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Pattern Games for Confidence Building

Updated: 4 days ago


 Transforming Your Dog with Fun Predictable Games


Pattern games are reliable and straightforward training activities to engage your dog and reduce arousal, excitement, or anxiety. We discussed the significance of counter conditioning, desensitization, and offering your dog an alternative response when faced with specific triggers. Incorporating pattern games into your training regimen can address all these aspects for your dog in an enjoyable and efficient manner, fostering a stronger bond in the process.


Remember, as with any training, it's crucial to introduce the games in a setting free from triggers and gradually introduce distractions before the pattern games can effectively work around triggers.


My client's primary challenge with their reactive, excited, or fearful dogs is the unpredictability of triggers or the training environment itself. In contrast, pattern games offer a high level of predictability, aiding in reducing fear and anxiety in uncertain situations.


Dogs that engage in these pattern games develop muscle memory, finding comfort in the predictability and fun of the games rather than reacting to unpredictable triggers or surroundings. This shift encourages dogs to avoid unpredictable triggers and actively participate in enjoyable, structured games with you.


Over time, these games improve focus, reduce fear, and lessen anxiety related to triggers. They help dogs associate positive experiences with their fears, offering an alternative response to triggers. Dogs learn that interacting with you through play is more enjoyable and rewarding than reacting to stimuli.


Types of Pattern Games:


Let's dive into a world of doggy games that are more fun than a squirrel chase! From the "Look at That Game" to the "Nose Boop Game," these activities will have your furry friend engaged and tail-wagging in no time. Get ready to level up your pup's training game with these pawsitively entertaining exercises!



The Watch and Observe Game:



-This game allows your dog to observe triggers without getting too close to them and reacting.


-When playing this game in public, ensure you maintain a greater distance from triggers, preferably in a calm area of the park.


-The objective is to gradually decrease the distance to triggers.


-To play, when your dog observes a trigger, say “YES” and reward by tossing a treat for them to forage and relax by using their nose.


-Reactive dogs often focus visually on triggers, neglecting their sense of smell.


-Encouraging them to use their nose by foraging helps in processing triggers better.


-Using the cue “find it” can also be beneficial.





The Look and Look Away Game:


-Start by practicing this game in a stress-free environment, far from triggers.


-Allow your dog to look at something interesting, like a squirrel, and reward when they naturally look away.


-Avoid trying to force the dog to look away; wait for them to do so on their own.


-Reward their disengagement with a “YES” and a treat/toy, encouraging quicker disengagement.



The Look at THAT, Now Look at ME Game:




-Engaging with your dog can be challenging when distractions are present.


-Begin with plenty of practice on the second game and maintain distance from triggers.


-Encourage your dog to look up at you naturally, mark, and reward this engagement.


-Once your dog offers engagement, introduce a cue, such as their name or “Focus”.


-Practice this game in various environments with different triggers, gradually decreasing the distance to triggers while maintaining engagement.


-If your dog stops engaging and becomes reactive, move further away to stay below the threshold.



1-2-3 GET IT Game:



-Transitioning from the previous games, you are now focusing on managing your dog's triggers. The unpredictable nature of triggers can pose a significant challenge. Your dog might remain calm around some dogs a few feet away but react strongly when they are far off. When you notice your dog becoming tense and fixating on a trigger, this game can be beneficial.


-Start by associating the cue "three" with a positive outcome, indicating that food is on its way. Practice saying "three" and rewarding with food. The objective is that when you observe your dog tensing up, you count "one..two..three" and provide food. By engaging in this structured game, your dog will learn to release tension and shift focus by sniffing around or engaging with you upon hearing "3".


-For dogs motivated by play, you can also incorporate a toy. If you notice your dog fixating on a trigger as they approach, introduce the 1-2-3 game and redirect their attention with an enjoyable game of tug-of-war or a quick game of fetch. This positive association with triggers can help change your dog's response towards them.




