One of the best ways to turn our dog or puppy into a model citizen, is to play fun games with him.
Dog play will help keep a dog busy, as well as channel his energy into fun and constructive activities, that does not involve any property destruction. Dog play will also help with obedience training, deepen our dog relationship, and establish us as the pack leader.
Here are some important things to remember while playing with a dog:
- Establish dog play rules and enforce them consistently.
- Remember to have frequent breaks during play, so that our dog can refocus his attention on us. Frequent breaks will prevent him from getting over-excited, and losing control of himself.
- Keep sessions short, interesting, and rewarding. Stop playing before our dog gets bored, so that he will always want more.
- Cycle through a variety of games. Variety is the spice of life!
Dog Play 1 – Flirt Pole
A flirt pole is a simple pole/handle that is attached to a rope, with a toy at the end. We may create our own flirt pole, or simply buy one.
I made my own flirt pole by attaching some regular rope to a wooden drain-plunger handle. Then, I attached the Premier Tennis Tail dog toy to the end of the rope. This Premier toy works well because my dog absolutely loves chasing the fox-like-tail.
However, it should not be used with a flexible or bungee cord. With a flexible cord, the toy will bounce around more, and the hard tennis ball may hit us or our dog with much greater force. If I am using a flexible cord, I only use a very soft and light toy with my flirt pole, and I do not allow my dog to tug on it during play.
With this game, we may exercise our dog while not having to overly exert ourselves. Flirt poles are used to raise and train prey drive in dogs. As a result, hunting dogs will especially love this game.
Note though, that flirt poles are also used to train fighting dogs, because it increases their prey drive and coordination. Therefore it is important to have strict rules during play.
My flirt pole rules –
- Do not let the dog jump at us.
- Do not let the dog grab the toy out of our hand.
- A dog should only be allowed to grab the toy after we give him the command to start play.
- A dog should be willing to give up the toy when we ask him to, with NO attempt at resource guarding.
- Have frequent breaks during play to prevent over-excitement.
Always ensure that our dog follows rules and does not misbehave. If he starts to show any kind of dog aggression, stop playing this game.
Dog Play 2 – Water Hose
Just like the flirt pole, we can also use the water-hose to create a fun chasing game.
First, I set my water-hose nozzle so that it shoots out a jet of water. Then, I move the jet around for my dog to chase. The big advantage of this game is that we can use it to give our dog a bath.
My Shiba Inu hates going into the bathtub. He is so stressed, he will not even eat food. However, Shiba loves chasing water, and does not mind getting wet during play.
I make sure that the water force is not too great when I spray it around, and am careful not to hit his face. For the safety of everyone, I usually stand a good distance away from my dog. I stop from time to time for obedience training, and I do not allow my dog to jump on me or the hose during play.
A dog may get a bit obsessed with this game, which has some similarity to the laser dot game. I do not to play the laser dot game with my dog because it may cause behavioral disorders.
The water-hose game is a bit different, however, because the water clearly comes from the hose, and our dog can catch it, feel it, and drink it. The laser dot, on the other hand, can never be caught.
Nevertheless, a dog may still get obsessed with, and want to attack the water-hose. If he exhibits this attacking behavior, then enforce strict play-rules or stop playing the game. The water-hose game is not for everyone. Some dogs may not like water, even when used in play.
Dog Play 3 – Tug of War
Playing tug of war with a dog may sometimes encourage dog biting. Therefore, we want to follow clear tug rules.
In particular, make sure we control the start and end of the game. I start with a command such as Take it or Tug, to indicate that it is fine to grab the toy. I end with a Drop command.
If my dog loses grip of the tug toy during play, I do not let him lunge or bite at it until I give the Take it command again. If he tries to grab the toy, I give a no-mark (Uh-oh), then the Drop command to stop the game. I take a short break or do some obedience commands before restarting.
If my dog accidentally gets his teeth on me during playtime, I give a no-mark (Uh-oh), stop the game right away, and follow-up with a short break.
If my dog fails to drop the toy on a Drop command, then I stop playing with him.
To remove the toy, I hold it still (stationary), close to his muzzle. I am no longer tugging, just holding still. Eventually, it will become very boring, and my dog will drop the toy. If he chooses to bite on my hands instead, I give a strong no-mark (Ack-ack), and a short time-out, if necessary.
This game is not appropriate for dogs who are aggressive or who have resource guarding issues.
