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Being confined inside can be hard for your dog. Most like to go for walks or play in a yard.
But what if it’s too hot out? Or it’s a monsoon outside? Your pup still needs some physical and mental exercise.
It’s good to have some inside games and activities for your dog to engage in.
Even when the weather’s good, it’s important to have things for your dog to do while inside. In addition to his regular walks or play sessions, he can have fun performing new activities.
Today we’re going to cover some cool dog games for both you and your pooch.
Why Should You Play Cool Games With Your Dog?
There are so many benefits to having our dogs participate in a variety of new activities.
Any time we engage with our dogs in a positive manner, it furthers our bond with them.
Doing these activities also exercises our dogs’ bodies and minds. And it prevents them from being bored.
Games also help build a dog’s confidence. I highly recommend some games for shy dogs to help them become more confident.
If we don’t find acceptable activities for our pups, they’ll find their own. And what my dog might want to do–like digging on the couch–isn’t going to be acceptable to me.
So I make sure that my dogs have games and activities they can engage in. The old motto that “a tired dog is a good dog” still rings true.
What Dogs Benefit from Games?
All healthy dogs benefit from new activities. Of course, the type of activities may vary depending on the breed(s) and age of your dog.
Dogs from the sporting group like golden or labrador retrievers require more activity generally than a toy breed like a shih tzu will need.
The same is true of herding dogs like border collies or of terriers.
Even though working-type dogs and younger dogs generally need more activity, many of the games described below can be adapted for any breed type.
You just might not play as long or may have lower jumps on an activity course.
Cool Dog Games
1. The Nose Knows: Scent Work
There are many activities to use your dog’s natural ability to find things by scent. After all, we can say that dogs have a “nose brain” because of their natural ability to find things by scent.
And most dogs love using this natural ability. The following games reward them when they do so,
Of course if your pup still wants to chew on everything, don’t do the games where he may chew through the item, such as the cup or furniture, used in the game.
PRO TRAINER TIP: Have pea-sized treats ready to use in your activities. In some of the treat-dispensing devices, you can put a few pieces of your dog’s kibble and a few treats. For these games, I don’t use moist treats like cheese or meat, because they can leave too much scent on the rug or furniture.
2. Magic Cups
In this game, you place a treat under a plastic cup on the floor. The cup is placed upside down on the floor. I use either large party cups or other large light plastic drink cups.
At first, you show your dog that you’re placing one treat under one cup turned upside down. Tell him to “find it.”
When he nuzzles and tips the cup over, praise him (“good find it”). He automatically gets the treat reward.
What if he doesn’t tip the cup at first? Then, you have him watch you tip it the first time and let him have the treat.
Eventually, he should get the idea of what he has to do to get his reward.
Once your dog understands what to do, you add a cup without a treat under it and still have one cup with the treat under it. Have the two cups at least six inches apart.
After he understands the game, you can add more upside down cups without treats under them. Always have only one cup with a treat under it.
3. Which Hand?
In this game, you put a treat in one hand only and close your fist around the treat. You then show that hand to your dog and tell him to “find it.”
When he gently nudges or paws your hand, praise and reward him by opening your fist and giving him the treat.
Once he gets the idea of what to do, you then present both of your hands closed as fists to him. Only one hand will contain a treat.
Praise and reward when he nudges the hand with the treat.
4. Hidden Treasure
In this game, you hide some treats or a favorite toy in a room. At first, you show your dog where you are hiding a treat. Then tell him to “find it.”
I make it very easy at first. I would hide the treat under a coffee table or chair with high legs.
Don’t place the treat far in. Just place it about an inch under the furniture.
One he gets the idea, then hide a few more treats at various accessible places in the room before telling him to find them.
I place only one treat at each location.
You can even play a “hot-cold” game while your pup’s seeking out the treats. When he’s getting closer to a hidden treasure, you can tell him he’s “hot” and praise when he finds it.
You can also tell him he’s “cold” when he’s not finding it.
