Playing with your dog is a great way to build a mutually strong and lasting relationship and strengthen trust between the two of you. It can also:
- Encourage your dog to exercise their BODY and their MIND;
- Help you alleviate stress and get a healthy dose of physical exercise;
- Reinforce your dog's training;
- Help you understand and communicate with your dog better.
Games as Rewards
Any activity that is both controlled by you and enjoyed by your dog can be used as a reward for good behaviour. Just like using treats, toys, praise or affection, you can use your dog's favourite game as a form of positive reinforcement reward as well.
- Stay in control of the game
- You are the one to decide when playtime is over
- Don't include your body or clothing as part of a game
- Incorporate commands such as 'sit', 'stay' and 'down' often
- If your dog doesn't seem to understand a game, go back to the basics or try a new game
- Remember to have fun!
Game #1: Fetch
Playing fetch with a ball, stick, bone, squeeky toy or Frisbee is a great way to help your dog engage in vigorous physical exercise. Its also a great way to practice recall and patience. Start in close proximity where you lightly toss the toy you are playing with. Once your dog becomes interested and picks it up with his/her mouth, praise your dog immensely with positive rewards so your dog remembers that picking up the toy is a good thing.
Once your dog has mastered this, teach your dog to bring the toy back to you by teaching him/her the "Drop-It" command. Once your dog has the toy in his/her mouth, put a piece of delicious reward really close to his/her nose so when your dog attempts to take the treat, he/she will automatically drop the toy to do so. As he/she is doing this, mark the action of spitting out the toy with the verbal cue, "Drop-It" so your dog makes the connection to the cue and the action.
Practice this continuously so your dog can now enjoy a good game of Fetch with you!
HINT: Do not let your dog take the fetch toy and run away with it. Doing this consistently will teach your dog NOT to bring his/her toys back to you for play.
Game #2: Tug of War
A friendly game of tug-of-war is a great way for your dog to exercise their natural predatory instincts. Choose a toy designed to withstand the game (such as a rope toy) and initiate play with a verbal command such as 'take it' or 'tug it.' Similar to the Fetch game, it is important that your dog understands the 'Drop-It' command. As you are enjoying the tug, ask your dog to "Drop-It" periodically so he/she knows you are still in control of the game.
HINT: DO NOT play tug with your own belongings (e.g., socks, slippers, etc.) and try to pick only 1 or 2 toys to designate as tugging toys so your dog will be able to understand your intentions when you present the toy to them and you will understand what game he wants to play when he brings the toy to you!
Game #3: Treasure Hunt
Ask your dog to stay in the 'Down' position while you hide some of their favourite healthy treats around the room. Use your choice of release word (e.g., "Go Find It") to release your dog from the 'down' position so they can begin the hunt! This game is great for stimulating your dog's sense of smell and will help them exercise their mind.
HINT: You can also create a smaller version of treat/toy treasure hunt using cups! Simply place 3 cups upside down and place a reward beneath one of the cups. Your dog will have to use their memory and senses to uncover the treat beneath the correct cup.
Game #4: Toy Hunt
This game is the advanced version of the Treasure Hunt game as mentioned above and will work well with dogs that are very toy and treat motivated. Begin by hiding some treats inside a toy (HINT: find or make your own toys or balls that have little pockets inside for treats)
Begin by asking your dog to stay in a "Sit" or "Down" position. Once you've hidden the toy you can release your dog from the stay position and ask them to "Go Find It." When teaching this game to your dog initially, start by hiding the toy in a visible area and each time the dog successfully finds the toy you can increase the difficulty of the hiding place. Remember to give them lots of praise once they've found it by giving them play time with the toy!
Game #5: Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a fun and simple game. Start by asking your dog to stay in a "Sit" or "Down" position while you hide. When you've found your hiding spot call to your dog to come find you by either using his/her name, or the commands "Come" or "Find Me".
Once your dog has mastered this game with you, ask a family member or friend to join you in this game by hiding in another location so your dog will now have to seek out 2 people instead of 1.
This game exercises and reinforces your dogs recall training and as your dog improves his seeking abilities you can begin hiding in trickier places!
Be Creative and Have Fun!
Remember, any activity that is both controlled by you and enjoyed by your dog can be used as a reward for good behaviour and converted into a game. So be creative in choosing and creating fun games that by incorporating different games, commands and even tricks that both you and your dog can enjoy! Have fun!