Updated: Jul 26
Dr Gwen Shirlow
COVID19, and now the onset of winter weather, has meant that many of us are spending a lot more time at home with our dogs. Switching up your training and interactive games can be mentally and physically challenging for your dog, and lots of fun for everyone involved. There are so many creative ways to mix things up so we thought we would put together a few to get you started.
Dogs experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell so this is a great way to keep them mentally stimulated. To get started how about trying one of these:
1. The box challenge: Get a few boxes or containers and arrange them upside down. Place a treat underneath one of them and encourage your dog to start sniffing around them. When they accurately identify the container/box where the treat is located, make sure to congratulate them and reward them with the hidden treat. Some dogs will knock over the box or rip it apart, while others will take a more measured approach. How they try and get the treat isn’t really important as it more that they are forced to think and come up with a solution.
2. The Muffin tin ball game: This one is great fun to do with kids. If you have a muffin/cupcake tin and a few tennis balls, you can make a simple but fun game for your dog. Place treats or kibble in about half of the cups and then place one tennis ball in each cup until the entire tin is covered. Now let your dog find the treats by moving the balls with their nose or paw.
3. Snuffle mat: These come in a few designs where you can hide treats in pockets or under flaps, so your dog has the challenge of working out how to access them.
4. The cup game: Start by lining up three cups and putting a treat (or ball) under one. Don’t move them around at this stage – just let your dog sniff them. When they touch the right cup, praise them and lift it up so they can eat the treat. Before long, most dogs will start to understand they need to watch where you put the treat and then touch the right cup. You can then start swapping the cups around to make it more challenging. Once your dog understands the game, this is a fantastic way to provide a mental challenge without needing much space.
Hide and Seek:
Many of us played this as a kid, so why not enjoy it with your dog? To play this game your dog needs to understand the basic commands of sit, stay and come. Choose a room and ask them to stay. Leave that room and hide yourself somewhere in the house, like behind a door in another room. Once hidden, call their name to encourage them to come find you. Once they figure out where you are, make sure to celebrate by making a big fuss of them or have some tasty treats handy!
Another version of this is to show your dog a favourite toy, and then make them Stay while you hide the toy in another room. Release them from stay and allow to search for the toy. Once your dog touches it, give praise and a treat. It’s usually best to start with easy hiding places or start in the same room as your dog until your dog fully understands what they are meant to do. You can gradually increase the difficulty depending on how quickly your dog finds it.
You can use common household objects to design your own agility course which can be as simple or complex as you want. This might be a chair to crawl under, stack of books to jump over or cans to weave around. There are so many options!
Name the toys/object/person:
Dogs have an incredible ability to learn large amounts of words, so we can use this to our advantage when devising games. One challenge is to teach your dog the names for specific toys. This takes practice, but it’s possible to teach the name of almost endless toys if you have the patience and time. Once your dog knows the name of a toy, you can hide it amongst other objects and get them to bring it to you. If you regularly misplace your phone or keys why not consider teaching your dog to locate them for you? You can also teach your dog the names of family members so then you can play a variation of hide and seek by getting a family member to hide while another other tells the dog to “find (name).
Once your dog has a solid command base, there are almost endless tricks you can teach. Some examples include:
Weave between your legs
Take a bow
As a general rule, keep training sessions short and make them as fun as possible. Use high reward treats and plenty of praise.
And finally, a very useful but fun game for your dog to learn is to Clean up their toys!
If your dog already knows a “drop it” command have them pick up a toy and then encourage them to the container/box or initially place it in front of them and then give the “drop it” command when they are in the right position. Make sure you use much praise and rewards. You initially have to “shape” the right behaviour, so if you are not sure how to break-down this trick for your dog have a look at You-tube. Eventually with consistency you’ll have a dog that will be able to clean up after themselves, now wouldn’t that be nice!