I play this with my dogs. I even play this outside, where I hide my golden retriever Riley’s favorite Kong Extreme ball in the fenced yard.
I tell him to find it. I also let him know when he’s “hot” or “cold.” He caught on to this very quickly and loves the game.
Riley’s so cute and excited when he finds his treasured ball!
5. Snuffle Mat
This is a mat made of many longer pieces of cloth in which the dog needs to find treats hidden in it.
You can make them or purchase them.
I usually place about seven or so treats or kibble scattered in the mat. Then, present the mat to your dog. Praise and reward when he finds them.
Most dogs love searching for the kibble/prey.
6. Play Hide and Seek
Remember how much fun you had as a child playing this game? Well, your dog can experience that too!
You can put your dog in a sit/stay if your dog knows that. You can then release him after hiding and tell him “find me.” Say it a few times until he finds you,
At first, just go out of the room around the corner. As he understands the game, you can hide in places that are more difficult for him to find you.
Make it a party when he discovers you–praise and treat him.
If your dog doesn’t know sit/stay, you can have a helper hold his collar or a short leash.
The helper can release your pup immediately when you call him to find you.
I played this with my Aussie mix puppy and it made her have a very reliable recall.
6. Teach Crazy Sits
This is a fun game for a dog who knows how to sit on command. It also helps a dog learn impulse control.
You can start this on leash and eventually play it off leash. At first, rev your dog up a little and say “let’s go,” moving forward.
Stop suddenly and tell your pup to sit. Praise and reward with a small treat when he sits.
As he gets the idea of the game, you can get a little sillier when you rev your dog up before telling him to sit.
You can wave your arms around. Raise your voice. Move faster before you stop.
Of course, you don’t want to play this game if you have a dog who is still jumping on you or grabbing you or your clothes.
Work on those issues until they’re resolved before playing this game.
7. Use an Obstacle Course
You can set up a mini agility course in your house or yard. You can buy one or make your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
But it will help keep your dog fit and build his confidence.
What you’ll create will depend on your dog’s size and ability.
Even for a larger, younger dog, I keep the jumps low. I might make a jump only four inches off the ground, so as not to risk injury.
The point is to have fun.
So you can use a sturdy box with open ends as a tunnel. Just use one that’s comfortable enough for your dog to run through.
At first, you can lure your dog in with a treat, eventually luring him further in, then through.
Or use a couple of kitchen chairs with open legs underneath lined up for him to go through the legs.
You can make a jump by using a broomstick or piece of PVC pipe perched on low boxes like a tissue box on either end.
Empty plastic milk or detergent jugs can serve as items he can weave around. You would line up five in a row and have them about two feet apart.
Then, lure your dog to weave in and out of them with a treat in front of his nose. Tell him to “weave.”
Each time he weaves around a jug, praise (“good weave!”) and give him the small treat. Then, start again.
8. Play Tug of War
Most dogs LOVE this game. Some trainers say that people shouldn’t play tug with their dogs.
As long as a dog doesn’t guard his toys and will take and give the toy on command, I play tug with him.
So you want to teach him to take the toy and let go of it on cue. In between, you can lightly tug and tell your pup to tug.
In teaching your dog to give the toy up when you say “give,” have a treat ready to exchange for the toy,
I’ll only play tug with larger toys, such as a fleece or rope toy.
You don’t want the dog to unavoidably bite or scratch you with his teeth as might occur if you try to tug on a ball.
9. Use Puzzle Toys
Others need your pup to pull, push, or slide devices to release treats.
Some are easier than others. I would start with an easy one, then provide more difficult ones to keep your dog’s interest.
You don’t need to break the bank to provide toys. You can make your own.
Use a metal muffin tin and place a small treat or piece of kibble in some compartments. Then cover each compartment with a tennis ball.
Place it on the floor and tell your pup to “find treats.” Praise him as he investigates and finds the treats or kibble.
Of course, you always want to supervise interaction with puzzle toys.
10. Teach Obedience Commands
All dogs should learn at least some basic obedience commands such as come, sit, down, stay, wait, loose leash walking, attention, and leave it.
