Playing Charades with Your Dog
Charades for dogs you say? Let me tell you how to play a very fun game with your dog!
I like playing games with my dogs. Retrieving games are fun and good exercise; teaching tricks is both amusing and great for developing communication and training skills. I also vary the games we play. Doing different things keeps life fun, interesting, and challenging for both myself and my dogs.
Copy Cat Charades
One activity for dogs that I love is something I call the “charades game.” This game for dogs and owners really isn’t true charades, at least not as people play it. Your dog isn’t going to be guessing (and verbalizing!) what you’re portraying. Instead, this is more like a game of “copy-cat” and the challenge is communicating with your dog that you’d like him to do what you’re doing.
One of the easiest things to do initially is to hold your hand, palm upward, in front of your dog slightly below his nose height. If he touches it with his nose, don’t do a thing. Not giving a response will let him know that is not what you were asking for. However, if he places his paw up against your hand, praise him with a “Yeah!” and pop a treat in his mouth. (If you use a clicker with your training, that’s fine, too-just be sure to click the instant his paw touches your hand.)
In this game, timing is of utmost importance. You must click or praise to mark the action you want at the instant that action occurs. If you need to break the action down into steps, that’s OK…but again, be ready to mark the action as it occurs.
You are not naming these actions or positions, as this is not trick training where you’re asking your dog to perform something. Instead, you want your dog to copy what you’re doing.
A Few Suggestions for Dog Charades
When your dog will touch your hand with his paw with no additional cues from you, try a few more actions. Start with simple ones first and then move on to more complicated behaviors. If your dog is having trouble with one, skip it and go on to something else.
Initially your dog may just watch you or will try and bounce or jump on you. Feel free to encourage him to join you-just stay away from words such as “sit” or “down” that might be understood as commands.
- Downward-Facing Dog: Start on your hands and knees, then lower the front half of your body into the equivalent of a human/dog play bow. You can pat (or slap) your hands on the ground in front of you as you assume this position.
- Lie Face Down: Being lying down on your tummy with your face to your dog. You can put your arms under your head or chin. As with Downward-Facing Dog, you can slap your hands on the ground as you move into the position.
- On Your Back: Lie on your back with your arms and hands in a comfortable position.
- Roll Over. Lie on the floor in the face-down position and roll over onto your back, then return to the face down position.
- Wiggle Like a Snake: While lying face down, move forward on the floor by wiggling like a snake. This is great fun when your dog is by your side and you wiggle forward together. Anyone watching will think you’ve lost your mind!
- Spin in a Circle: Unlike the trick “spin in a circle,” this one requires you to spin in a circle with your dog moving around you on the outside. Start by standing upright and simply turn in a circle. Encourage your dog to walk around the circle with you. When he’s doing it, speed up your spin.
- Spin the Other Way: Try repeating the previous action but moving in the other direction.
- Marching in Place: While standing up, lift one foot and move it slightly forward towards your dog. When your dog places his paw on your foot, mark that action. When he’s doing it reliably, then do it two or three times one after another. Finally, introduce the other foot and his other front paw. Eventually you will be working towards a marching action.
Use your imagination and come up with more great ideas. What else can you do that your dog can copy?
Dog Charades is Fun… Keep It Fun!
This copy-cat type of game is not foreign to dogs; puppies and young dogs mimic what adult dogs do all the time. However, we typically get stuck in a teacher/student rut with our dogs: we tell them what to do and they do what we tell them. This game is a fun way to let your dog think, study, and then copy you.
Don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t understand what’s going on in the beginning. Just smile, vary your actions or body language, and use motions or hand signals to help the two of you communicate. When he tries to do something – anything – at this point, mark that action and reward him.
Stop these session before you and/or your dog gets frustrated. Remember, playing charades with your dog should be fun for you both.