Games to play with your dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column
By: Gail T. Fisher

Last week I wrote about some toys you might get your dog for Christmas - “pacifying” toys that your dog can play with by him or herself. Such toys are great for times your dog needs something to keep him busy while you’re otherwise occupied, when you leave him alone at home, or when she is confined or crated. Dogs enjoy chewing, and depending on their age, have a physical need to do so. In adolescence, when the dog’s adult teeth are setting in, generally until ten or eleven months, dogs need to exercise their jaws, and chewing is their outlet.

In addition to pacifier toys, the other toys and games dogs enjoy involve interactive play, and activities that utilize your dog’s natural instincts and challenge his brain. If given a choice, most dogs would rather play with a person or another dog. Not only that, but thinking – using his brain – can be just as tiring as physical exercise. A few minutes spent teaching your dog something new, or giving him an outlet for his mental energies can result in your dog relaxing just as he does after a walk.

Of course there are interactive games such things as throwing snowballs or playing tug o’ war, but there are other things you can do with your dog that you may not have thought of, and that can be done indoors regardless of the weather. Here are some activities dogs enjoy:

Nose games – A dog’s ability to discern and identify odors is so much greater than ours that it defies understanding. For instance, dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors compared to our measly five million, and can sense odors 100 million times lower than we can. To me, all I get from such unimaginable numbers is that dogs have phenomenal olfactory abilities, and really enjoy using their noses to track and find things.

You can easily create a tracking game by simply tossing small treats around a room, broadcasting them in a wide area. Your dog will hunt for the treats, using his nose to find those he can’t see. Introduce a cue such as “find ‘em” to get the game started, which teaches your dog to associate the word “find” with look for something.

Hide & Seek – This game uses “find” with a person, and is a fun game to play with the family. Have person #1 “hide” in another room. They don’t need to be hidden, just out of sight of your dog. Person #2 tells the dog, “Find (name),” and then have person #1 call the dog, “(Dog’s name), Come!” in a happy voice. When the dog arrives, give him a treat, and loads of praise. Person #2 moves to a new room, and Person #1 sends the dog to find them.

Eventually stop having the hidden person call the dog. This gets the dog to begin to use his nose, adding that element to the game. Not only does this game teach the dog to find family members by name, it also reinforces your recall (come) command. Helpful, useful, and fun!

You can also use “find” to have your dog bring you things. For instance, when you consistently associate the same word with a specific toy or object, you can use “find” to have your dog retrieve it: find your frog; find your ball, and the like. Dogs are well-able to learn names for things, and can also learn to discriminate and count. In our prison dog program – training dogs as service dogs – one of the inmates taught “his” dog to retrieve his shoes in pairs. He could send the dog to retrieve his boots or his sneakers, and the dog would bring them one at a time – always going back to find the mate.

Start with the toy in plain sight when you send your dog to “find” it. Then gradually move it so it is partially out of sight, and finally, you can hide it and your dog will search for it, once more using his nose.

Tricks and more tricks – not only fun to show off, but great fun to train. Training tricks uses your dog’s brain and increases his responsiveness to you. The best part of trick training is the enjoyment you both get out of it. We humans have fun when we train tricks, making it more fun for our dogs. To your dog, everything you train is a trick; there’s no difference between “lie down” and “bang, you’re dead” except the enjoyment we get out of the latter. Dogs very quickly learn to shake, high five, hold a biscuit on their nose, spin and the like. The more tricks you train, the faster your dog will learn new ones, and the more fun you’ll have together.

Since most dogs love to chase, retrieving comes naturally. Next week I’ll write about how you can teach your dog to retrieve, bring things back to you, and give them to you on command.


Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2007. All rights reserved.
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