How To Play: Red Light/Green Light

At KONG, we know that dogs need to play. Games are not only mentally and physically stimulating (and fun!)—they’re also a great training tool for your best friend. Read on for an enjoyable update on a beloved children’s game that will take your dog to the head of the class.

By Robin MacFarlane

Does your dog listen to you most of the time but really struggle to pay attention when something exciting happens?  For example, you’re on a leisurely walk together when suddenly, chaos ensues as your dog barks and lurches forward, trying to give chase to a squirrel that just darted across your path.

If that scenario sounds familiar, your dog may be having trouble with impulse control. Don’t worry, though. There is a fun and easy way to improve your dog’s listening skills during moments of extreme excitement…

It’s the Red Light/Green Light game! Who knew that the same fast paced “start and stop” game we played as kids was also a great way to teach your dog to stop on command, even when their adrenaline levels are spiking?

So how do you play? Here are the rules:

  1. Before starting, make sure your dog understands basic obedience commands like “sit,” “down” and “come.”
  2. Find an area where you are safe to be off leash or can let the leash drag. When first starting out, letting your dog’s leash drag offers a handle to take hold of to help assist them in following through.
  3. Get your dog playing and chasing a toy. The KONG Wubba is great for this game because its long tails allow you to tease and tug with your dog to get them excited.
  4. In the midst of playing, interject a stationary obedience command like “sit”. If your dog continues to go after the toy and ignores your command, withhold the toy and take the leash to help them follow through.
  5. As soon as they are sitting, give a release cue like “OK” or “Free,” and allow your dog to go after the toy again. The goal is for your dog to learn that the faster they sit, the faster they will receive permission to go again. This aspect of the game teaches your dog to be a willing listener, even when in an elevated state.
  6. Continue this cycle of starting and stopping play using obedience commands and as you progress, lengthen the duration you expect your dog to hold stationary positions.
  7. In the early stages of learning the game, you should stop moving the toy while giving commands. As your dog catches on, keep the excitement level high even when you are asking your dog to stay still. This added element will teach your dog to control their impulse to chase and to listen to you even when the distraction is still occurring.

Watch this video, to see an advanced version of Red Light/Green Light in action

Bonus Challenge: Use an “on your bed” command as part of the game. It is a great way to help your dog learn to follow through when the doorbell rings!

The Red Light/Green Light game is not only loads of fun for your dog, but it will also help keep them safe and listening during moments of excitement. So practice regularly, and continually work toward longer holds and more challenging distractions. Both your dog and your shoulder will thank you!

Robin MacFarlane (IACP-CDT) has been training dogs professionally for 20 years and is a past Director and Conference Chair of the IACP as well as a professional member of the National K9 Dog Trainer’s Association. She owns and operates That’s My Dog! Inc in Dubuque, Iowa.