Even if your dog knows these, there are many others you can teach. And you can proof the ones he knows.
If he can sit/stay, proof the exercise by having him sit longer before you release him. Or add a distraction of someone walking by while he stays in place.
11. Work on Impulse Control
Some of the commands you can work on are sit/stay, down/stay, wait, leave it, and settle.
You can even teach your pup to go to a mat or bed and settle on it.
These are important for all dogs to learn.
12. Teach Tricks
Tricks are really just another form of obedience. But they can really impress your friends.
Teach him to speak or be quiet on command. Or teach him to shake hands or wave.
You can even teach your dog the names of his toys or to put them away in a basket.
I just taught my sheltie Gracie to dunk a ball in a child-height basketball hoop.
You can teach him to catch a soft toy or treat on command.
The sky’s the limit.
13. Use a Flirt Pole
A flirt pole is a pole with a long, sturdy string attached to a toy. You wave the toy around in the air and your dog tries to grab it.
You don’t want to wave it too high or your pup may get hurt. Also, your dog should know how to release the toy on cue so that the game can continue.
Dogs with alot of prey drive really can have fun with this.
I use this with puppies. It builds confidence and helps exercise the pup.
14. Do Round Robin Recalls
This is a fun game that helps your dog come more reliably. It also helps physically exercise your pup.
You can have two or more people at least 10 feet apart. I’ve done it with as many as five people.
Each person individually calls the dog by name to come one at a time. When the pup arrives, the person gives him a jackpot (a few great treats in a row) and happily praises the pup.
Then, the next person calls the dog and rewards and praises the dog.
Just call the dog once or twice to each person, then end the game. You want to end while the dog is still having fun.
Also, all of the people playing the game should be people the dog already knows and likes.
15. Have Him Chase Bubbles
Remember chasing bubbles when you were a young child? Remember how much fun it was chasing and popping those ethereal objects?
Well, our dogs can have the same fun too. There are even products that are made specifically for dogs.
16. Teach Clicker Training
You can help your dog learn by using a clicker. The click that the device makes when you press it marks that your pup successfully performed the exercise you’re teaching.
Just like saying “yes!” when your dog sits after your cue, the click marks the behavior you desire.
At first, however, a click means nothing to your dog.
So you must first “load the clicker.” All this means is that you teach your pup that he did the right or desired thing and that he’ll immediately be rewarded with a treat.
Have treats ready and your dog in front of you. Click the clicker and immediately give your pup a treat. You don’t have to say anything.
You’re just teaching him he gets a treat after the click.
Do this about four or five times per session. Do two or three sessions a day.
Eventually, you can use this event marker in your everyday training.
Just remember that timing is everything. You must immediately click and treat to mark the dog’s behavior.
17. Use Free Shaping Games
In free shaping, you teach a behavior in gradual steps using a marker (like the word “Yes!” or a click) and rewards. Your timing must be excellent in marking the desired behavior and rewarding it.
You can even just use free shaping to see what your dog will do. One example is putting a low-sided box on the floor to see what your dog will do with it.
Caveat: don’t do this exercise with dogs or puppies who want to chew on it.
The box should be low enough that the dog can step in and out of it and large enough that he can sit in it.
You would put the box on the floor, then click and reward each behavior that your dog performs that you want to encourage.
For example, you might click and treat when your pup puts a foot in, then click and treat again when he steps in the box.
You get the idea. Only do this exercise as long as the dog is still interested.
So you might just let him explore what to do with the box for five minutes, for example, then move onto something else to do.
You can also do free shaping games with other safe objects too.
Just because we’re house-bound because of weather extremes–or even the pandemic–there are many opportunities to have enrichment activities for your dog.
They will help your bond with your canine companion and stimulate his mind and exercise his body.
And you’ll both have a great time!
Are there any cool dog games you love playing with your dog that we didn’t mention?
Tell us what you like to do with your dog when you’re stuck at home.
We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below.
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