Using dog training games helps build Service Dog foundation skills without overwhelming young puppies or new Service Dog candidates. These bite-sized, upbeat training sessions allow lots of high-energy repetitions and practice. Even better, they fit into anyone’s schedule!
Dog Training Games: Proximity
Proximity dog training games build value to being around you, the handler and trainer. These games create a foundation for teaching recalls, heeling, and focus behaviors. For very young puppies, click and treat when they enter the space around you — your bubble.
Don’t worry about exact positions like heel or front. Reward proximity itself. Back up, move away, or sidestep so you get more opportunities to reward your puppy. In the beginning, click and treat every single step you take where your puppy remains in the bubble. Over time, your puppy will follow you and move with you for several steps at a time.
You want the puppy to move when you move and stop when you stop, all while remaining close. This kind of dog training game helps them see that their choices matter and that you’re an important part of their world. As your puppy gains experience, you can start to play Choose to Heel games.
To play Choose to Heel, you’ll click and treat every time your puppy comes into heel position on their own. As your puppy starts to offer the behavior more and more, introduce movement, turns, and other challenges. Keep sessions short, upbeat, and positive.
Service Puppy Training Games: Targeting
Targeting forms the foundation for dozens of Service Dog tasks. It’s also an extremely easy skill to teach young puppies. For beginning games, work on nose touches to your open or closed hand. Nose bumps to your fist offer a great place to start, although nose touches to an open hand let you use the skill to teach positions and other behaviors later. Click and treat the instant the puppy’s nose contacts your hand. Pretty soon, they’ll be taking several steps at a time and moving around you in order to find your hand and touch it.
Other forms of targeting games ask for paw touches or use objects like a targeting stick, cones, or mats. Always start close to the intended target. Work towards building distance to the behavior. As an example, your puppy might target a mat or cone right next to you. Next, they might move to it from a couple steps away. Eventually, they’ll be able to run to it from across the room. Set your puppy up for success. Only add more distance or distractions when they’ve proven they understand the behavior you’re seeking.
If you’re working on matwork or place training, this is a good opportunity to work duration and introduce a release cue. By introducing duration to behaviors early, you’ll build automatic “stays” into some of your puppy’s skills. Additionally, you’ll keep them from thinking that just because you’re not asking for something right now that they should be doing something.
Dog Training Games: Positions
Using training games to introduce puppies to basic obedience positions lets you get practice luring, capturing, and shaping all while building familiarity with every day skills. Work on sit, down, stand, sit pretty, bows and movement between them all. Click and treat successful positions and transitions. In the beginning, you’ll lure positions. Your lure turns into a hand signal. Don’t ask for too much too quickly!
Work each position independently before asking your puppy to move between positions. Introduce duration, distractions, and distance slowly. Keep the energy high and always let your puppy succeed.