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 ARTICLES > Puppies > Puppies: Play as Behaviour Therapy
  Puppies  Article:
Article By: Daniel Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D.       

Daniel Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D.


Copyright ABA, Inc.

Joanne has a four-month old Labrador retriever named Sammy that jumps up on her and her children, nips at their clothes and barks and runs at them constantly. An evaluation of Sammy revealed that he wasn’t being purposefully aggressive – he was just out of control in his play with them. We see many dogs like Sammy that don’t seem to know how to control themselves around people. It seems that what Sammy and these other dogs need is to learn how to play!

This is not as strange as it may seem. At a conference of applied animal behaviourists we attended last week, Karen London, Ph.D. of Dog’s Best Friend, Black Earth, Wisconsin,

discussed the value of play as a part of the treatment for some problem dogs. She pointed out that play has many benefits for animals including providing physical and mental exercise, teaching basic manners, teaching dogs how to pay attention to people and teaching boundaries for their behaviour. By teaching dogs how to play appropriately, they can learn important lessons that can carry over to non-play situations such as basic manners and boundaries in interacting with people. Joanne can teach Sammy not to mouth and nip at people, not to jump up or to launch himself at people and not to steal things that aren’t given to him by teaching him specific games that promote appropriate behaviour and discourage inappropriate behaviour.

Dogs can be taught not only how to play but also when to play and who to play with. Joanne can work with Sammy to teach him specific signals that tell him when he can play with the family and when play is finished. She can also work with Sammy and the children to teach them games that are appropriate for them and to teach Sammy the rules for playing with children. These rules will need to be different than those for playing with larger adults. In some households with small children and very physical dogs, it may be that play between the children and dog should not happen at all until the children are older and the dog is better behaved.

Dogs can be taught a variety of social games such as fetching a ball or object, hide and seek, finding a hidden treat, and finding and bringing a specific toy or object. Each type of play has it’s own value and benefits. Dogs can be taught and encouraged to play with other dogs or even with other animals in the household such as cats, as long as limits and boundaries are taught as well. Dogs also should be taught how to play by themselves. They can be encouraged to toss and catch balls or other toys, or to play with puzzle toys such as objects that contain food treats. Play not only enriches our lives with our dogs but can be used as a way to help deal with problem behaviours.

This short article were written by Daniel Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. Certified Applied Animal Behaviourists. They were first published in the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, CO. Any reproduction of or quotation from any of these articles must cite both the authors and the Rocky Mountain News.

8a) Puppy Socialization Classes:

All classes below are given by TTouch Practitioners or Practitioners in Training and incorporate TTouch in the Handling of puppies.

  • Bedfordview/ Edenvale/Linksfield/Orange Grove: Puppy Starter Session -One private session with comprehensive booklet; Contact Scotty on 011 882 2418 (h); 082 928 0102 or scotty@scottysdogs.co.za

  • Riverclub Vet in Parkmore on Saturday mornings with Puppy 1 and Puppy 2 classes. Niki Elliott 082 451 0433 or niki@thinkingpets.com

  • Bryanston on Wednesday evening, Thursday morning and Saturday afternoons for Puppy 1, 2 and Advanced Open classes. Private sessions on request. Niki Elliott 082 451 0433 or niki@thinkingpets.com

  • Gordon’s Bay: Puppy Classes for pups under 4 months. On-going: new every 6 weeks. Claire Grobbelaar 021 856 5886 or 082 784 7524 Claire.g@mweb.co.za

  • Heidelberg: Jordaanpark, contact Ilze van der Walt: zafira.ilze@webmail.co.za or 082 921 4448

  • Lyndhurst, Gresswold, Bramley, Kew, Waverley Area:  Puppy Socialising, 6 Week courses on Sundays. Nicky Lucka 083-408-1517 lucka@absamail.co.za

  • Oaklands, JHB: Puppy Socializing Tersia Kock 082 828 0505 tkock@telkomsa.net

  • Parkwood: Puppy Classes, 6 Week courses Tersia Kock 082 828 0505 tkock@telkomsa.net

  • Cape West Coast - Langebaan: Puppy 1 Classes. Adult classes. Private Sessions on request. Wendy Wilson – overthemoon@iafrica.com 083 336 1761.



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