Canine fun and games
There are a lot of games you can play easily with your dog that don’t require much preparation or complicated equipment. While ideally it is best to play outside, this is not always possible due to bad weather or lack of a yard or other accessible outdoor, dog-friendly area. However, many games can also be adapted to playing indoors, if somewhat less rambunctiously. Here are a few popular games, some of which can be played both indoors and outdoors.
Go Fetch. Any list of games to play with your dog would be incomplete without mentioning the classic game of fetch. This involves throwing a ball or some other dog-friendly, safe object at a distance and asking your dog to retrieve it. While this classic game sounds easy, not all dogs instinctively understand that you want them to pick up the ball or object, but for those who do, the greatest challenge often lies in getting him to give back the ball. In order for fetch to work, your dog must first have mastered the basic recall training and ‘drop it’ command. Once your dog is willing to get the ball and actually relinquish it to you, fetch can provide hours of fun and good exercise. Many dogs in fact love playing football with us. While fetch is clearly more fun outside, a modified version can be played indoors provided you don’t throw the ball too far and you choose a fairly clear uncluttered area in which your dog can move freely and there is no chance of him running into anything.
Hide and Seek: This is a great game to play with your dog and another family member, both inside and outside. In the house, tell your dog or puppy to stay with the other person while you go and hide in another room. Call out to him and when he finds you congratulate him and reward him with lots of affection and a treat. This game is also fun outdoors, just be sure not to hide too far from your dog and make sure he is already trained to stay and come when called. If your dog has the self-control to stay on his own while you go hide, you can also play hide and seek alone with him.
Flying disk dog: This often exciting game is best played outdoors. Some dogs immediately understand that they are supposed to catch the disc and give it back while others may take some coaching. First familiarize him with the disc by encouraging him to pick it up with his mouth. Once your dog is comfortable taking it, teach him the “give” command, by rewarding him with a hug or a treat when he brings you the disc back. Then practice throwing him the disc at a very short distance, if he catches it reward him again and gradually increase the distance you throw it each time. This is a lot of fun and a great workout for your canine giving him ample opportunity to run and jump while practicing the retrieve function. Make sure though to buy a disk specifically made for dogs as a human flying disk could hurt your friend and might be difficult to catch. This game requires a lot of space to play and make sure that there are no children nearby to prevent anyone from getting hit by accident.
Scent games: Dogs are born with an incredible sense of smell, which historically they used to track prey. However, today as our house companions, most dogs don’t get the opportunity to use this amazing aptitude. Scent games are a rewarding way to awaken your dog’s natural behaviour and challenge his mind through play. “Hide the object” is a simple scent game whereby you first show your dog an object with his or your odour on it (i.e. an item of your clothing or one of his toys) and then hide it around the house for him to sniff out. The first object should be easy for him to find, with hiding places becoming progressively more difficult. If your dog finds the object, you can reward him stroking him or with a treat. Another fun game is “Which hand?”.Show your dog a favourite toy (which again has your dog’s smell on it) in one hand and then let him sniff it. Next time, hide the toy in one hand but show your dog both hands. Only give your dog the toy if he sniffs out the correct hand. You may also try hiding a treat under one of two or three cups. Once your dog, understands the concept, you can try switching the cups around with the goal being that he overturns the cup to get the treat. If you can, try hiding your dog’s favourite toy outside and encourage him to find it.
Obstacle course: If your dog likes to run and jump set up a DIY obstacle course in your yard or purchase readymade agility equipment appropriate for your dogs size and age. A DIY option could include orange traffic cones around which you can train your dog to slalom, or a children’s pop-up play tunnel, large enough for your dog to safely and comfortably crawl through. Professional agility training equipment that you can use at home includes weaves, jumps, tunnels, frames and dog walks. Not only is this good exercise for your dog, following orders to complete an obstacle is extremely stimulating for him. Some obstacle courses can be adapted to an indoor environment as well.
