This journey of discovery is allowing me to discover that some things are NOT what I thought I knew they were.
How’s that for a convoluted sentence?
My dog is not all that excited about playing with me if there isn’t a toy involved.
This was a bit of a smack in the face. Phoenix is so insane about play with his toys, I figured it wouldn’t be any big deal to play with me when a toy was not in the picture. We’ve done a little no-toy play now and again but I’ve never tried to use it to any extent as a reward for a training session.
Which is sad, now that I stop and think about it. He’s always had tons of toys and we play tug and fetch and hide-and-go-seek with them. He’ll engage to tug just about anywhere and I thought THIS was play. It
is, and it builds wonderful energy that can carry over into our training, but wouldn’t it be awesome if he thought I was just as cool as a tug or a ball on a rope?
We went outside to train at home last night (between thunderstorms — I swear I should be building an ark in my spare time) and I decided to use ME as the reward a much higher percentage of the time versus letting him grab a toy and bring it to me to tug or chase.
Phoenix was quite lukewarm about this plan. He would bounce and do nose-touches when I asked. He would do the tricks I asked for. He chased me all over the yard when I ran. But the minute the interaction stopped, he either wanted to go to get a toy or he found something else to look at, sniff, etc.
This was totally not what I expected and definitely not what I wanted.
I wouldn’t say he doesn’t WANT to play with me. It’s more like he doesn’t know HOW, so he doesn’t find it all that rewarding and he doesn’t stay engaged with that “What’s next?” look in his eye.
While I’m disappointed that I’ve clearly missed connecting with him on a level that presents ME as the best thing available, it’s a good thing to finally come to terms with it and be able to start fixing this hole in our relationship and competitive foundation.
We’ll work at it. Sounds funny, doesn’t it, to work at playing? But since it’s not coming easily to either of us right now, it will take a bit of effort.
What else is new?