Dogs & Wii Games

One night as we were enjoying a game of Wii tennis and bowling, our dog Keyshia started barking. The dogs in our house are separated by a gate, so she was at the baby gate barking. I thought, “Well she is safe, and nothing bad will happen, so let her bark it out”. She continued for another 5 min, then as soon as she stopped for a good 5 seconds or so we heaped some praise on her and gave her a work to eat toy. Once that was dissected she was back to barking. We ignored her during both accounts. Again as last time as soon as she was quiet for 5 seconds, we refilled her Planet Dog Orbie and she went about her way working for the goodies.

We decided to play Wii golf and put up the visual barrier and all the barking stopped. Many times a simple antecedent intervention as Jean Donaldson calls it, will do the trick.

Here are some things to consider for dogs that may react to hectic video games.

1 – Separation from Wii activity. Perhaps your dog will enjoy a work to eat toy in another spot in house?  Set your dog up prior to starting with a Tricky Treat Ball or stuffed Kong away from the action, use gates and a blanket to block the view of the game if you need to.

2 – Kids and dogs need supervision. If it is a known fact that the playing of Wii games cause your dog to bark, growl, nip, hump or act wild please instruct your kids NOT to play unless the dog has been taken care of by the suggestion above of separation from the game and has been given a work to eat you. Depending on age and dedication level, instruct household member accordingly. My general rule of thumb is no children under the age of 16 should be left alone or be given the job of caring for a dog unsupervised. At 16 we start to learn about risk assessments from driving a car, so 16 and up is usually a good age to start having kids take on unsupervised responsibilities with dogs.

3-Pair the video games activities with food so that you create a positive association to the games. Each time you set out to play Wii make sure you either have your dog behind a gate or even on leash if they are prone to jumping and nipping the players. If your dog is simply barking or perhaps trying to interact and you want to avoid your dog from being stepped on, or you would want the kids to play, get some food and start training.

Dog orients to Wii players moving you Yes & treat – make sure your just marking and rewarding for seeing the activity, don’t worry so much about asking for sit stays or down stays right away. We’re getting the dog comfy with the game first.

It may be during the first session you start this counter conditioning or perhaps a few session after the Yes & Treat routine. If you see your dog starting to look at the players and then immediately look back for a treat start asking for specifics.

Ask for “leave it” if the dog is approaching the players, Yes & treat when your dog disengages.

Ask for a sit stay or down stay and reward every 2 seconds while they are in the position you have requested of them for the stay, you can spread out the rewards as the dog gets good at the stay with this level of distraction. Make sure you’re not too close to the action, distance is essential here, especially if your dog is on the high end of reactivity around Wii.

Do short sessions, perhaps 5 min, and combine all manner of training from stays to leave it’s, or “touch” if you have your dog trained to touch your palm as a target, that is a great way to get your dog to disengage from the players.

After a short 5 min session of training around Wii activity, bring your dog to another room with a chewie or work to eat toy. If they are fine with the games and the movements and have no resource guarding, give them a chewie or work to eat toy and let them hang out on the same room.

4 – Perhaps your dog your dog could care less about Wii? Give them something cool to do too anyway, why should we have all the fun?

5 – If you have a young puppy 8 – weeks on up to 20 weeks, start making a positive association to video game activities. This critical development period is essential for getting your dog to feel relaxed and comfortable around video game movements. Let the dog sniff all the parts of the game controllers, and get familiar with some very low level versions of the game. Keep the movement’s relaxed and low key. Reward the pup at every turn. Yes & treat them for every sniff and check out they do, allow them to go at their own pace. Do these mini B mod sessions during start up each time you play Wii or any games that require movements that may cause your young pup to be fearful or apprehensive.  When you’re ready to start the Wii play take the puppy and place them back into their pen area or crate with something flavored to chew as your dog grows up they will really feel good about all the hectic movements when you play Wii because it will result in good things happening. 

Hectic games and movements can freak some dogs out. It is very important that in these situations the dogs are made to feel ok about it. If you know your dog has bad reactions to situations involving hectic movements please keep them out of those situations, and when they encounter such things, create distance for them and pad the experience with food. Remember fear trumps food, so food is always a good indicator as to how well your dog feels about something.

I am going to do more work with Keyshia the next time we play Wii. She has been ambivalent about it before, so I’m curious to see if I can unpack why she may be barking sometimes and not others.

Also I am sure I can train her to have a positive association to the movements and the sounds. It’ll just take some games where the focus is on her training and not on my playing the game so much. 

We can control the entire scenario from start to finish, complete control of environment is essential for modifying behavior. Also we can do the sessions regularly, so we have the advantage of setting up the amount of distraction, the distance and the duration of the context. So with some planning and some leg work you should be able to get your dog comfy with the Wii game environment. This is not an excuse for me to play more Wii, I assure you, though that might be an added benefit to the training.

I am sure there are stories of dogs freaking out during Wii games. Think of the progression, people either walk, maybe run into a room and start making movements with things in their hand, there are weird sounds and usually it’s hectic. Many dogs get spooked around sudden hectic movements. If you have stories about your dog and Wii games please share them on this blog. I am curious what behaviors are happening and what people are doing to cope with them. As indoor games get more popular, and people spend more time playing them having a plan for your dog that freaks out is essential.

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