Day 57 Rollercoaster Games

Welcome to Day 57 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!

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Rollercoaster Games

At a glance:

  • games, interactions and activities that bring your dog up, then down, then up, then down….
  • applied to games you play with your dog, activities, outings and your dog’s entire day
  • cognitive based enrichment
  • while children can be great dog trainers, be safe with today’s challenges – we will be getting dogs pretty excited and that can sometimes be an inappropriate and unsuitable situation for children to be in
    Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
  • sessions will vary in duration, but for the most part, play sessions should be brief; a few minutes at a time

What do you need?

  • favourite toys such as tug toys, ropes, tennis balls
  • food rewards – you can use your dog’s regular food, a training mix, commercial treats, home prepared treats such as cut up meats, cheese, vegetables or homemade treats such as liver or tuna cake

We will talk about human-dog play throughout this program, and one of the first lessons in learning to play with toys, with humans attached, is to teach the dog to release the toy so that the game can continue!
We want to be able to use a word to ask for an item to be released, whether that’s a toy or a ‘stolen’ item.

We introduced release cue exercises on Day 2. Have a release cue that’s relatively reliable will help with many of today’s challenges.

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Enrichment Goals:

  • to help dogs develop skills improving their ability to calm themselves after excitement and cope with stress
  • to improve the dog’s ability to deal with excitement and exciting situations
  • to encourage more appropriate toy play between dog and human
  • to build that bond between dog and human
  • to have a fun and rewarding experience in social situations, between dogs and humans

Today’s challenges will involve some training aspects, but you don’t have to engage in formal ‘training’ if you would prefer – Rollercoaster Games can be played as part of daily life too.

While training exercises certainly fall into the cognitive enrichment category, they can provide so much more.

Providing dogs with cues allows for a complex level of communication between two species; you are merely requesting that the dog perform behaviour and that request comes with a contract. Respond appropriately to this signal and rewards are coming your way. That’s the deal…that’s what being a good teacher is about – keeping your word and making it easy for your dog to train you.

This forges the most healthy of relationships between our two species. This is a level of social enrichment that’s tricky to replicate.

When we talk about enrichment being enriching, this is never more clear than when we start to teach behaviours intentionally. It’s the human’s job to set the dog up for success by making sure the behaviour is doable and that rewards are fast-flowing.

There’s no test at the end of this and you and your pet are not under any pressure. Learn to enjoy the time together, whether you achieve the goal behaviour or not. That’s what’s enriching here…the social and cognitive outlets such exercises provide (for both species).

What goals can you add to this list for your pets?

How can we achieve these goals?

  • work with toys or other rewards that your dog enjoys
  • keep it simple and split behaviour – reward approximations toward the final behaviour, rather than hoping that your dog will offer the goal behaviour quickly
  • take your time and work in many short sessions
  • try for 30 seconds at a time, 5-10 rewards each session, and then take a break
  • plan each session – what behaviours are you looking for and rewarding?
  • watch the clips and try out the exercise
  • portion out your dog’s daily food and allot some for training exercises

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  • make a training mix by adding in something yummier and leaving it all to ‘cook’ together in the fridge; the smells will mingle, harder foods will soften a little, and everything will become more valuable

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  • remember to adjust your pet’s diet accordingly to accommodate the extra calories from treats added, where relevant
  • split your food rewards into little bowls with just the right number of rewards in each bowl so that you are ready to go; stick bowls of rewards in places where you may need to teach and reward behaviours so that you have rewards ready to go

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If you are feeding wet or fresh foods, cut up small or mash to a paste and present on a wooden spoon or spatula. Alternatively you can freeze in small ice cube trays or a pyramid baking tray so that you can use small portions and individual treats.

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What adjustments will you make for your pets?

Applications of Rollercoaster Games:

Life can be pretty exciting for dogs, and play even more so. When our dog gets excited, regardless of the source, the dog’s stress systems are engaged.

Stress isn’t all bad and really just refers to a challenge the body must deal with. Excitement is one way the body can do that – hones a dog’s focus, increases their heart and respiratory rate, gets them activated and moving around. None of this is bad.

