Playing the “Do You Wanna…” Game

Last month in the blog What About Agency in Training, we focused on increasing agency within training sessions, and mentioned that this month we were going talk about ways to help your pet communicate what they want or need. 

Our pets are communicating with us all the time. Through their body language, their behavior, through the ways that they interact with the world. Taking some time to simply observe what they do throughout the day, the way that they interact with things, and how they interact with you can give you a great insight into what they need and how they ask. 


For example, I know that my dogs need the opportunity to destroy things. 

How do I know this? 

Left to their own devices, they destroy things. 

The shreds of cardboard and toy carcasses scattered throughout the house tell me that is something that they want or need. 



I know that Laika wants to play fetch. 

How do I know this? 

She’s shoved the ball in my hand since she was 8 weeks old, and when I toss the ball, she continues to bring it back.

But sometimes, as she approaches me with her freshly retrieved ball, and I extend my hand for her to put the ball in, she’ll turn her head and push her should into it instead. 

When she does this, she’s asking for scratches. 


And Griffey needs and wants to play tug. 

How do I know this? 

From the day we brought him home, tug has been an activity that leads to a much more restful pup. Through consistent and predictable tug games, he can now place the tug toy in my hand to continue the game. 



Turn away and chew on it to help himself regulate.



Or run away and lie down when he’s finished with the activity. 


But sometimes, we aren’t sure what our pets want or need. When we go through the basic checklist, food, water, temperature, and attention, it just doesn’t appease the gremlins.

So, we play the “Do you wanna….” game. Because even though both of the humans are in professional animal care, sometimes even we are stumped. And I do think that it is important to let your pet ask for what they want or need sometimes. By letting them communicate with us, we are giving them control over their outcomes, and agency in getting their needs met. 


What does the “Do you wanna…” game look like?

Great question, I’d love to tell you.

We start each sentence with “Do you wanna…” and end it with something that we’ve already taught them. This can be an activity or an object, like “play” or “broccoli”. 

Here’s an example with Laika: 


“Do you wanna get your ball?” → sit = nope 

“Do you wanna come here?” → stare = nope 

“Do you wanna treat?” → stare that says “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed” = nope 

“Do you wanna go outside?” → stare that chills your soul = nope 

“Do you wanna go downstairs?” – stretch in a play bow, tail wag = yes! 

We can go through the list of things we’ve taught them through our lives together, and when we get to the thing, they give us a wholehearted “YESSSSS!”


But my dog doesn’t know those things

Ours didn’t either! We always start by pairing the activity or object with the word we are going to use. 

That means when we teach our dogs something new for their “do you wanna…” game, we start by consistently and predictably pairing the word we are going to use, with the activity or object to follow. 

For example: 

“Go outside” → open door 

“Treat” → get and give treat 

“Downstairs” → go downstairs 

“Wubba” → offer wubba 

“Walk” → get leash

“Broccoli” → give broccoli 

“Brussel sprout” → give brussel sprout 

The options are endless! 

Be consistent (the word always means the same thing), and predictable (create a routine around each activity), and soon, you’ll be able to ask your pets “do you wanna… go outside?” 

If they say “no, thank you” continue down your list. If they say “yes, please” then outside you go! 


Now what? 

  • Pick 2 things to teach your pet and start teaching them THIS sound or gesture means THIS activity or object. Remember, 1 name, 1 meaning! 
  • Once you’ve taught them that THIS sound or gesture means THIS activity or object start playing the “Do you wanna…” game. If they say yes, then do the thing, if they say no, then move on! Keep in mind, the “no” is as important in this game as the “yes”. You aren’t trying to make every answer a “yes”!
  • Make sure to follow us on Facebook @Petharmonytraining and Instagram @petharmony training for more tips on finding harmony with your pet! 

Happy training,