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Dog Sport Skills, Book Three: Play


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What’s It About?

Play is a hugely important tool when it comes to training the performance dog. Not only does it generate the energy, enthusiasm, and engagement that form the basis of motivation, it also provides much needed stress relief, and helps to cement and strengthen a working bond with your dog.

In the highly anticipated third book in the “Dog Sports Skills” series, authors Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones this time turn their attention to this hot topic. They explain what play is and how to understand the most appropriate play methods for your dog, also providing a wide range of play options to try, with many different ways to use toys, food, physical interaction, and movement. They examine games such as tug and fetch, offering detailed problem solving advice as well as noting its value as a motivator, and how it can be best developed. They also consider the impact of play on temperament, with a whole chapter devoted to the high drive dog.

Book number three lives up to the very hand standard set by the previous two books, both winners of the Maxwell Award for Book of the Year, and fans of the series will not be disappointed. This is a fantastic addition which is sure to broaden your understanding of a crucial element of training performance dogs.

Fenzi and Jones begin by explaining good play is not measured by the techniques you use, but rather the amount of enjoyment it generates between you and your dog. They continue to explain that each trainer and dog is unique, which means that what works for one dog won’t necessarily work for others. Fenzi and Jones discuss the dog’s natural play style, the importance of not overwhelming your dog with enthusiasm, and how to take a fun test to determine whether your dog is playing for fun, or because you insist. They also consider your own preferences and what to do if your dog doesn’t like to play.

Chapter two focuses on the concept, locus of control, meaning the source of control. Fenzi and Jones explain that during many of the games in this book, the source of control will come from the outside and we encourage the dog to fight for the motivator and abandon self-control. They then answer the question ‘is internal control or external control better?’ first explaining how both forms work. Fenzi and Jones conclude that the ideal performance dog needs to develop balance – forward drive and determination with exactly the right amount of self-control to create a ‘spring effect’, elaborating on how to achieve this. They continue by showing us how individual games can be modified to achieve either drive or self-control.

Chapter three concentrates on mechanical skills, art and play, all of which need to be mastered in order for you to become an effective and efficient trainer. Fenzi and Jones first explain what mechanical skills are, and how to perfect them; practice makes perfect. They then move on to the intersection of skill and art, giving an example of how mechanical skills are linked to the art of training, before continuing to discuss three factors affecting play; intensity, proximity and duration.

In chapter four, Fenzi and Jones provide us with an introduction to tug games, first discussing the controversy surrounding this subject. They then look in further detail at what tug games consist of, and why it can result in conflict, also discussing the relationship between drive and tug, as well as some of the benefits.

Chapter five looks at tug toy selection. Fenzi and Jones examine why toy selection matters, as well as providing us with ideas for toys for building drive, toys for training, toys for hard biters and toys for soft biters.

Chapter six moves on to building tug drive. The authors explain that teaching a dog to tug is a matter of developing his prey drive, providing a strategy to do this. They also consider how to develop your skills, advising practising playing without your dog at first.

Chapter seven continues with advice on switching to training toys. Fenzi and Jones explain the reasons why it is important for the dog to move from a drive building toy to a training toy.

In Chapter eight, the authors focus on the tug release, an important lesson in order to avoid conflict. They show us how to teach the two toy game, the switch game and a release, as well as giving tips on teaching the highly driven dog.

Chapter nine is a problem solving section for tug. Fenzi and Jones provide ideas to overcome typical challenges encountered in tug games, such as the dog lacking interest in new places, not wanting to bite the toy, not wanting to return to the handler and biting hands.

Chapter ten moves on to the high drive dog, and Fenzi and Jones begin with some basic survival strategies. They examine the relationship between high drive, arousal, fear and aggression, giving advice on socialisation, appropriate toy training and teaching calm behaviour for this type.

In chapter eleven Fenzi and Jones concentrate on fetch, another great game that can be useful in training. They explain why we play fetch, as well as how to teach it, including advice on choosing your fetch object, developing interest, the retrieve and teaching the release.

Chapter twelve is a problem solving section for fetch games, addressing common problems such as the dog having no interest in the ball, lack of retrieve, running away with the object and being slow to return to the handler.

Chapter thirteen provides an introduction to personal play, explaining that this is a form of play that occurs just between you and your dog with no toys, balls or food. Fenzi and Jones add why they believe it to be so important.

Chapter fourteen continues with teaching and learning personal play. Fenzi and Jones show us how to use the senses to create a make-believe version of hunting.

Chapter fifteen considers advanced personal play. Fenzi and jones discuss movement games, touch games and play as personal approval.

In chapter sixteen Fenzi and Jones give us guidance on problem solving personal play, with advice on what to do if the dog has no interest or plays too rough.

Chapter seventeen examines food play. The authors consider food as one of the most popular motivators for many performance trainers, explaining how food play is distinctly different from using food in training. They provide us with a number of reasons why we should use food play, when it should be used, as well as ideas for treats.

Chapter eighteen provides us with some examples of food games, organised by type into three sections; moving games, fighting games and hunting games.

Chapter nineteen focuses on problem solving food play, overcoming problems such as low food drive and too much food drive.

Finally, in chapter twenty, Fenzi and Jones conclude by explaining that although play seems like a simple concept, good play is not as easy to achieve as one might think – the reason they have decided to write an entire book on the topic!

As the authors explain: ‘Each book in this series is more than a stand-alone resource. They are pieces of a puzzle that will eventually weave into a tapestry of concepts, ideas, and applications that create both excellence in training and a very deep respect for, and understanding of, another living creature.’


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