Playing regularly with your dog will keep him stimulated, teach you about his personality and strengthen the bond between you.
‘All dogs enjoy different games, so working out which kind he enjoys and the rewards he responds to is the first step,’ says Ali Taylor, Head of Canine Welfare at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. ‘Border Collies like to chase toys and bring them back, while a Springer Spaniel will enjoy interaction based on searching for a toy.
‘But all play is important to dogs as it keeps them physically and mentally stimulated, and less likely to become bored and frustrated, so you’ll have a more obedient dog.’
Ali suggests avoiding rough-and-tumble wrestling games – which can over-excite your dog – and organising play in short bursts of up to 10 minutes, about three times a day, and always finishing while your dog is still keen to play.
It’s also sensible to use lots of praise and encouragement, and begin a game when your pet is sitting or lying down, as this encourages good behaviour.
5 games to play with your dog
1. Coming… ready or not
Enhance a normal game of fetch by introducing some of the techniques used when training search dogs. Hide his ball or another favourite toy somewhere so that he has to work by sniffing to find it. Then guide him into the area, watching him follow his superb sense of smell until he finds the toy.
You could also try hiding when he’s not looking and then call him. As soon as he finds you, praise him and give a food treat. You can play this hide-and-seek game with his favourite food treats, too – try hiding one under a line of plastic mugs and see if he can sniff it out. He’ll be using his nose and his concentration, so this type of game is a great sense stimulator.
2. Temptation alley
This game is good for getting your dog to come to you on demand. It’s also great fun and dogs tend to pick it up quite quickly.
Ask a friend to hold your dog at one end of a path or alley, and lay his toys and treats in two parallel lines. Stand at the other end of the path or alley and call him to you so that he walks up the middle. Each time he does it without succumbing to the temptation of picking up a toy or a treat, reward him for it.
Some people avoid playing tug because they worry it will encourage aggression in their dog, but the RSPCA says there shouldn’t be a problem as long your dog obeys when you ask.
Encourage him to grab the toy (something soft and comfortable to hold is best) by saying ‘get it’ or ‘grab it’. When he has a good hold, keep him interested by shaking the toy, from side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards.
During the game stop tugging by saying ‘leave’ (just once), move your hands into your body, keep them still and don’t speak. Your dog may continue tugging but will eventually release the grip. Allowing him to ‘win’ sometimes will help build his confidence.
Tug provides an outlet for your dog’s natural canine urge to grab and pull on things with his mouth.
4. Brain training
Keep boredom at bay with an interactive brain game, designed to occupy and stimulate. There a lots of challenging brain games available but a couple you might want to try are Dogit Mind Games Interactive Dog Toy or Aikiou Interactive Dog Bowl.
5. Clean up your toys!
Teaching him to put his toys away is a great game and helps you, too. All you need is a basket and a few of your dog’s toys.
Scatter the toys on the floor near the basket. You’ll probably have to help him at first, but get your dog to pick up one toy at a time and give them to you by holding out your hand. Each time he gives you a toy, reward him with a treat. Then show your dog how you put each item he gives you in the basket.
Show him the basket and point to it every time he picks up a toy in his mouth. Eventually he will drop each toy into the basket – but remember to treat him every time he does this successfully. This game is good for obedience training.