All this week we have been discussing various ways you can provide your dog with mental stimulation at home for little or no cost to you, using supplies you may likely already have around the household. In case you’re just joining us, you can find the links to the previous entries in this series at the bottom of today’s blog post.
Today’s game is great for:
- Puppies that like to bite everything
- High energy dogs
- Providing your dog with intense exercise when you don’t have a lot of time
- Giving your dog a great workout in the backyard
- Dogs with high chase or prey drive
Flirt poles often get a bad reputation because they have traditionally been used to build bite strength, tenacity, and drive in dogs which were used for fighting. When I introduce flirt poles to some of my clients, I prefer to describe them as “poor man’s lure coursing.”
A flirt pole is essentially a mega-version of the “cat-wand” you are likely familiar with – a stick-like handle is attached to a length of rope or other long tether, and at the end, a toy of some sort is attached. You may want to experiment with the length of pole, rope, and type of “toy” attached to the end to find what works best for your dog.
HOW TO MAKE IT
To make a flirt pole, you will need:
- a broomstick cut in half or short (2 – 3′) length of PVC piping of similar diameter
- one long length of rope (clothesline generally works well)
- one “toy” to attach to the end (I like to use an old, toss-away t-shirt, knotted length of denim, or sometimes, a sweat sock with a tennis ball or squeaky toy inside and knotted)
To create your flirt pole:
- Tie a knot in one end of the rope. Your knot must be larger than the diameter of the PVC pipe. If you are using a broomstick, you will need to drill a hole through the end of the broomstick large enough for the rope to pass through easily.
- To secure the rope to your flirt pole: a) if you are using PVC, simply thread the non-knotted end through the PVC pipe so that the knot is held relatively taught against one end. b) If you are using a broomstick, thread the rope through the hole you’ve drilled and tie a number of knots to tie the rope into place.
- Tie your “toy” to the non-knotted end of your rope. Voila! Flirt pole!
Here is a nice video of the flirt pole in action:
HOW TO PLAY IT
- Much like you would tease a kitty with a “cat wand,” you can tease your dog a bit to rev his interest in the flirt pole. If you are a clicker or marker trainer, you can certainly mark and reward any visual interest in the flirt pole or attempt to approach, bite at, chase, or otherwise interact with the toy. Avoid using too much movement initially, especially if you have a sensitive dog that is prone to fearfulness at large movements (these dogs may benefit from starting with a smaller wand).
- If you have a dog that loves flirt pole games, you can often build interest in a reluctant dog by placing your the reluctant dog in an ex-pen or crate while you play with your enthusiastic dog.
- If you have multiple family members who would like to play flirt pole with the dog and you are collectively willing to “get a bit silly,” the first few times you introduce the game, have a volunteer try to beat the dog to the toy and interact excitedly with the toy to build interest for the dog.
- Short, jerking movements can often create visual interest and elicit a chase response.
- Make sure you let your dog grab the item – frequently at first! If you are always teasing your dog and he is never allowed to get the toy, the game is no fun.
- When you play this game with puppies, seniors, or dogs which are not physically at their peak and fully developed, restrict your dog to groundwork (no making the toy “jump” so that the dog will leap after it in the air) and move the toy at a pace dictated by your animal’s level of development and physical fitness
- Teach your dog a solid “drop it” or “leave it” before introducing this game.
- Do not introduce this game to dogs that have resource guarding (possession aggression) issues with toys until you have addressed those issues through behavior modification (we can help!).
As promised, here are the previous entries in this week’s series:
Until tomorrow, happy training!