Playing Footsy

Do you have aspirations of remaining young for a long, long time? If so, then consider getting a playful pup. I have noticed that one of the best things my dogs contribute to my life and me being active is their spontaneity. Dogs have an amazing ability to entertain themselves and to taunt us into play of some sort with their exuberance for just having a good time.

Among the many little games we have with our dogs there is one that I am using these days to increase Rio’s engagement with me when she is doing something else at a distance. We play footsy.
This is an interaction that Rio initiated and I just did a little adjustment to fit my needs. In essence the game consists of having Rio interact with our feet. We do this by saying: ‘Feet!’ As we reach towards her with some motion; gently touching her stomach or chest with our feet. She immediately starts using her front legs and paws to activate more of this action. She also incorporates her mouth as she tries to capture our foot in it.

Now here is the thing about this kind of playfulness; it can get out of hand with ease. So, in order to avoid this I have put the behavior under stimulus control. Stimulus control means that the dog will only engage in the behavior when the cue is given. So if Rio begins by “attacking” our feet we just don’t play the game. The game only takes place when either John or I- the only ones that play footsy with her -want to play.

Having a behavior like this under stimulus control is important not only in order to make the game fun and safe for everyone since it is a high-arousing game for her, and potentially for other dogs, but in my case I want to use it as a form of recall – come when called. On occasion, Rio is not interested in food; preferring instead to go see about something else and not coming to me when I need her to. Playing footsy only on occasion, makes the game more precious. Here is how I have used the game for recall.

I am walking back to the house after our last training session of the day. Rio is ahead of me anticipating dinner. As she hits the front porch I say to her: ‘STOP’, which literally means stop moving. She stops (Yeah!) and as she does she turns to look at me. I immediately start moving away from her as I yell “feet”… she is now running towards me and we are playing with fast moving feet and dog paws. We are having so much fun that Deuce who was still hanging outside the training field is now rushing towards us to find out what he is missing out on.

I attempt the “feet” routine with Deuce and he is a bit less enthusiastic about the interaction so I slow things down for him. He is now smiling – mouth wide open.

The great thing about little routines like this is that there is yet one more way by which we can interact with our dogs just for the heck and fun of it or when we really need their attention. I might not always have a treat on me, but I know wherever I go, my feet come with me.