The Nose Boop Game:



-For dogs that are fearful or reactive, a useful exercise involves teaching them the "Touch" command. In this activity, they are rewarded for booping your hand with their nose. This simple yet effective cue can help redirect your dog's attention when they are anxious or need to refocus.


-The versatility of this game makes it beneficial in various situations. It can be employed for engagement, like the "look at that, look away" game, to prevent distractions. For instance, if your dog is distracted by a scent and ignores your recall command, instead of repeating yourself, introduce a fun redirecting cue like "Touch". Hounds, especially, have a strong sense of smell and following scents can make recalls challenging. However, through the engaging touch game, you can become more captivating than the environment.


-Incorporating movement and ensuring it is enjoyable are essential. Moreover, for nervous dogs hesitant to follow commands like sit or down, this redirection cue can be extremely valuable. The game can also improve lure training by enhancing their response to hand gestures.



Leave-it then Retrieve-it Game:






-Some pet owners struggle with reactivity issues at home, making it seem challenging to address this behavior outside of familiar surroundings. To tackle this, it's crucial to first work on the reactivity within the home or yard before expecting improvements in real-world situations. Does your dog bark excessively at passing objects outside your window? This can be a significant issue, especially in high-traffic neighborhoods. Does your dog react strongly to the mailman, delivery people, or guests entering your home?


-This self-rewarding behavior can be difficult to overcome, as the trigger (such as the mailman) eventually leaves after the dog reacts to it. If your puppy tends to dash out the door when food deliveries arrive, this game can help redirect your puppy from the trigger or the door/window.


-To play this game, you can use the cue "find it" to redirect the reactivity. Alternatively, using a button-operated treat dispenser can be more effective.

Barking is a natural behavior, and while an alert bark is appreciated, excessive barking should be addressed not only for your peace of mind but also to help your dog respond better to triggers. Yelling at your dog for barking may lead to increased fear of triggers, as they associate your yelling with the presence of triggers. If your dog approaches the window/door and starts barking, simply say “find it” and scatter treats away from the trigger area to move them away from the threshold, redirecting their reactivity while also providing positive reinforcement around triggers. As your dog improves, add a recall command away from the window/door, then say "find it".




-Using a button-operated treat dispenser can enhance this game's convenience and effectiveness. Teach your dog that when the button is pressed, treats are dispensed. Place the dispenser a good distance away from the triggering door or window, so they have to physically move and turn away from the area. Start at a closer distance and gradually increase it as they understand the game.

-If your dog is barking, push the button of the treat dispenser, and your dog should look and go retrieve the reward. This method changes the mindset of obsessive barking by interrupting it with a positive reinforcement. If you are using this to move away from windows, ensure a way to block your dog's view of the windows when you cannot address the behavior.

-Does your dog rush to the door when it rings? You can also utilize this device for door manners. Before opening the door for a delivery, push the button to prevent your puppy from rushing out.



Look at that-come get me game:



-Similar to the other games, this activity helps redirect your dog from fixating on triggers. When you notice your dog focusing on a trigger, observe changes in their body language. Before reacting, they may stop panting, become still, lean forward, and intensely focus. Before this escalates into reactivity, move away to create distance from the trigger. Dogs are drawn to movement, making this game effective on a longline. When your dog moves away from the trigger and engages with you, reward them generously with food, play, or affection. Gradually approach the trigger, rewarding them as they maintain composure, but avoid getting too close to prevent a reactive response.


-This game can also be beneficial for addressing in-home reactivity. If your dog reacts to someone passing by the window, move back or run the opposite way, encouraging them to follow. If they remain fixated, create engagement by clapping or making a noise, then move away.

-This game can also be helpful if your dog escapes the house and runs into the neighborhood. Rather than chasing them, which can turn into a game for the dog, have them chase you instead.



Now that you have some fun games to play, get to it and remember to have fun with the process!

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