I do not play tug-of-war with my Shiba Inu because he gets too excited and reactive, even with stringent rules. He will follow the rules during the tug game, but after play is over, he shows dog aggressive behavior during other activities, such as dog walking. For example, he started leash biting again after playing tug.
If our dog starts to play rough with members of the household after playing, cease tug games altogether.
The best tug playmate for my Shiba is another dog. That way, he knows that rough play is acceptable with another dog, but never acceptable with a human. At the same time, he has an outlet for his rough play desires.
Dog Play 4 – Ball Games
There are a variety of fun ball games we can play with our dog. Which games most appeal to our dog, will partly depend on breed and temperament. Try out a variety of games, and identify the ones that our dog most enjoys.
Throw a small ball to the dog so that he can easily catch it in his mouth. Make sure the ball is small enough to fit in his mouth, but not so small that he can accidentally swallow it.
Once our dog understands the game, we can make the tosses more difficult. We can also play this with a Frisbee, especially if we have a large play space. If he really enjoys playing catch, consider training him for disc dog.
Kick the ball away from our dog and get him to chase after it. Once he gets to it, let him play with it for a bit, then kick or step it away from him again.
Soccer is best played with a larger ball that is not easy to puncture or deflate. Rubber balls are quite durable and can work well for soccer. Pick a larger sized ball, so that it is difficult for our dog to keep the ball in his mouth and chew on it. This also makes it easier for us to tackle the ball away.
Some dogs, like my Siberian Husky, prefer chasing after squeaky balls. We may also dab a small amount of peanut butter on the ball to make it more desirable.
Fetch is a wonderful dog obedience game. However, it can be difficult to teach to a dog.
While teaching our dog to play fetch, go in small, slow steps. Make sure we already have some obedience training commands in hand, including Drop, as well as a mark and a no-mark. A mark (e.g. Yes, Good) indicates that the dog is doing the right thing while a no-mark (e.g. Uh-oh), indicates that he is going in the wrong direction.
I start by giving my dog a toy. Once he holds it in his mouth, I move a few steps away, and call him to me. I give him a lot of encouragement for taking steps toward me, and praise him well for coming. When he gets to me, I give him the Drop command , and give him many treats for giving me the toy.
Once he is comfortable with this exercise, I try throwing the fetch toy a very short distance away. If my dog just ignores the toy, I try using a more interesting squeaky toy, or coax him toward the toy with treats and lots of praise.
If my dog comes back with the toy, then there is a big celebration. However, more often than not, he will run to it and then come back without the toy. He may even take the toy and go play with it somewhere else, or tease me with it.
Have patience and treat with a high priority item every time our dog goes in the right direction. If he comes back without the toy, we can try and give a no-mark (e.g. Uh-oh) as soon as he drops the toy. Then use the Take it command and offer him the toy again. Once he has the toy in his mouth, walk a few steps back, call to him enthusiastically, and make sure to give lots of praise when he moves toward us.
If the dog runs off to play with the toy, or decides to play catch-me-if-you-can with it, then a higher priority treat or item may solve the problem. Alternatively, we may try a lower priority fetch toy. Do not chase after the dog, as that will initiate a chase game and reward him for his running-away behavior.
Not all dogs like playing fetch. Both my dogs will play it sometimes, but it is not one of their favorite games. Listen to our dog, and do not force him to play a game he does not really enjoy.
Dog Play 5 – Dog Sports
Getting a dog involved in dog sports such as agility training, disc dog, flyball, and lure coursing, can be a lot of fun. It is a good way to train a dog to focus on a joint-activity with us, rather than on other dogs or the environment.
For dogs who are more human focused and less dog focused, participating in a sport with us is more fun than going to the dog park. Check the local SPCA for some classes on dog sports. If not, use the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to find a trainer nearby who teaches it.
Choose a sport based on our dog’s temperament and preferences.
My Shiba Inu is a hunting dog, so he is more interested in prey games, e.g. lure coursing. Shiba is totally uninterested in “fetch”, so disc dog and flyball are out. He will do some agility, but only when he feels like it.
Other fun ways to exercise a dog and keep him happy and healthy include dog walking, dog parks, dog daycare, and obedience training.
Remember to always keep dog play fun and upbeat. This will make everyone happy, and enhance our relationship with our dog.
A busy and tired dog, is a good and happy dog!