Five great games to play with your dog

Playing regularly with your dog will keep them stimulated, teach you about their personality and strengthen the bond between you. Try these bright ideas for having fun indoors or out, as recommended by Petplan behaviourist Nick Jones.

Dogs thrive on a mix of physical and mental activities that employ their senses and problem-solving abilities. Certain breeds enjoy particular games. For example, Border Collies and Golden Retrievers like chasing and bringing back toys; Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels are in heaven when they’re hunting for something, and Huskies love high-energy challenges.

Praise and rewards are key elements during play, but be mindful not to over-feed or over-excite your dog. Ten-minute bursts, three times a day, should satisfy them. All of these games to play with your dog are suitable for inside or outdoors – just remember to clear away hazards and breakables.

1. Hide, sniff and seek

Make the most of your dog’s keen sense of smell. Try hiding some dry food (from their daily allowance) under a blanket for them to sniff out. To engage a puppy or keep a senior dog’s mind active, pop a treat under one of several plastic mugs and let them work out where the treat is. Switch the positions of the treat and the number of mugs, to keep the game challenging.

Hide a favourite toy – they won’t stop until they find it. Encourage the search, saying ‘find the toy!’, and be there with a reward and praise when they’re successful (don’t make it too difficult at first). There’s endless fun to be had as you extend the game into other rooms and out into the garden. You can always give your dog a hint of where to look if they get stuck.

Why not hide yourself, in a cupboard or under the bed? When your dog is not looking, call them and when they’ve found you, celebrate their triumph with a food treat.

2. Temptation alley

Here’s a test that wins your dog brownie points for obedience. Ask a friend to hold your dog at one end of a path or corridor. Lay the toys and treats in two parallel rows. From the far end, call your dog to come to you, so that they walk between the toys. Each time they get to you without succumbing to the temptation of picking up a toy or a treat, reward them – they’ve earned it!

3. Tug-of-war

An energetic game that satisfies a dog’s urge to grab and pull on things with its mouth. Encourage your dog to grab the toy (choose something soft and comfortable to hold) by saying ‘get it’ or ‘grab it’. When they have a good hold, the fun starts as you keep them interested by shaking the toy, from side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards.

Mid-way, stop the tugging by saying ‘leave’ (just once) and bring your hands back to your body. Keep them still and don’t speak. Your dog may continue tugging, but will eventually release their grip. This allows them to ‘win’ the game and builds confidence.

At the end of playtime, you want them to sit and ‘Give’ you the toy, so you can put it away. If your dog persistently refuses, or if they’re prone to possessive or aggressive behaviour, tug-of-war isn’t the ideal game for them.

Instead, try a stair sprint – a great game for energetic breeds. Begin with your dog sitting at the base of the stairs next to you. Throw a treat up to the top of the stairs, say ‘race!’ and see them sprint to retrieve the prize. It’s a competitive game, great for bonding – and one they’re almost guaranteed to win. 

4. Brain-training puzzles

Dogs are never more resourceful than when a game involves food, and puzzle feeders are a great way to keep their brains active. Some require dogs to nuzzle and paw at sliders or windows to get at treats; others are hollowed-out balls that need concentration and skill to tease out the titbits. If your dog either bolts their food or is often disinterested in mealtimes, turning eating into a game can promote healthier habits. 

You can also DIY a mystery treat box: stuff loo or kitchen rolls with crumpled paper and dry food, hide them in a box with more scrunched-up newspaper, and watch your dog destroy the wrappings and discover their prize. (Be prepared for a little bit of clearing up afterwards!)

5. Tidy-up time

It’s true: dogs can learn to ‘tidy up’ in this two-stage training game, for which you’ll need a basket and a few of your pet’s toys. Scatter the toys on the floor and encourage your dog to fetch a toy and ‘Give’ it back to you. Reward them with a treat that’s higher in value to them than the toy in question. Repeat with their other toys.

When your dog is doing this well, which may take several days, place a toy basket at their feet. Now you want your dog to learn to ‘Drop’ the toy into the basket. Whenever they do it, be sure to reward them. Eventually, you’ll have the joy of playing with your pooch, knowing that they can clear up after themselves! 

What games does your dog enjoy playing best? Share your ideas on Instagram or X using the tag #PethoodStories

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