Water games: Many dogs like water and especially in summer when temperatures rise, your dog may enjoy running with you through a sprinkler or hose in the garden. He may also enjoy retrieving toys from the water so if you live near a clean body of water appropriate for your dog’s swimming skills, try tossing him a floatable dog toy which he then must bring back to you. Today, paddle boarding or canoeing with your dog are also increasingly popular sports. Your dog will enjoy being on the water with you and may want to jump in for a swim. Make sure he is fitted out with a dog life jacket, even if you are confident about his swimming skills. If you don’t happen to live near water but you have a yard, you might want to think about setting up a dog pool that your buddy can have fun splashing around in, especially in summer. Your dog must be constantly supervised around water.
A trip to the dog park: Increasingly popular, dog parks are a place where your dog is free to run around off-lead providing that you supervise his behaviour. Dog parks provide an ideal opportunity for your dog to socialize with other dogs, along with playing with you in an open space. However, not all dogs are comfortable or ready to be around other dogs so take it slow and make sure that he responds immediately to the come command before bringing him to an off-leash area. Some experts also recommend taking your dog for a vigorous walk before going to the dog park, so he has already had the chance to expend some energy before engaging in what is a potentially very stimulating environment. Some dog parks have special areas or times for smaller dogs If for example you own a Yorkshire Terrier, a Dachshund or a Pomeranian, he may not be ready to be around much larger dogs, such as a huge Great Dane or even a Labrador.
Choosing the right dog toy
There are many types of dog toys designed to liven up any games you play with your dog as well as to keep him busy when he is on his own. With a toy to suit nearly every purpose, you should have no problem finding something enriching for your dog. Generally it is best to try and adapt the size of the toy to the size of your dog, with larger toys being more appropriate for larger dogs. But keep in mind that a toy should not be so small that your dog could swallow or choke on it. Different toys are also more suitable for dogs at different ages. For example, certain chew toys are especially designed for teething puppies while other toys are designed for the aging teeth of senior dogs. Also don’t forget to renew any toys that are looking worn out or broken and avoid giving your canine companion toys meant for children, which can be dangerous for him. Good quality dog toys are made from materials designed to resist even intense chewing. Here are a few popular options:
Puzzle toys: These toys come in different shapes and sizes and are designed to stimulate your dog’s mental faculties and prevent boredom when he is on his own at home. Most puzzle toys include some form of puzzle feeding device such as a ball that you can fill with a treat along with an opening that you can adjust depending on how challenging you want it to be for your dog to get the treat, or a bouncy rubber toy that can also be filled with a treat. Another puzzle toy involves a puzzle board with holes for hiding treats and sliding disks or a plush toy filled with squeaky toys inside that your dog can try to remove.
Water toys: If your dog likes water, there are lots of floatable water toys for hours of fetching fun including a floatable disc, faux “stones” that you can skip and he can retrieve, rubber toys with a rope attached, as well as toys that you fill with water which is slowly released when your dog chews on it, giving him a nice cool down in summer.
Chew toys: You probably have already figured this out, but dogs really do need to chew! In fact, chewing is necessary for their mental and physical health. Chewing food will not satisfy this instinctive need, which is present in all dogs. There are many durable, and so called “indestructible” chew toys on the market but it is important to choose toys that are not too hard for your dog’s teeth and not too soft that he can easily chew it up. Also choose a chew toy big enough that he can’t potentially choke on it.
Toys for snuggling or carrying around. Many dogs, especially young puppies, enjoy playing with, sleeping with or just carrying around a “security blanket” or favourite toy. This may be a T-shirt belonging to you, or a toy especially designed for this purpose. But be sure to choose one that is durable and easy to wash.
So, when it comes to playing with your dog there are countless possibilities to engage your dog’s mind, foster his social skills, boost his physical activity, and simply have fun spending time together. If your canine companion doesn’t seem to respond with immediate enthusiasm to one game or toy, don’t let this discourage you. It may take him a bit of time to get the knack of a new plaything or understand the rules of the game. If this should happen, put the toy aside for the moment and take it out later or try the game another day. It is also possible that your dog may really not like a particular toy or game. If this seems to be the case, don’t hesitate to try a different game or toy, potentially better suited to his natural aptitudes or inclination. Sooner rather than later, you are bound to hit on a game or toy that he will love, providing hours of entertainment and a new means to enrich your relationship with your dog.