How to play with your dog

How to play with your dog

Want to build strong bonds with your pet? There’s no better way to enrich both of your lives than relaxing and having fun together. Here’s how to play with your dog.

Have you ever been advised by well meaning fellow pet parents that certain forms of play can lead to unwanted behaviours?  In some cases they are absolutely right. However, if you choose the right type of play for your dog’s personality, and set firm boundaries within your play sessions, you are actually teaching your pet how to behave.

Play is not only a form of training, it truly enriches your pet’s life. It provides mental stimulation, gives them (and you) a physical workout and helps them to relax.

Here are my top tips on how to play with your dog

  • Make it a regular thing – put aside around half an hour a day to focus on bonding with your pet
  • Be mindful of your pet’s physical ability and their personality.  Puppies and seniors especially have delicate joints and some activities are a bit too vigorous.
  • Consider your dog’s breed type when devising games. Gun dog breeds will likely enjoy hunting and fetching whilst terriers love a good chase. Having said that – they are all individuals!
  • Set the rules and be sure to stick with them.  As soon as their teeth touch you – the game stops. Getting growly and aggressive must also put an end to play. 
  • If your pet is already prone to unwanted behaviour such as barking for attention or resource guarding – choose a game that won’t give them the opportunity to practise those behaviours. If you can – go for an activity that rewards the exact opposite.
  • Swap and change activities as often as possible. Maybe play with a flirt pole one day, an obstacle course the next.  Don’t let play get boring or repetitive for either of you.
  • Playing with a puppy? Stop before they get tired. An overtired puppy will be more inclined to get bitey and/or forget their toilet training.
  • Have a variety of different toys to hand.  Some of them can be put away after play rather than left around the house. That way you can surprise your pet with a “new” toy from time to time.  Charity shops are a good place to find soft toys – especially if your dog likes to “kill” and disembowel their cuddlies.

Great games to play with your dog

Puzzle games

Games that encourage your dog to use their little grey cells are perfect for indoors on rainy days, or for pets that are less mobile.  Having said that – all dogs are more intelligent than you might imagine.  Try making your own puzzle games and see if they can figure them out.

Kibble in a bottle.  Pop a few pieces of dry food into a clean, dry, plastic bottle.  See if your pet can figure out how to get to the treats.  It’s not a good idea for them to chew plastic so you could make holes in either side of the bottle – around half way up – thread a pole or a piece of string through it and suspend it. Your dog will have to nudge, poke and swing the bottle to get to the treat.

Opening a present.  Sprinkle some treats over a tea towel and then fold, roll and twist it into a parcel.  Start with a simple roll (like a Swiss roll) and as your dog gets better at the game, make it more difficult for them to access the treats.

The shell game.  This is a great one for testing their noses!  Line up a series of plastic cups and pop a treat under each one. Can your pet find the snacks? Make the game more challenging by using different treats under each cup and by leaving some cups empty.

An internet search will show you lots of different pre-made puzzles for dogs. There are some wonderful challenges for them.

Flirt poles

A flirt pole is a great way to encourage your dog to play with toys – it’s super for dogs with a strong prey drive – ie the ones that like to play chase. 

A flirt pole is a long pole with a strong cord firmly attached to one end of it. You can tie a toy to the cord and use the pole to move the toy around. It encourages your pet to get active and to use their body without the risk of a person being jumped on or nipped in all of the excitement.

Be very aware though, that vigorous play with a flirt pole can be quite high impact on your dog’s joints.  For puppies, keep the “prey” on the ground, for seniors or pets with injuries/arthritis please be mindful of their physical limitations.

Obstacle courses

As you know, dog agility is one of my favourite canine sports. It’s basically just a big obstacle course to be completed in a certain order and against the clock. You might not fancy doing full blown competitive agility, but you can certainly have fun building an obstacle course for your pet.  It’s very good for their body and their brain.

Avoid jumps for young puppies, but other than that you can use your imagination to create an incredibly sensory experience for your pet. 

  • Try different surfaces (grass, gravel, mulch, cardboard, carpet).
  • Use large logs, garden furniture, pavers etc to create different levels that incorporate climbing….please make sure any structure is 100% stable and capable of bearing the dog’s weight though. Safety first!
  • Bring in some sniffy elements – different plants, perhaps some pots filled with things like seashells collected from the beach, grasses gathered on a walk, feathers, maybe even manure – your dog will like it, even if you don’t!
  • Play tunnels and ball pits marketed for toddlers are fun for dogs too. As are paddling pools and sand pits.

Chasing bubbles

Some dogs love to chase soap bubbles. All it takes is a 50p pot of bubble mix from the supermarket and a few minutes of your time.  This is a great game for children to get involved with!

At CK9 Training – we love incorporating games into our training sessions. If a dog is having fun, they will learn faster.  And if their pet parents are having fun too, they are more likely to keep on positively enriching their dog’s life.

Need some suggestions for how to play with your dog?  Book a 1-2-1 session with one of our trainers to brainstorm ideas for games that are tailor made to you dog’s interests and abilities.

Or sign up for a training class and see for yourself how dog training and play work seamlessly together to help you and your pet enjoy your life together.

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