Play is such an important activity for dogs, and taking some time out of our day to spend quality time with our dogs with no distractions is great for our mental health too!

Just a few of the benefits of play include:

  • Mental Stimulation – This is such an important one. Just as we make sure our dogs get the right amount of physical exercise, we need to make time to give their brains a work out too. Preventing boredom and providing your dog with something to do can help with a whole range of behavioural problems such as destructive behaviour or excessive barking. Play is also a great way to relieve stress for dogs that tend to be quite anxious.
  • Physical Activity – A great game can provide your dog with an outlet for all that pent up energy and depending on the game it can help to get us more active too! Just be mindful of your dog’s age and physical fitness, avoiding activities like long games of fetch that are repeatedly putting strain onto the joints. There are so many different ways to play that if you have an older dog or a dog with a condition that affects their mobility then you can find a game to suit their activity levels.
  • Build a Fantastic Bond – Play is vital in creating a great bond with your dog – as the saying goes ‘Those that play together, stay together’. This can have some huge knock on effects for your training too – if your dog thinks that hanging out with you is great fun, then they’re much more likely to have a great recall as being near you is the best place to be!
  • Training – We absolutely love to train our dogs by playing games – there’s just so much they can learn! Training doesn’t need to be something that involves formal sessions and treats – training is best when it’s a natural part of your everyday life. After all, our dogs are learning all the time and not just during training sessions. From improving recall to teaching new things like ‘drop’ and ‘leave’ or impulse control, play is a great way to improve your skills.

We’ve put together step by step guides to some of our favourite games. You can pick and choose activities to best suit your dog’s personality and physical ability. For example, if they’re not interested in toys you can try some food based games, or if they have some mobility issues there are plenty of games to play with minimal movement.

‘Find It’

This is a great game for all dogs and you can use anything your dog loves whether that’s food or toys. It can be tailored to your dog’s physical abilities and is perfect for days when it’s too hot for a walk.

Start out by popping the item somewhere your dog will be able to find it easily, and say ‘Find It’ – if they’re not sure at first you can point to the item or even go with them to show them where it is. Helping your dog out like this and working as a team is brilliant for strengthening your bond. After a few repetitions they’ll soon get the hang of it.

Once they’re happy to look for the item when you say ‘Find it’ you can start to make it more interesting by hiding the item in different places, or even hide them while your dog is out of the room to give them a bit more of a challenge. If you’re using food you could scatter different pieces around the room so they need to try a little bit harder to find them all.

Hide and Seek

Similar to ‘Find-it’ but instead of hiding a toy or food, we’re going to hide ourselves! Wait until you’re out of sight of your dog, then hide and call them! This is a great way to give your recall a boost as it makes getting to you a really fun game. You can also play this by having an obstacle between you they need to get past, or by recalling your dog then running away so they can have great fun chasing you!

Tug

Tug is a brilliant game to play with your dog but there are lots of misconceptions that might put you off playing. There are some myths around playing tug such as it can cause your dog to become aggressive or that you shouldn’t let them win, but these are both unfounded and tug can actually provide some great training opportunities to teach your dog to ‘drop’ and to develop some impulse control.

Be careful when choosing a toy to play tug and ensure that it’s safe and soft, and always be mindful of your dog’s teeth and neck. Avoid any sharp, jerky movements and don’t lift your dog off the floor with the tug toy. You can buy tug toys that have an elasticated handle which acts as a shock absorber making the game much more gentle on your dog’s neck (and your arm if you have a strong dog!).

If your dog doesn’t already know a ‘drop’ command, then wait until they naturally release the toy and say ‘drop’ as they let go. Over time they’ll associate ‘Drop’ with letting go of the toy and you can begin to ask them to drop during play. Initially, make the toy still when you ask for a drop so they’re more likely to let go, and you can gradually build it up to the point where they’ll be happy to let go in the middle of a game. Make sure you reward them when they do – a great way to do this is to give them back the toy they just dropped. We don’t want them to think that drop means their toy is going to be taken away, so rewarding them with the same toy means we’re not making ‘drop’ a bad thing.

Which Hand?

A great game that you can take anywhere to get your dog’s focus. Hide a treat in one hand, and present both hands to your dog – they then have to decide which hand they think the food is in, and are rewarded with the treat when they get it right!

Create an obstacle course

This is a great confidence-building activity and one that is brilliant for building trust as you work as a team. You can use anything that’s safe for your dog, making sure that it’s stable and don’t use anything slippery or sharp. Things like cardboard boxes, sheets of tarpaulin and cushions are all great. Getting your dog used to walking over different textures and things that make a noise helps to build your dogs confidence, as well as helping to increase body awareness and get them thinking about where they’re placing their feet.

Once you’ve laid out your course, encourage your dog to walk along, rewarding them with a treat when they do – the key here is to take it really slowly and just let them explore. If they’re not sure about anything then just give it a miss and revisit it later on – we don’t want to put any pressure on them to do anything they’re not comfortable with.

Amanda Griffiths
Amanda is currently training to become a professional dog trainer, and is passionate about the benefits of enrichment and mental stimulation on dog health and behaviour. She’s the founder of The Cognitive Canine Company, providing enrichment and behavioural support to owners of dogs that require crate rest, restricted exercise or have a long term condition that impacts their mobility. In her spare time, she enjoys trick training and rally obedience with her Shetland Sheepdog, Poppy.
http://www.cognitivecanineco.co.uk

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