But being in this state for extended periods is no fun. That can become distressing, the bad type of stress, and even lead to effects relating to chronic stress.

The excited dog’s body is preparing to cope with physical and behavioural challenge and when we expose them to exerting and exciting events simultaneously or one after another, they don’t have time to recover from being all wound up.

The stress systems that activate the body, causing excitement, is balanced by an opposing system that brings everything back down and between the two animals can wind up and calm down, over and over again.

When we engage our dogs in activity, especially exerting, arousing, repetitive, intense activity, like repetitive fetch games or group dog-dog play, we may be contributing to problems in a couple of ways.

Our dog is associating this feeling and need for excitement with specific situations, individuals or goings on leading to this stress response being elicited earlier and earlier, across more situations, and becoming more established.

This heightened state of stress causes physiological conditions  that are essentially addictive; in humans we call these people “adrenaline junkies”. Canine adrenaline junkies, just like their human counterparts, may put themselves in situations where they can get their fix. And they need a bigger, harder hit every time.

This means these dogs are up and up and up and up, and may find it more difficult to come back down, to inhibit their behaviour, to respond to instruction or social etiquette, and may be living in a constant stress bubble.

The more the dog engages in such activities the more their baseline, for calm, is raised and they find it difficult to settle or calm themselves, they might be on edge, they might lose it quickly and easily, they might be over-active.

Rollercoaster Games are not about stopping activity or even preventing excitement, because where’s the fun in that (?), but instead, they are about helping prime our dogs’ stress systems to engage and relax, engage and relax. This helps our dog develop skills that allows them calm themselves more efficiently after getting wound up.

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Enrichment Options

We can help our dogs live a Rollercoaster Life, facilitating calm after crazy. With lots of practice, especially for puppies and adolescents, this will become a way of life and your dog will learn to seek out calming activities to help him bring himself down.

Rollercoaster Days

Think of your dog’s entire day as a rollercoaster.

List all the things that bring your dog up.

This might include greeting him in the morning, preparing his breakfast, going outside to toilet and potter, you leaving him, you returning, the postman or passers-by, a neighbour dog barking, a cat visiting, the doorbell, seeing his lead, getting out for a walk, seeing other dogs, smelling the smells, playing fetch, fetch, fetch, fetch, fetch…

How much time does the dog get to recover from each upward swing?

What behavioural outlets are available to help him come down?

Making calm happen:

  • nobody calms down when they are told to be calm….(the normal response to instruction, from others, to calm down, is to respond “I AM CALM!”)
  • have locations and contexts that are associated with chilling out
  • engage the dog in calming activities such as sniffing, chewing, lapping

How can you inject some calm after arousing events?

  • sniffing is a great intermediate activity between being full on and getting to calm
    Bring the dog to a smelly spot, cueing the dog to sniff, tossing some food for sniffing, set up a snufflemat or snuffle puzzles.
  • chewing and lapping help dogs settle and bring themselves down at a number of different levels
    Make a lined or stuffed Stuffable available after an exciting or exerting interaction or situation.
    Have a range of chewables availalbe for your dog so that they can seek that out when they feel the need.
  • be calm
    The temptation, when our dogs are crazy, is to crank up the activity and attempt to run it out of them. While physical exhaustion may sound like the key to happiness and a quiet life, really that’s probably going to contribute to further craziness.
    Slowing your movements, lowering your voice, speaking quietly will help your dog calm too.
  • let them get the crazy out
    Don’t try to stifle the craziness. Offer your dog calmer choices, but do let them choose. Sometimes they need to work through the crazy cycle to be able to choose a calmer option.
  • don’t try to force it
    Remember, nobody calms down just because they are told to! Calming needs to come from the inside so the dog must get there, with our help rather than coercion. By providing outlets for calming, making them clearly available and making it easy for your dog to choose them.
  • identify crazy situations and do your best to reduce your dog’s exposure – make calm an easier choice.
  • practice calm when it’s easier to be calm – don’t wait for crazy situations to attempt to practice calm

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Rollercoaster Outings

Getting out into the world is exciting for more dogs. To cope with the challenges associated with physical exertion, sensory stimulation, social interaction, staying safe and navigating the world, the body engages those stress systems, causing an increase in arousal.

