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Tools of the Trade

I’ll start first with what is needed for playing these games.

1. A dog

2. A human

3. Food

4. Toys

5. Secure space

For about 10% of the games you’ll need:

1. Collar

2. Leash

3. Bowls

4. Crate or X-Pen

5. A helper human

Occasionally you’ll need specialty equipment:

1. Cardboard boxes

2. Platforms of some kind

3. Boards of all sizes

4. PVC pipe of all lengths and sizes

5. Some type of upright like a traffic cone or an agility weave pole

6. Hula hoops or an old hose to mark off a circular area

Scavenging through the free section on Craig’s List or frequenting garage sales will garner you most of what you’ll need.

Most of these games require only you and your dog and a secure space to work in. Nothing else is required. For those games asking for food or toys, they are mostly interchangeable depending on your dog. Some dogs are food motivated some aren’t, not even when the food is being used as a distraction. Some dogs don’t play with toys or do naked play with just the human. I had one dog who from 3 months old until 11 months at which point she passed her PhD in Canine Life and Social Skills, only wanted to be able to lick her owners face. She did not want food or play of any kind.

Structured game training is not about control, it is not about perfection or even really about obedience. It is about teaching a dog the rules of living with you, getting his understanding of those rules and his willing compliance.

Self-control is much more important than the human control of “obedience”. Most methods of training are about controlling the dog; ensuring that the dog does what you ask, when you ask and how you ask him to do it. Most of those methods also use some form of avoidance to achieve a level of control over the dog and have fanciful and complicated tools to create this control. Those tools generally deliver to the dog pain or discomfort that must be avoided. The dog learns how to avoid what the tools deliver by doing the actions you “command”.

So what is not needed for playing these games – ever:

 1.Prong collars – their purpose is to stop behavior, to stop movements we don’t like. When playing games we are encouraging behaviors, especially behaviors involved in gaining reinforcement according to the rules of the game. When playing games we are not out to stop our dogs from doing anything.

2.Pinch collars – see prong collars.

3.Shock collars (also known as remote trainers, estim, stimulation collars, ForceFree™ method, e-collars, training collars, e-touch collars). Same goes for shock collars as with prong collars. The intention of these devices are to “stop” not to “encourage”.


5.“Dominance” collars

6.Choke collars

7.Slip collars or slip leads

8.Head halters, especially those that clip under the chin as the chance of injury is great. Your dog will be playing, which implies movement and in many of the games that movement can be intense. A head halters would only restrict that movement.

9.Front clip harnesses or other harnesses that restrict the natural movements of a dog

10.Clickers - I include clickers not because I feel they are “bad”, they are just unnecessary as each game has as part of its components the environmental cues, the reinforcement and in many cases a “bridge” to say “you’re done, come get your reward”.