Play is a fantastic way of spending fun time with your dog, but are we playing the right games?

Play is a fantastic way of spending fun time with our dogs, but are we playing the right games?

A dog may seem disinterested in play if they do not immediately enjoy or understand the game. This can lead to owners giving up on trying to play with their dogs and the dogs finding their own fun (which may not be an activity we like!).

It is therefore worth investing time to find out what our dogs enjoy, then if necessary, training aspects of the game so it can easily be repeated. For example, some dogs may love to chase a ball but they are not so keen on bringing it back. Training a retrieve and drop can therefore allow both you and your dog to enjoy a simply but fun game!

Another aspect to consider is your dog’s physical capabilities. Many canine activities tend to involve high energy or chase-type games, but this is not always necessary, enjoyable or appropriate for your dog. These types of games may also tire your dog physically but provide little in the form of mental stimulation. After an hour of returning the home, the dog is therefore recharged and ready for the next activity.

Experimenting with games that use your dog’s senses and puzzle solving abilities can provide opportunities for play that are not only self-rewarding but mentally challenging. Games should always start off with an easily attainable reward (e.g. ripping something open, gaining a food reward), then gradually increase in difficulty.

Variety is key, so it is important to alternate the activities, provide them in different environments and ensure different members of the family get involved. Here are a few fun games to try:

  • Drop a treat into a container of water and watch your dog as they try to drink it up, suck it up or fish it out with their paws!

  • Hide some treats in a cardboard box and then fill it with screwed up newspaper, old socks, bottles and bits of old material. Place a few higher value treats in the wrapped up newspaper/bottles/material. Add the cue “find it” as the dog searches for the treats.

  • Once your dog is slightly more experienced at “find it” games, start to use the a third dimension. You can hide treats in tree stumps, on shelves, between chairs or hang little parcels of food up in bushes.

There are also lots of games suitable for children to play with dogs and games orientated around sniffing, searching and manipulation, are often safer as they tend to involve self-control rather than high arousal. Here are a few fun games to try with your child:

  • Ask your child to start collecting cardboard boxes or plastic bottles of any sizes. Place small treats in the boxes and bottles, then construct a ROBOT! Usually a couple of boxes stacked each side for the legs, one large one for the body and then a medium sized box for the head will do. Small holes can then be made to place the bottles in the sides for the arms and maybe antenna?! The children can then tell the dog that they need to be saved from the robot and usually the dog is happy to comply in dismantling it!

  • Place 3 or 4 colanders or plastic flower pots on the floor and ask the child to place some treats under one of the pots. The dog should be quietly asked to sit while the child hides the treats. A cue such as “find it” can then be given by the child and they can watch the dog search for the treasure! If the dog shows lots of interest in the pot (pawing it, wagging tail staring at it), it should be lifted to allow the dog to gain access to the treats.

If you have any questions about your dog or would like some further ideas on the best games to try, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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