None of that is necessarily bad but arousal piled on top of arousal on top of arousal might contribute to problems.

Think of your dog’s outing like a rollercoaster. Lots of that stuff is going to bring them up…but how will they come down…

  • start calmly – build your dog’s comfort with walking gear
  • think about when and where you go – are there certain triggers for crazy behaviour that might be more salient in certain places or at certain times
  • go off road – bring your dog places that allow them to sniff and roam, and provide lots of space so that you can escape crazy triggers if required
  • let them get the crazy out – make sure they have plenty of time at the start of their outing to get some energy out so don’t have high expectations and expect too much obedience
  • ask your dog if they are ready to respond – let them choose to engage
  • ask for simple behaviours and if your dog can eat food rewards and respond, have brief, one minute sessions now and then
  • facilitate lots and lots of sniffing – let ’em sniff as long as they need to and let them choose sniffing
  • halfway through, take a break for a Stuffable or a chewable
  • wind down toward the end or at home with some sniffing
  • have a Stuffable or chewable afterwards too

Try to get out for Adventure Time as often as you can!

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Rollercoaster Games

Incorporate calming breaks, obedience behaviours, and even sniffing into play and games with your dog.

To get started with different Rollercoaster Games, there are some skills your dog will need, so those are described here too.

Skill 1: Toy release (Day 2)

Condition “thank you!” cue

Does your dog already have a toy release cue? How effective is that cue?

Unless you have a pretty reliable release behaviour, without intimidation (can you whisper it?), and during the excitement of a game, start here!

Beginners:

  • have 10-20 tiny treats ready
  • hold one or two treats behind your back
  • say “thank you!” in an upbeat voice
  • then move your hand and toss the treats across your dog’s eyeline

It doesn’t matter what your dog is doing, whether they look at you or not, just say “thank you!” and then toss the treats.

Repeat ten “thank yous” per session and then take a break.

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By practicing this over several sessions you will teach your dog that the phrase “thank you!” means to check the floor for yummies. By conditioning this cue reliably, your dog will begin to drop things to search the floor for a treat.

Advanced:

With some practice, you can begin to apply your conditioned release cue to play. Just about our favourite toy game to play is tug and contrary to popular belief playing this game won’t lead to behaviour problems.

We love tug because:

  • the human and the dog has the toy most of the time
  • the fun is happening with the human
  • we can easily control and vary the intensity and duration of the game to better manage arousal
  • it’s an excellent confidence booster; check out shy-girl Cara’s confidence increase in this tug game here
  • playing tug training games is a great way to play body and mind games, all in one

This video provides you with a tutorial for teaching tug and release:

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Practice in play

We want games to be fun but recognise that dogs need to learn some rules about playing with humans, especially because play can get very exciting.

Playing with toys for short periods is a great way to introduce reinforcers other than food rewards, while boosting your relationship with your pet and their joy in engaging with you. Bringing this game on the road is an excellent way to improve recalls and responsiveness while out and about.

Beginners:

Fetch games, although often loved by humans and found addictive by dogs, present some problems.

First of all, the repetitive, intense and exerting nature of fetch games can cause spikes in arousal so constant that they can raise the dog’s overall baseline for stress and being wound up, leading to other problems.
That’s why it becomes ‘addictive’ and dogs can’t seem to get enough, bringing about all sorts of high stress behaviours. Watch your dog’s behaviour the next time you play – note their intensity for the ball, the hard panting, tight mouth, possibly with vocalising and barking…all associated with such levels of arousal that the dog may be losing control.

