Teaching your dog to play new games works out their body and mind – an excellent combination for ending the day with a sleepy, happy pup.
Many of these games are easier to teach with food rewards, but can become rewarding on their own. Dogs love spending time with their owners, and can’t resist a funes to challenge.
10 Games To Play With Your Dog
1. Hide And Seek
Dogs love playing hide and seek – quite possibly even more than children do. You can even play with a puppy – it’s a great way to reinforce “stay” and “come” for a strong recall.
Simply ask your dog to “stay” in one room, then quickly hide in another, ducking behind furniture or under a blanket. Then, call your dog and watch as he looks for you. When he finds you, say “you found me!” and reward him with lots of praise, and a treat, if you’d like.
2. The Cup Game
Challenge your dog’s wits with the cup game. Based on the classic gambling game, traditionally played with three shells and a pea, your dog will love uncovering a tasty prize when he wills. Start with just one cup to introduce the concept. Place a treat underneath, and lift to reveal it when your dog noses the cup. Gradually add more cups and more movements to increase the challenge.
Of course, your dog will have the advantage of being able to use his nose. Once he gets the hang of it, try using a small toy instead to see if he can still master the game.
Fetching isn’t just for retrievers. In fact, most dogs need to be taught to fetch, even if it’s in their genetics. It’s easy for a dog to chase after a ball; it’s tough to teach them to bring it back.
The secret to teaching fetch is working backwards in very small steps. Start by tossing a toy to your dog, right in front of them, so they catch it. Then, immediately place your hand under his mouth. You can encourage him to let go by showing him a treat, then reward him every time the toy falls out of his mouth and into your hand. Soon, he’ll get the idea that dropping a toy into your hand gets him a treat. Then, you can start tossing the toy over further and further distances.
Some dogs don’t need treats to learn to fetch. The thrill of chasing a toy you’ve thrown may be rewarding enough. You may need to shape the behavior with treats at first, then gradually fade them out later.
4. Put It Away
Once your dog knows “fetch,” you can teach him to return the toy to his toy box, instead of your hand. Play fetch with the toy box in front of you, and encourage your dog to drop it inside. Once he gets the hang of that, you can move the toy box further and further away from you and add a command like, “Put it away!”
Tugging is a full-body workout for your dog. Most dogs will play tug with you with just a little bit of encouragement. It’s a great way to build confidence in shy dogs. Allow your dog to win more than half to time to make it more fun for them.
If your dog loves to tug, he’ll love his own Tether Tug!
6. Find it!
You can teach your dog to do basic nosework so he can feel like one of those hero search-and-rescue dogs.
Start by getting your dog excited over one of his favorite toys, then have him “stay” while you hide it in an obvious place, like under a towel. Say, “find it!” and allow him to search.
7. Catch Me If You Can
Run around your home or yard, stopping every once in a while to call your dog. Once they reach you, praise them and take off running again.
Playing chasing games is another great way to reinforce recall. Always make sure your dog is doing the chasing. Avoid chasing your dog, or you may inadvertently teach him to think it’s fun to run away from you.
8. Find Your Friends!
Dogs are capable of learning words, and find it easier when those words are associated with their favorite toys, treats and people. Many dogs can learn to identify toys and objects, and will retrieve them by name.
A border collie named Chaser can identify over 1000 different toys by name. Chaser can even learn the names of new objects by simply inferring that the new name belongs to the newest object in the room.
It may be easier for your dog to first distinguish between very different objects, like a ball and a leash. Slowly introduce new objects, one at a time. You might be amazed to realize just how well your dog is listening to you.
9. Jump The Hoop
If your dog has never done agility, you can get started by teaching him to jump through an ordinary hula hoop. First, lay the hoop on the ground and encourage your dog to walk near it and over it. Then, hold it upright, with one edge touching the ground, so your dog can walk through it without jumping. When he gets used to walking through, up the challenge by lifting the hoop off the ground. Your dog will feel most comfortable jumping through a hoop held at his shoulder height or lower.
Dog trainer Sally Hopkins created a game called Sprinkles™ to help dogs with behavioral problems. It basically involves sprinkling moist food treats into a grassy area and allowing your dog to hunt for the food between blades of grass. It’s a great way to keep your dog occupied for up to ten minutes, and engages their natural instinct to search and forage for food.