We’ve come up with six ideas for active games you can play with your dog that will engage and stimulate him, physically and mentally; making days spent indoors as a result of bad weather, every bit as fun as being outdoors.
Teaching your dog to discover prizes using only her nose is a great game for the body and mind. This exercise can get your dog excited about solving the problem of the hidden prize. Set up a bunch of boxes or see-through containers (start with at least four or five) upside-down next to each other and, without your dog seeing you hide it, place a prize (a favourite toy, a bone or treat) under one of the containers. Next, encourage your dog to smell the boxes and when he (hopefully) pauses at the one with the prize, lift up the box and enthusiastically congratulate him on his discovery. Let him eat the treat, fetch the toy, or indulge in whatever prize he’s found. Soon, your dog will know what’s expected of him during this game and be excited to sniff out the prize. Keep adding more boxes and space them at farther intervals to increase the challenge as you’re his scent work improves.
If your dog knows that “find it” or a similar command means to look for something hidden, then hide-and-seek is a great indoor game to play. Show your dog what it is you’re going to hide — a favorite toy, or even a person — and then put your dog somewhere where she can’t see you. Hide the item, then fetch your dog and tell her to find it. Give her vocal clues if she needs help, like “gooooood” when she gets closer or “uh ooohhh” when she mvoes farther away. Give hints if needed, by pointing or walking toward the hiding place, until she’s grasped what the game is about. When she finds the hidden object, make a really big deal of how brilliant she is. Eventually, she’ll get faster and faster, looking and finding. As your dog improves, be sure to challenge her by getting creative about where you hide the toy to keep her engaged.
Training your dog to perform new tricks, like high-fives or lying down, is a great mental exercise. Training them to do tricks that require both physical and mental skill is even better; and perfect to pass the time on a rainy day. You can begin by teaching your dog to go under and over objects or through spaces, giving her loads of praise and she makes small gains.
Set up an item like a kitchen chair, a stool, or some other sturdy object on legs. Next, teach your dog how to crawl under the object and stay there, crawl all the way through the object, walk around the object, and how to jump over it entirely. Clicker training is especially effective for this since your dog has to work out what you’re asking of him, using your click-n-treats as a guide. Once he knows how to go over, under and through, you can ask him to do combinations before he earns his reward.
A good way to increase the challenge and fun is letting your dog figure out what it is he should do with this object for himself, and he earns rewards (a click-n-treat) for creative behaviours.
This sort of game should always be fun, never forced, keeping in mind that dogs are easily bored. This is also not a good game for dogs who suffer from any sort of joint degeneration.
If you have a stairwell, make it a game to run up it and burn some serious energy. To get the most exercise from this game with the least risk to your dog’s joints, start at the bottom of the stairs. Put your dog in a sit-stay, and throw a toy up to the top landing. Make it more exciting by creating some build-up, saying, “Reeeady…. ready….. GO!” and let your dog dash up the stairs to retrieve the toy. Encourage your dog to come back down the stairs at a slower pace, since it’s the downhill climb that risks injury. Allow your dog to stop playing when he’s tired or bored.
NOTE: This is only for dogs who are older than a year, once the joints have finished developing. You can cause long-term injury playing this game with younger dogs as their joints aren’t sufficiently developed to take the impact.
This exercise encourages running and practicing quick recall. In essence, it makes coming to you when called, so much fun to do. You’ll need a partner for this. Each of you gets a pocket full of treats. Start across the room from one another. One person calls the dog and rewards him with a treat, then the next person calls and rewards. Get farther back so that soon you’re calling from different rooms, and then from all the way across the house or apartment. The more your dog runs around the house, the better since you’re trying to maximise exercise and minimise food intake. Once the game is going and your dog is excited, only treat every other or every third recall and use loads and loads of praise and excitement or a tug toy as a reward the rest of the time. You can increase the excitement your dog feels playing this game by calling to him and then starting to run away, so your recall is also a game of chase. This is a great game outside of the house too, so when the rain stops, keep it in mind for using it at the park or other places as well.