Getting Personal

Ashley Sculac has been a long time student and has become an awesome dog trainer in her own right. She will be posting more regularly on NLD as she is a full team member, living and working here in Maine. Expect to see more content here from her!

A few months back, I wrote a blog titled “It’s Kinda Like Dating”… which, if you haven’t read it, you might want to read that first before proceeding…. Trust me, this will make a lot more sense to you.  I felt compelled to write this follow up blog, after having an awesome experience with my own dogs using what Jay refers to as “Personal Play”. I have been working with Jay and studying his work with dogs for over 3.5 years now…and I utilize all of his training with my own dogs— except personal play. In truth and being totally honest, I didn’t feel that I needed to, my dogs very much enjoyed tug, spring pole, weight pull, etc.  All of those activities and games, fulfilled them and at the end of a training session, they were exhausted. They loved food, and would do any amount of obedience to get a reward. So, in my mind it was not necessary…. .Why do I need to get on the ground and play fight with my dogs, or run away and engage in a playful game of “chase me”.  It wasn’t until about five days ago, I had brought something up to him after receiving a few questions on it from my own clients, and my entire outlook changed on personal play. What if you didn’t have a tug toy, a ball, or a bag full of treats? What if the dog in front of you didn’t particularly care for any of those things? How would you learn to develop a relationship? How in the world do you know what this dog is into?

It is no secret that I am very much into relationship centered/based training.  I think finding games or activities you can do WITH your dog are an excellent way to train for every day life and situations, it is very important.  Finding those activities that your dog enjoys is key….. and not the activities that YOU enjoy doing with them.. the things they really love. When talking about this idea of “personal play”, people assume you get on the ground and play fight or wrestle with your dog, push them around a little. Some dogs really enjoy that. They love that little bit of “fight”. For that brief moment in time… you are speaking the same language… OR are you?

This is where my experiences with my own dogs really helped me understand this, and changed my thought process. Now, I can’t believe I’ve been training my dogs WITHOUT personal play.  If anyone has been to one of Jay’s seminars, you have probably heard him talk about the aspects of play. All of those aspects play a HUGE role in personal play, and it is up to you to learn what your dog likes. One dog may enjoy the idea of a little “fight”, while another is solely into some stalking or chasing. Finding the right combination can be a total game changer, and it was for me. Your game will and should look different than mine. With my own personal dogs, one LIVES for the chance to “fight”. I know that because I’ve observed her play with other dogs, watched her pull over 2000lbs of block down a weight pull chute.  The thing that turns her on most, is a rough and tough play style, some conflict. Why not teach her to play with me like that? When we remove all toys and external motivators… it will be just her and I.  After a solid game of 20 minutes rolling around and fighting with her… she was so content…. not just “tired”.

I know that “play” is an important part of training, a vital component to how a dog can learn- not the only way…but the most natural way in my eyes. It only makes sense that you can achieve many things through personal play.  In the short time I’ve been incorporating it into my own training, I can tell you specifically what my dogs enjoy. Not the things I do with them, but the things that truly excite them. I can get a feel for what is “too” much, and how much more they can handle. It’s also been an excellent way for me to teach them fluency between arousal and a more calm mental state.  Many people often think that it will teach the dog to bite harder, or its acceptable to run and jump on you or other people. IF that’s the game you want, then sure…. But, remember… it is a game. All games have rules… football, basketball, ping pong are played in accordance to the rules and boundaries.  Personal Play is no different.

If you haven’t already done so, you should try it out. I bet your dog wont be the only one who is happy….. ..things should start getting pretty personal.

– Ashley Sculac

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