Playing is a fundamental need, not only for dogs but also for humans. It is an incredible way to connect with our furry friends. Teaching your dog games is an excellent way to build your relationship. Playing with your dog builds confidence, trust, and coping skills.
Benefits of Play
- Reinforcement for dogs who need to learn self-control
- Enriching – emotionally, physically, and socially
- Reduces stress
- Enhances social skills
- Enhances training/learning
- Improves emotional state and welfare
- Promotes emotional resilience
- Helps us getting to “know” our dogs
- Helps dogs make connections with people
- Healthy for them—and us
What Kind of Games Do Dogs Enjoy?
What’s fun? Think like your dog. Think like a predator.
- Mind games
- Chasing games
- Running games
- Jumping games
- Hunting games (sniffing games)
Anything “fun” has playtime game potential!
However, while some dogs are comfortable engaging in play, other canine buddies are more challenging. Play preferences and styles greatly vary depending on your dog’s genes, prior experiences, personality and emotional health.
To help you find the perfect game for your pooch, here are a few games that you can engage your dog in.
The “Chill Out” Game – The Calming Switch
This game is designed to use play as a reward for self-control. The method involves deliberately getting your dog excited to play and then having it “chill out” on command.
Here are the benefits of this game.
- Teaches dog instant calm from high arousal
- Installs an “on/off” switch
- Substitute calm behavior for agitated state
- Teaches dog calmness from high excitement situations
- Teach your dog the command “sit” or “down”. It is very crucial since this will be the base of this game.
- Now get your pooch excited by playing chase or tugging a toy on a string, wrestling game or any game it regularly plays with you.
- In the middle of the play, stop, be like a tree and command it to “sit” or lay “down.”
- Once your dog is calm, immediately reward it by starting the game again. Your dog will learn that the “sit” or “down” starts the game again.
- Vary the length of the time your dog has to “sit” or stay “down” before playing again.
- Change the command from “sit”, “down” and “relax”.
- Vary the length of play.
This fun way to connect and engage is the foundation for off-lead control. The leash comes off! The toy comes out!
- Get two identical toys. Tennis balls, plush toys or whatever toy your dog likes to play with. The important thing is that the toys must be exactly the same. He needs to like both toys the same. If the toys are different, your dog might prefer the one over the other. When that happens, this technique will not work.
- Offer one of the toys to your pooch and allow it to play with it. Don’t take it away from your dog.
- Now wave the other toy. Your pooch will likely drop the one he’s playing with to grab the second one. Alternate the toys. Playfully tease your pooch to entice it.
- Start tossing one of the toys a couple of feet at first. As soon as your dog goes and gets the thrown toy, call and encourage your dog to come back. You may have to run back to encourage it to come to you.
- When your pooch reaches you, show it the other toy that you are still holding. The dog will probably drop the toy it has to get the one you are holding. If not, you can trade the toy with a treat.
- Throw the second toy. Your dog will run to get it. Start the process over again.
- Start slow and build up the play over time. Always stop playing before your dog tires of the game.
Note: Toys designated for FETCH and TUG must be kept away when you are not playing games with your dog. It will help the toys stay fresh and enticing, leaving your pooch wanting more.
- Encourage you pooch to grab a toy. Find a toy your dog likes by waving it in front of it. Reward it for getting the toy by letting your dog have it.
- After a minute, get the toy back from your dog by “trading” for a tasty treat.
- Wave the toy again.
- Gradually work up to tugging. Some dogs are natural while others will need more encouragement.
- Once the dog is “into” tugging games, it is time to begin teaching it some rules to play by:
- Teach it to leave the toy on your cue or command.
- Chose a release command, such as “mine” “leave it”, “out” or “thank you”.
- Once your dog releases it, give it a tasty reward. Next, cue your dog with commands, such as “tug”, “get it” or “yours”.
- Your furry buddy will learn to have the toy, release it, receive a reward for giving it and then to have it back again.
- The penalty for taking the toy when not invited is time-out or end of the game.
- If your dog nips your hand in the process, the game ends immediately.
- Your dog can get as excited as it wants as long as it plays by the rules. Your dog can growl, shake and tug all it wants
- Always stop the game before your dog tires of playing.
You can purchase a chase and pull stick or a chase it squirrels from a pet store, or you can make your own using a dog toy and a horse lunge whip or a rope and a PVC pipe.
- Using the pole, move the toy in erratic motions on the ground, combining with quick hop movements in the air.
- Occasionally let your dog capture it.
- Tell your dog to release the toy for a treat or toss the treat so the dog releases it.
- Take breaks. Stop the toy movement.
- Finally, the game ends when the squirrel dies.
Most dogs love to play food games. These playtime activities are simple and only require food and a dog that is eager to eat.
Food Toss or Get It Game
The rule of this game is simple. You throw the food, and your pooch gets it. Repeat.
- Begin with a short toss. Get the dog’s attention by showing it the treat. Toss it. Be sure your dog sees where the food lands.
- When your dog gets the first treat, wait until it returns or looks back at you. Toss another treat in the opposite direction.
Dogs just love to run and chase. It’s their natural way of playing with each other. Your four-legged buddy will consider it very cool that you know this game.
- Stick to the rule. There is only one way to play this game. Your dog should chase you, not the other way around. Do not encourage your pooch to run away from you.
- Run away from your dog and persuade it to run towards you by making some noise, giggle or clap. Running 5 to 10 feet away is enough.
- When your dog is only a few feet away from you, toss a treat behind you so that it will keep running in your direction.
- Then turn and run the other way.
- Try incorporating obedience commands and chase games.
Note: End the game when the chase leads to over-exuberant jumping, mouthing, or nipping. This game is not recommended for young kids for the reasons mentioned.