I recently had the privilege of working with a dog/handler team that had particularly good interpersonal play skills. Without using food or toys, this handler could engage her dog for several minutes at a time. Further, she could then ask the dog to work for her in this engaged state, which allowed her to space out her food rewards significantly. I was impressed because I consider “interpersonal play” to be a strong indicator of trust and mutual enjoyment between dog and handler – simply you and a dog interacting with no intermediary. I work hard to get to this point with my dogs, and it’s one the most difficult things I do in training.
Imagine my surprise when this same team was criticized soon thereafter for showing “no relationship” in a training situation. The trainer’s explanation was that the handler could not play tug with her dog for extended periods of time, and this indicated a “relationship problem”.
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Robin's Note: My favorite comment in this article rings so true: "The moments you spend training, playing, and living together – these build your relationship. If your dog interacts with you only because you provide food, toys or freedom, then I’d argue that you do not have a relationship; you have a dependency."
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