Monday, August 7, 2023

Train Smarter With Games

Training Smarter, Not Harder with Games & Puzzles

When people come to their first session at the Yooper Paws Training Center, they are often surprised by our training style. I hear things like, "This is so much fun!" "This is so easy!" "All we do is play games!?!?" As positive reinforcement based trainers, we want to teach dogs what TO Do vs what NOT to Do. Playing games based on teaching skills and concepts allows us to heavily reinforce the behaviors we want. If we use reinforcement the dog wants, getting behaviors becomes much easier. Teaching in a way that both owner and dog have fun, makes learning so much easier. For those who are not familiar with Games & Concepts Based Training let me break it down a bit.

Watch this Movement Puzzle with Azul

Movement Puzzles are designed to reinforce skills we want our dogs to be good at while teaching concepts that can be applied to life skills.

In this puzzle all Azul has to do is put his front paws on the trampoline and return for a treat. I start by standing really close to the trampoline and using hand targets to guide Azul back and forth. Once Azul has the idea, I slowly back away from the trampoline. This is to teach the concept of sending the dog out to do a job and returning to their handler once the job is done, creating long distance work.

This is Azul's first time doing this puzzle so he's moving pretty slow, but with a few sessions he will start to build up some speed.

For dogs that find speed and movement reinforcing, the game becomes so fun that they don't even realize they are learning.

Here is Roz doing the same puzzle.

Roz has done 4-5 sessions already so I can build distance and speed much faster with her. I can also slow down my rate of reinforcement faster with her because she already knows and loves the game.

Games based dog training allows us to repeat behaviors without acting like a drill sergeant or forcing a dog to do something they don't want to do. We can play the game using body language to guide the dog to the behavior we are after without giving any cues. Then once the behavior is well known we can associate a verbal cue to request the behavior. By training this way, we avoid punishment when our dog struggles doing a behavior they are still learning. We can reinforce a behavior that's almost correct and slowly shape that behavior to the skill level we want.

Since learning this way is fun for both owner and dog, they are more likely to practice by playing the games between sessions. And your dog trainer can always tell if you've practiced or not!

Let Yooper Paws of Love or the Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches help you learn how to set up puzzles to train the skills you want your dog to have! Email us at

Continue to Post 2 in the Games Series to learn about helping distracted & fearful dogs with games.

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