For many dogs, PLAY is one of their favorite concepts.
It means they get your attention, they get to try new things, and they get to have fun.
As a frequent activity, it pairs well with its "opposite," ALL DONE.
Both conventional playing (e.g., tug of war, throwing and retrieving a ball) and training (e.g., with a clicker) are frequent early concepts that are easy to learn.
Among our group, "play," and "train" had meanings such as the following:
Playtime; let's play
We get a toy and play inside the house together.
When pressed on its own, it usually means a request to play tug of war or fetch with us. When combined with OUTSIDE could also mean playing with other dogs.
Play with me.
Grab a toy and play; want to play with a toy.
Any form for training - but we mostly do trick training.
Time to play with the learner's toys or to have us play with the learner.
When introduced early on, as is often the case, either of the sounds below are frequently used.
As your learner's sense for what words mean becomes more subtle, there is little reason not to have a single button for each of these words.
Among our group of successful modelers, the following techniques were used successfully:
Played with learner after learner pushed the button. Also, when I pushed the button myself, I played with her.
S/he pushed the button and went to see one of her furry friends. She was already very familiar with this phrase before the buttons and would always get excited to hear it!
(i) Said, "Do you want to play?" in the excited voice I have always used, (ii) pressed the play button, (iii) said "play," then (iv) got my learner their favorite toy and enticed them to play.
Used the word in sentences multiple times before engaging in a tug of war while pressing the button after each spoken use.
Would hit play, then tossed a toy. Eventually, I would hit play, then opened the basement door where his play area was.
I pressed the Play button before giving him a toy. I pressed “Play” together with "Outside" if we were going to the yard to play ball.
Pressed the button prior to giving the learner access to the learner's toy box.
Sat on the floor and then pressed the button. I acted very excited and played tug of war/fetch with the learner. After a few minutes of playing, I got on my phone and began ignoring her. I repeated this a few times, and she fairly quickly began to press the button independently.
We used our learner's favorite toy as motivation and kept it visible but unreachable, so they'd have to ask to play with it when they wanted it. Our learner had his other toys available to him, but because this was our learner's favorite, they had a strong incentive to learn.
Pressed the button then engaged in play.
Pressed the button when starting a training session ["train" sense of the word]