New Games to Play with Your Dog
By Jodi Bryson
There are myriad reasons to play with your dog, such as weight management or to simply have a good time -- for both of you. "If you play with your dog for five minutes a day, three times a week, you'll have a better behaved and happier dog," says trainer Ellen Poole of Just Tails, a pet training site and service in the California Bay Area.
"Dogs are like you -- you feel better when you exercise and when you spend time with people you love," says Poole. "Play time is exercise time for dogs, and being with you is what your pet wants the most. This is true for all breeds, not just natural herders or retrievers who need 'jobs.' Little dogs love to play, and should play, too."
Poole says there are so many interesting, different games that you can play with your pet that go beyond fetch or tug of war. Although your dog may be used to those classic games, and it may at first turn its nose up to new games, Poole suggests patience is in order. She advises, "Try a few games to see which ones make your dog happiest."
Different trainers have different names for this game, but the premise of Treasure Hunt is the same: hide treats, and then let your dog find them. "You always want to be a part of the game, and you always want to be in control," says Poole. For Treasure Hunt, command the dog to wait. For some dogs, this is a "down" command, while others will respond to "stay" or "wait." Next, hide three-to-five treats -- you want the dog to be able to keep track of where you've hidden each surprise. Let your dog watch you hide the "prize." Then give the command "GO!" and allow your dog to run and find the treats. Poole says if weight is a concern, you can hide toys instead of treats. Good owner!
Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is similar to Treasure Hunt, but instead of treats, your dog is going to find you! "What your dog wants the most is to be with you," says Poole. "And what your dog likes to do the most is play, so this game is definitely bonding." Hide and Seek could also be the easiest game to play with your dog. Simply have your dog sit and stay, and then you hide. Next, call to the dog by using a name, a whistle or a funny animal sound to get your dog revved up! When Doggie finds you, give lots of praise. And try not to think of your dog's "peeking" when you hide as cheating! Smart dog!
Toy Cleanup is a game that reinforces "return for refund," because your dog will earn a treat for every toy placed successfully in your hands. Give a sit and stay command. Grab your dog's toy basket and scatter the toys around the room. Using verbal and physical cues, like simply pointing at an individual toy, encourage your dog to pick up one toy at a time and place it in your hand. The challenge is for your dog to not drop the toys at your feet. Then encourage your dog to put the toys in a basket, or other storage container, which your pet can access. "Even the oldest dogs can be trained with repetition and positive reinforcement," reminds Poole. Over time, your dog will clean up his own toys at your command. What was once work for you can become play for your pooch.
Go Wild and Freeze!
This is a great game for dogs with a jumping-on-visitors habit and/or canines that get a little over-excited. Take a treat and wiggle it just above your dog's nose so its head moves up toward the treat. This will naturally position your pet's rear to the ground in a "sit." Then command "GO WILD!" and jump around, clap and make sounds like a nine-year-old headed to recess. (This is a great game for children to play with the family dog.) You want your dog to get as excited as you are. Next, give the command, "Stop!" Then you stand tall without moving. Repeat the wiggle-treat-to-sit step. Wait, and resume the entire process as many times as you both desire. Over time, your dog will learn that "stop" means sit and freeze in place, a skill that can come in handy when in-laws drop by.
Now it's time to bring toys into the mix. Poole advises that you choose toys that encourage chewing, because it's relaxing for the dog. "I like activities for dogs where they can roll a toy and nose it around," she says. For Nose It, select a toy that can be stuffed with edible treats, such as the Kong. Or, choose one of the new "monkeys in a barrel" type toys that have several little surprises inside a bigger toy. Hide-A-Squirrel and the Iqube II Cagey Cube are two examples. These toys allow your dog to "nose" and pull each of the surprises out while enjoying a good chew on the soft plush "prey." Just stuff the little toys back into the bigger toy for another round. "This keeps the dog busy, and nosing out the treat and chewing is calming for the dog," says Poole.
Jodi Bryson is a writer in San Francisco who enjoys playing fetch daily with Sadie Lou, her 11-year-old red Doberman/Shepherd mix.