The Joys of Flirt Pole Play
Exercise is an important part of your dog's daily routine, helping him to burn off some energy and generally reducing other forms of boredom-fueled mischief. One of my favorite interactive toys is a flirt pole.
If you’ve not seen one before, you may ask: what the heck is a flirt pole? I like to imagine a dog in a sexy pose on a dance pole, but alas, it’s a bit less exotic than that.
Here’s one version of a flirt pole that I really like, which can be found here. (You can also make your own flirt pole using a PVC pipe, some bungee cord threaded through it, and a toy knotted at the end.)
Many dogs love to chase things but don’t necessarily like to return the toy to the owner after it's been thrown. Before you know it, the person becomes an accomplished fetcher of abandoned toys, and if you’re looking to boost your aerobic exercise I suppose that could be okay!
The fact is, some dogs aren’t natural retrievers. But if they like to chase stuff, the flirt pole could provide an excellent form of exercise.
For lazy people like me, the fact that all I have to do is stand there and flick the toy along the ground while the dog chases it is very appealing. In just a few minutes, you can tire out most dogs with a game they adore.
Initially, I make it easy for the dog to capture the fleece toy at the end of the cord. After a few seconds of interacting with it (gnawing, shaking, or pulling on it), I’ll then ask the dog to DROP IT (you can place a treat on his nose, if needed, to prompt the drop initially), and then recommence the chase game.
As the dog becomes more intently engaged in the game (and for some dogs, this happens instantly), I’ll become gradually more diabolical about flicking and snaking the toy around so that it's harder for him to capture it.
When a dog adores flirt pole play, it opens up some wonderful training opportunities. As mentioned above, you’ll need to teach him to DROP the toy when requested. You can also fold in other training tasks, like asking the dog to SIT or DOWN before the game recommences. It’s a great opportunity to build impulse control around what the dog considers a very exciting activity.
Best of all, this game requires owner participation, helping you to build a fun relationship with your dog. Here’s a video clip of a French Bulldog first being introduced to a flirt pole.
Three notes of caution:
If your dog has a medical issue or is a brachycephalic breed, you may have to avoid or limit the amount of flirt pole play. Brachycephalic dogs like pugs and frenchies can overheat easily, so you need to strictly limit this sort of robust aerobic exercise, especially in warmer weather.
The toy at the end of the cord should only be skittered along the ground to prevent the dog from leaping around and executing extreme gymnastic maneuvers that can lead to injury. This is especially important with young puppies.
The brand of flirt pole I prefer is made with a bungee cord. While I think the give of this cord makes the game safer for robust doggie players, there is a small chance a dog can grab it, back up, stretch it to its limit, and then accidentally let go. I’ve been using this flirt pole for many years, and only once was I hit in the face with the toy jetting back at me. I wasn’t injured, but would still caution parents to think carefully before children play this game with a strong dog. The best antidote is a well-trained DROP cue. And in a pinch, one can just lay the pole on the ground and let go if the dog insists on pulling too long and too vigorously.
Please share this article if you know someone whose dog might appreciate a flirt pole! :-)
Virginia Dare is a dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers remote consultations anywhere in the US for matchmaking services, and pre- and post-puppy arrival counseling. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties. Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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