Has your hound been hankering for some play time? If there is one thing which unites just about every dog; from the smallest pooch to the largest behemoth, playtime is often when your dog is at their happiest. Play time is important for your dog. It can help them learn new skills, burn mental energy and bond with you.
Dogs are highly social animals. As a puppy, one of the ways dogs learn about the world around them, build relationships with other dogs and humans alike and learn how to interact and communicate is through play. Playing with your dog regularly also teaches you about your dog’s personality. Playing together, you’ll gain a much better understanding of what your dog likes and dislikes. At the same time you will develop a much closer bond together.
Boredom can be a problem for dogs, more so if they are regularly left alone for longer periods of time. Providing mental stimulation for your dog can help to stave off boredom, provide exercise and give your dog an outlet for their natural instincts to run, to chase and to catch. Playing with your dog can help to ensure they don’t develop inappropriate behavior s, directing them in a constructive way.
So what do dogs like to play?
It all depends on your pooch’s personality. A good way to see is to watch what your dog does when they’re excited. Do they prefer to chase, pounce on or grab at things. Try experimenting with a few different dog toys which mimic your pet’s natural play behaviour whilst in different settings (indoors and outdoors).
The basic rules for playing with your dog
- Make sure you can either take the toy away from the dog or that they know the leave/ drop command.
- Don’t encourage your dog to chase children as, though exciting for your dog, this can get out of control.
- If your dog’s breed is prone to joint problems in later life, don’t encourage them to jump. This can exacerbate those problems.
- Play everyday for short sessions. Dogs can have short attention spans so little and often is a good rule.
- Be animated, excited and heap lots of praise on your dog.
- Games can reinforce and reward good behaviour. Only start playing when your dog is calm, attentive and doing something you want them to do.
- Variety is the spice of life. Try a different game, location or toy for each play session to keep your dog interested.
- Never force a dog to play, it should always be fun for them.
- Have fun, laugh and enjoy time with your furry friend.
What games can you play with your dog?
Tug of war
Some dog trainers and experts discourage playing tug of war, whilst others encourage it. The worry is that it could encourage your dog to behave in a more dominant manor. However, if you are the one setting the game, you can set the rules. Encourage your dog to a toy or old towel/ t shirt etc, by saying “take it” whilst moving the item towards your dog. When they have a good hold of it, keep their attention by shaking the toy or fabric about. Stop every so often with the command “leave”, used just once. Put your hands by your side , keep still and don’t speak. Eventually your dog will get the idea and release their grip. Now pause and then resume the game again. If your dog is particularly large or strong, grip their collar and then let go of the toy. This can reduce competition for the toy and calm them back down. Your dog will start to learn when play begins and ends, and that it is set by you, finishing when you touch their collar or put your hands to your sides. To reinforce your control, occasionally stop and start the game. If they become too excited or act in a dominating way, such as putting paws on your or snatching the item without your command, go still and silent to signal that is not part of the game. Make sure you only use toys which are suitable and have no small parts which could be swallowed by your dog.
Retrieve and chase games
Start by selecting a toy which is not small enough to swallow. Most dogs will have a natural instinct to chase things, but may not have learned to bring it back to you. To teach this, start by teaching them to hold the toy. Sit your dog next to you and let them pick up the toy, when they do, heap praise on them in an excited pitch. If they give it to you, reward your dog with more praise or a treat. Build up to moving away from the dog as they pick up the toy so that they have to come to you to get the treat. Once they start enjoying this, you can gradually add in throwing the toy and sending them to fetch it. If you keep repeating this, they should realise that they get a treat or praise for bringing the toy to you.
Hide and seek
This is a great game for terrier breeds and we’ll make use of their powerful scent drive. You can encourage your dog to use wind scenting (sniffing you out from the air) and tracking (sniffing along the ground). You can try this indoors or outside. With a friend, get them to stay with the dog whilst you hide behind a sofa, door or in another room. Call them to you. When your dog finds you reward them with praise and a treat. It might need you to call them a few times when you first play this game. If you are playing this outside make sure you are in an area which is safe for your dog and that they are supervised when you are hiding with a friend or relative with them.
Your pet pooch probably won’t have had to hunt for their dinner today. However you can make use of these excellent skills to find a favourite toy, or even make one for this game. Take a empty loo roll tube and fold over one end. Pop your dog’s favourite treat inside, the more pungent the better this works. Start by ensuring your dog is keen to play with the dog toy (see our range of dog toys). Whilst your dog is interested and watching, hide the toy behind some furniture, under a cushion or when outside in some longer grass (make sure you’ve checked the area is safe for dogs). Use a high pitch and excited voice to encourage your dog to find the toy. Try saying phrases like “where is it?”. As your dog starts to understand the game you can make it harder by not letting your dog see where you have hidden the toy. If you can’t get your dog interested in toys, play the same game by hiding little bits of food such as chicken or a dog treat.
Pouncing games also simulate catching prey. Dog’s will often play such games by themselves. The dog will throw their toy in the air and then pouncing on it as it lands. If they are playing with a squeaky toy, they’ll often thrash it about till they get the squeak, so make sure you supervise any play.
Remember, whether you are playing with or training your furry friend, it should always be fun for both of you. Keep sessions short and sweet and always leave your dog wanting more. You can use games and play time to reward good behaviour. We’ve got some great dog toys for small and large dogs.
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