Playing with our dog is good for many reasons –
- Bonding – Dog play allows us to engage in a joint activity with our dog. In particular, we teach our dog certain skills, or work together with him to achieve common goals. This helps significantly with the bonding process.
- Pack leadership – While playing with our dog, it is important that we stay in control of the game. I set up some rules for the game and teach my dog to follow those rules. This helps to keep everyone safe, and helps to teach my dog good behaviors during his play sessions. Rules and structure will also put us in the leadership position and help establish us as the pack leader.
- Positive outlets for hyper energy – Setting up regular play sessions will also help redirect our dog’s hyper energy into positive areas. This lowers the likelihood of him becoming frustrated, or finding games to play on his own that may not be people or property friendly.
- Dog obedience training – Dog play also presents a great opportunity to obedience train our dog. I throw in frequent breaks during play sessions, so that my dog does not get overly excited and loses control. Break-time is a great time to slip in some obedience training commands.
- Fun for everyone – Playing with our dog is fun for everyone. If we do it right, our dog will have a blast and so will we. I keep dog play sessions short, interesting, and rewarding. I experiment with a variety of games to keep my dog engaged. I stop playing before he gets bored, so that he will always want more.
Why Food Games?
Food games are especially fun to play with a dog, because food is usually a strong motivator. Instead of giving my dog all of his food in his silver bowl, I keep some to use during our play sessions.
It is always strange to me why some people are against using food during play and training. Dogs need to eat, therefore we either make them work for their food or give food to them for free. Giving free food to a dog does not teach him anything except that food is easy to come by, and no effort needs to be expended to get what he wants.
On the other hand, using food during play and obedience training teaches the dog that-
- Food is not free.
- Food comes from us.
- Food is a reward for doing work for us.
- Working together with us is a good thing because it results in a fun and rewarding play session.
One of my dog’s most favorite game is Find-It.
I start by playing this game in my enclosed backyard.
- First, I call my dog to me and reward her for coming.
- Next, I show her that I have a small but tasty treat in hand. This usually gets her undivided attention.
- Then, I say “Find-It” and throw the treat a very short distance away and in clear sight.
- The motion naturally catches my dog’s eye and she pounces on the treat.
- I mark that behavior (Good!), praise her, and reward her with another treat.
Once my dog gets familiar with the game, I stop rewarding her for finding the treat. I also start throwing the Find-It treat farther away, and make it more challenging for her by throwing it into long grass, holes, or under bushes.
The Find-It game is also fun to play while out on a walk. My Siberian Husky loves going on hiking trails, and when it comes time to go home, she will usually want to linger behind. This is usually when I start playing the Find-It game with her to get her moving together with me in a homeward direction.
Most dogs love this game because it is rewarding and they get to practice their instinct to smell and search for food. As such, it can also be useful to motivate and distract dogs who are anxious about going outside.
Note – Of course, do not play this game in areas where there is trash, wrappers, poop, poisonous plants, or dangerous objects that we do not want our dogs to “find”. I only play this game after my dog has grown out of her “put everything in her mouth” phase, and after we have some training under our belt.
When playing any game with our dog, it is important to consider the environment, as well as our dog’s temperament, age, training, past experiences and more, to ensure that we use food and other motivators properly, to encourage good behaviors and discourage bad behaviors. Always make sure that our dog and everyone else around is safe.
2. Buried Treasure
My other dog, a Shiba Inu, can be very lazy when it comes to working for his food. Often, he will lie about and wait until my Husky has finished working on a food toy, and come clean up what she has left behind.
However, the “Buried Treasure” game always gets him going on his own.
- I start by getting all of his toys together in a corner of the room.
- Then I put little bits of kibble in some of the toys and bury them under other toys.
- In the end, I have a pile of toys, some of which have buried kibble.
- To top everything off I sprinkle some kibble down at the pile of toys and let it trickle down to the bottom of the pile.
Shiba Sephy has a lot of fun finding all the buried kibble while digging through his pile of toys.
Of course we can also bury toys in a sand-box or in holes in our backyard and let our dog dig them out. This game is great for teaching a dog which backyard areas are sanctioned excavation points, and which areas are off limits.
If we do not have a sand box, then another fun variation of the game is to hide food toys in various locations around the backyard or house. I start by hiding the toys in easier to find places and let my dog see where I am putting the stuff. Once he understands the game, I can increase the level of challenge by putting him in a separate location while I hide his toys. Once he understands the game, I may also start to put the toys in harder to look for, but safe places.
For more advanced hide-and-seekers, we can even set up an agility course that the dog must conquer in order to find all the food.
Only do this after the dog is already trained and comfortable with each of the agility obstacles.
3. Food Puzzles
Finally, another great way to engage our dog is by putting his food into interactive food toys. In this way, he has to exercise his mind and figure out the toy puzzles, before he can get to his food.
There are a fair number of interactive toys that my dogs enjoy. The toys are fun, keeps them occupied, and gives them something interesting to work on.
In addition to ready-made interactive food toys, I always try to figure out new ways to create food puzzle games for my dogs.
For example, during Halloween, I tried a chicken bobbing game (a variation to the apple bobbing game). I filled a container with water and placed little pieces of chicken under the water. Then I let my Husky bob for the pieces of chicken. She had a lot of fun and it is also a great way to cool down.
My dogs also love tearing apart cardboard boxes to get at the food inside.
Sometimes, I may combine multiple interactive toys together to change the food puzzle and increase the challenge of the game.
I always supervise my dog when trying out a new interactive toy. I make sure he does not swallow anything that may be unhealthy, a choking hazard, or may disrupt his digestive system.
There are many other fun ways to play with our dog and keep him happy and well exercised. Some of my dogs’ favorite activities include neighborhood walks, playing with other dogs, flirt-pole, and more.
I try to always keep dog play fun, upbeat, and rewarding. This will make everyone happy, and enhance my relationship with my dogs.
A busy, and tired dog, is a well-behaved, relaxed, and fun companion!