of positive reinforcement training).

As our co-founder and training guru Matt Rouse puts it: ‘‘Playing games is a great way to enhance the relationship you share with your dog, and it’s crucial if you want to achieve training success.

‘Play is also helpful for effectively reinforcing good behaviour, both during training sessions and in everyday life, and helping iron out common behavioural issues.’

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What can I play?

Our number one go-to game with all our dogs, and the one which we see most success with, is tug-of-war.

The rules are simple. Choose a strong, well-designed Tug-E-Nuff toy that your dog will love (our range includes tuggies made with everything from real sheepskin to tennis balls and food bags, so you’re guaranteed to find a favourite). Your dog grabs on to one end, you grab on to the other, and you both pull.

Lots of dogs take to playing tug straight away. Some take a bit more persuading. If your dog is one of the latter, we recommend letting them have a good sniff, moving it around like prey (slow, then fast, then slow again) and switching quickly between two tug toys to spark their interest.

Although play is an important tool for breaking bad habits, remember, play should be just that – a fun time had by both you and your dog.

As Matt says: ‘You should play because you want to play and like to play – it shouldn’t be something you force as this just leads to frustration on both sides

‘Don’t forget that dogs are great at reading our body language and can sniff out a ‘faker’ a mile off. So when you play, make sure you’re playing for the right reasons and it’s genuine. This is when it is most effective.’

Got any tips of your own on using play to break bad habits? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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Sue - June 1, 2018

My old dog Bertie is passed now and missed still. He was very ill for a whole year as a puppy with campylobacter, he bled internally for almost that whole time.
While he was recovering he was attacked by a lot of other dogs, which made him go on the defensive, so that attack first became his motto.
I used to dread passing other dogs on the street and tried lots of different ways to stop him getting himself in a state, sometimes he would hurt his back from spinning on his lead.
The best way I found to stop this behaviour was to cover his eyes with my hand when I saw a dog/s approaching and stroke him gently down his back, this made him calm and helped me to be calm too. It was my own invention for him and it always worked. Bertie and I were very closed, and he was my funny guy when I was having hard times, He made me laugh every day. He lived to be 15 years old. A wonderful Border Terrier.

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