Playing games with your dog isn’t just a way to prevent boredom or a chance for some exercise, it’s also a way to give your pet an outlet for their natural instincts. As social animals, playing with your dog is an essential way to teach them about relationships and communication, strengthening your bond with them.
Your dog’s personality determines what games they’ll want to play, so it’s worth experimenting with a few to see what they like. With that in mind, here’s four games that many dogs love!
1. Hide and seek
Hide and seek is a great game that makes use of your dog’s strong sense of smell. Dogs naturally use a combination of tracking and wind scenting to find you. That means they’ll sniff along the ground to find you as well as sniffing the air, and it’s a great chance for them to practice what their ancestors would have done to catch their prey.
This game is best played with two people. Get a friend to hold your dog while you hide somewhere else in the house, garden, or other safe area outside where your dog can’t get lost or hurt. Once you’ve hidden, call for your dog. If it’s the first time you’ve played, you may need to call them more than once. As soon as they find you, reward them with a treat and lots of praise!
2. Searching games
A variation on hide and seek that offers another chance for your dog to practice their tracking skills is to teach them to hunt for their favorite toy. Make sure you choose a toy they’re especially fond of though, or they may not want to join in, and you’ll have to retrieve it yourself!
Start by teasing your dog with it, and while they’re watching, throw it into some long grass, or if you’re indoors, behind some furniture. Just remember not to throw it anywhere you don’t want your dog to go – aiming at a priceless ornament or throwing the toy into your prized flowerbeds is not a good idea! Then encourage them to start searching – ask them where it is in an excited voice.
After playing a few times, your dog will start to understand what to do, and you can make things harder by not letting them see where you hide the toy.
Some dogs aren’t interested in toys, but with some slight changes they can still have fun with this game. Why not try hiding their favorite dog treats instead?
3. Tug of war
Many dogs find tug of war very exciting; however, many owners can be wary of encouraging it, as they think it will encourage the dog to become controlling and aggressive. This could lead to your dog trying to play the game at inconvenient times. The truth is, you can control their behavior by ensuring you instigate the games, meaning you’ll set the rules, not them.
Start by telling your dog to “take it” in an excited voice, while moving the toy towards them. Wait for your dog to take hold of the toy, then keep their interest by moving the toy around, side to side, back and forth.
After a while, stop tugging by saying “leave” once without repeating, move your hands to your sides and don’t speak. Your dog may continue tugging, but will eventually release. Once your dog has let go, you can pause the game and then start again. This teaches your dog that they can only play once invited to, and that they must stop when your hands are still and close at your sides.
For stronger dogs, it can be easier to end the game by holding their collar before letting go of the toy, which reduces their excitement and competition for control over the toy. Again, this teaches them that they must stop playing when you touch their collar.
You can also stay in control of your dog by occasionally stopping and restarting the game, but only removing the toy entirely when you’ve finished. If your dog attempts to grab you or snatch at the toy without invitation, then immediately go still and quiet. Both these methods reinforce the fact that you decide when they can play, not them.
4. Chasing and retrieving
Chasing and retrieving is another great game for dogs. Most dogs love to chase toys, but not all have learnt to bring it back. You can train them to do this by teaching them how to hold the toy first.
Offer your dog the toy and then pick it up – you may find they’re more likely to pick it up if you roll it across the floor in front of them. Then, praise the dog for holding the toy, but only give them a treat if they drop the toy by your feet or in your hand.
The next step is to run backwards as your dog picks up the toy, so they have to follow you to get their treat. Keep practicing this, and occasionally throw the toy, but only allow your dog to fetch it once it’s come to a standstill.
After repeating this over a few days, you’ll have trained your dog to realize they’ll get their treat only if they drop the toy in your hand or at your feet.
Featured photo credit: Lucian Venutian via flickr.com