Second, the dog is being rewarded for moving away from their human. There is such a disconnect between dog and human, especially where those ball launcher devices are used.
We even see automated fetch devices available on the market now – no human needed 😦

To help make sure fetch games are actually fun and playful, while being beneficial for your dog’s behavioural health, we start by solidifying a ball release cue so that you can safely throw the ball again. Once that’s established, we can get the ball, have an obedience break and start the game going again.

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Intermediate:

Puppy tug games are our favourite and puppies and adult dogs love it! Check out this clip showing the rules of puppy tug:

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This game works great with puppies and young dogs, and also dogs that are really into tug games who can happily switch between a tug toy and food rewards.

Advanced:

In lots of dog sports and training, we use different cues or signals to communicate to the dog what sort of reinforcer to expect, where it will show up and how it will be presented. This helps to refine training and communication, and makes things very clear and predictable for the dog.

For example, for Decker, “tug” means to bite the toy in my hand and I will hang on, “Geddit” means grab the toy on the ground (I should refine this more to indicate what will happen with the toy afterwards, whether to tug or run away with it or to return to me and so on), “thank you” always means relinquish an item, no matter what.

In this clip, we are working on “switch”, which means release one toy and tug the other.

You will see that I continue to prompt his behaviour with more established cues (“thank you” and “tug”) but he starts to learn that the new cue, “switch”, means there’s more fun to be had!

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If your dog already has an established release cue, you can introduce a switch cue to add lots of fun to the game!

If your dog’s is a TUG-ADDICT, using your release cue to let the dog know to switch to another available toy, is a great way of teaching that release cue.

Say the release cue, reveal the other toy and make it live (wiggle it, jiggle it, make it irresistible) and when your dog switches, hide the first behind your back. Switch ever 3-5 seconds of tug.

Rollercoaster Game 1 Up & Down

Playing is exciting; it’s meant to be! And we can use play to have fun with our dog (obvs!) while also helping them develop a more rollercoaster approach to excitement. Incorporate Rollercoaster Games into every interaction and game you play with your dog so managing their own excitement becomes a way of life.

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Rollercoaster Games are especially important for puppies and adolescent dogs, who often have difficulty controlling arousal and self-calming. This is because those systems are developing in young dogs so it’s a pretty challenging time for them.

Support that development with regular, brief Rollercoaster Games:

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Play about three rounds of Rollercoaster Games per play session. Start with play and crazy for about a 3-count with a calming break of at least double that.
Always start with calm and end with calm.

Skill 2: Autosit (or Auto-any-4-on-the-floor behaviour)

Teach your dog that you freezing and crossing your arms across your chest is a cue to sit, or any four-on-the-floor behaviour, e.g. standing, lying down. This helps in our Go Wild/Freeze Rollercoaster Game, but also with polite greetings.

Your dog learns that a person with their arms crossed is a cue to sit, stand or lie down giving alternative behaviours to both the greeter and greetee. Polite greetings training often times involves training for humans and dogs!

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Fold your arms across your chest, ask your dog to sit, stand or lie down and when they do reward. Repeat five times and then test it.
Fold your arms and wait for your dog. If they can’t do it, ask them to do the chosen behaviour and repeat a couple more times.
Soon your dog will be offering that behaviour when they see your arms folded.

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Vary your approach, add some movement and even add some excitement to practice.

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Please be aware that not all jumping up in greeting situations is indicative of a comfortable happy dog.
Sometimes a dog is jumping up because they are overwhelmed by the interaction, because they are over-aroused, because they would like distance and relief.

Unless you are sure, don’t ask your dog to do any stationary behaviour when meeting a new person. To do so could risk them becoming less comfortable and feeling that they have to use escalated distance increasing signaling, such as freezing, growling, snarling, snapping or even biting, to gain relief from the interaction.

Rollercoaster Game 2 Go Wild/Freeze

You can use a toy for this one if you like, but it’s not necessary. I often use this game as one without toys, so that I can turn crazy on and off, any place, any time.

If Deck and I have been engaged in some precision work, or he’s had to inhibit his Decker-ness for a time, we will play this on/off switch game so that he has an outlet for some crazy, but we can maintain some level of control.

  • do what ever it is that brings the crazy: move about, play tag, allow them to bark and spin and jump (if you find that ok)
  • count out 3 seconds of crazy
  • stop, freeze, fold your arms

If your dog can’t sit, stand or lie down, you might give them a hint by using the verbal cue or other signal for that behaviour.

  • reward your dog, in that position, for 10 seconds
  • reward with a food reward delivered one after another
  • start the crazy again and repeat

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Repeat no more than three rounds of this game and then give your dog something to help them calm, such as a Stuffable.

Your dog doesn’t have to do a sit. You can reinforce any four-on-the-floor behaviour such as just standing or lying down. It’s up to you, and your dog!

Skill 3 Down on a mat (Day 10)

Practice matwork in short sessions of a few minutes at a time. If your dog is fidgety or finding it difficult to settle, work for shorter periods and practice more Parking to help them build some duration first.

It’s often better to use less exciting food rewards for matwork so that your dog isn’t too wound up by the anticipation of yummy food.

Beginners: teaching down

Start by teaching your dog to lie down on their mat.

Use the same mat for this work and tidy it away when you’re not training. Initially, we want the mat to be associated with rewards so if it’s just lying there at other times, it starts to use some value.

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If you want to progress to teaching your dog to lying down on a verbal cue, this clip will bring your through the stages.

To help your dog relax, teach them to lie down in a more relaxed position. What happens on the outside of the body can help affect what’s happening on the inside; more relaxed behaviour can help the dog feel more relaxed.

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Beginners: the mat is the place to be

Once your dog can lie down on the mat, we can begin to establish lying on the mat as the place to be. Note that we don’t need to ask the dog to lie down on their mat; we want the mat to be the signal to lie down there.

Practice some shaping exercises. Shaping is an approach to teaching that breaks the big, goal behaviour down into small achievable steps. We’ve given your dog a headstart as we have already taught them to lie on the mat. Now we are going to let them work it out a little.

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Intermediate: mat down, lie down

Now that the dog can find their mat and lie on it, we can begin to further establish that idea by practicing this exercise. Take the mat up between each trial when you toss the treat away for the dog to get. When they return, lay out the may again so they can practice lying on it immediately.

If they can’t quite do that, just go back to practicing easier exercises. Your dog is giving you information that they need more practice and more support.

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Intermediate: building duration

Your dog can lie on their mat and they know that lying on their mat is the place to be…now let’s make lying on the mat for longer and longer durations more and more rewarding.

We will use a technique referred to as 300 Peck to build duration. This is a reward-system that helps us build duration in behaviours by always working within the dog’s abilities.

Start with your dog lying happily on their mat. Start every session with five rewards, one after another, delivered on the mat. Instead of tossing a reward off the mat to reset, start our counting game:

Count 1, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, 3, reward on the mat
Count 1, 2, 3, 4, reward on the mat

And so on…

If your dog gets up, go back and start at one again. But instead of getting into a cycle of breaking, just practice up to five using 300 Peck. And then work on sessions up to ten, then up to 20 and so on.

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Your dog is learning lots, just with these simple exercises: they are learning that the mat is the place good things happen, they are learning that them just lying there makes rewards happen, they are learning to lie on the mat for longer and longer, and we are thinning out the number of rewards so they are learning to lie on their may for longer durations between rewards.

Rollercoaster Game 3 Matwork

Start calmly working on building during in a down on the mat and end calmly too. In the middle go from down on the mat to crazy and back about three times.

The calm bit should be at least twice the duration of the crazy bit. At the beginning of training, crazy should last 3-5 seconds.

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Rollercoaster Game 4 Play + Sniffing

Incorporate sniffing into your game to help with rollercoaster effects and increase the sensory complexity in games and interactions.

Incorporate this into any game that you play with your dog.
Playing fetch games, throw the ball once or twice. Take a sniffing break. You might even hide the ball and have your dog sniff it out; it doesn’t need to be exerting fetch every time.

Or use tug games, like here:

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Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!

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