One of the things that separates dog parents from non-dog parents is an appreciation for just how deep the human/canine bond can run. There is a tendency for people who are not familiar with dogs to view them as simple stimulus/response machines—many dog lovers have probably heard from non-dog parents that their dog is excited to see them at the end of the day because they know they are going to get fed, not because they are excited to see their human.
The proper response to this is that non-dog parents just don’t know what they are missing. In Beneful’s National Dog Week survey, 96% of respondents said that their dog is part of their family, and 82% said that their dog is one of their best friends. Dogs aren’t considered our best friends and family because they rely on us to satisfy their basic needs; they are special to us (and we to them) because of the relationship and bond that we share.
Though your dog will probably still adore you even if you hurry a walk here or there or cut short a game of fetch, nurturing the bond you have with your furry friend requires consistent, loving engagement. One of the best ways to do this? Through play! Dogs are playful by nature, and they love when you get in on the fun too. And as good dog parents know, it’s just as important to nurture your dog’s mental health as it is her physical health. There’s no better way to do that than through playing games and puzzles. Get creative with play and strengthen that special bond you share with your dog by trying out some of these fun ideas:
What you need: Reward treats
Perfect for dogs who are always following their humans around the house anyway, hide-and-go seek engages your dog’s natural hunting instincts and encourages her to use her brain to problem solve. As long as your dog knows the basics—sit, stay, come—it should be easy to teach her to seek. Have your dog sit and stay in a room while you go find a place to hide (in the beginning your hiding place should be nearby). Say “come” and then stay still while your dog tries to find you. Once she has, reward her with a small treat. Eventually you can start hiding in more difficult spots, and you can even train your pup to seek certain toys and objects. It’s an excellent way to play when it’s too cold or rainy to go outside.
What you need: Three identical cardboard boxes with holes poked in them for ventilation, your dog’s favorite treats or toy
Like hide-and-go seek, nose work engages your dog’s natural enjoyment of scent and search play and forces him to really use his instincts and his brain. Set up three boxes in front of your dog with air holes to allow scent to escape, and in one box place your dog’s favorite treat or toy. The top of the box should be face-down on the floor so that your dog cannot see what is inside and instead has to rely on his nose. Have your dog sit and stay while you place the item in one of the boxes, and then tell him to “seek.” As your dog gets better at locating which box the item is in you can make it more complicated—use more boxes, set them up in complicated ways, or take the game outside, where there’s more stimulation.
What you need: Reward treats
For the dog who already has a bunch of tricks up his paw, Simon Says simply makes a game out of everyday training. Stand in front of your dog and name a trick and then give him a small reward when he does it. Then start adding in more tricks and mixing up the order of what you ask him to do. He’ll love the praise and attention, and you’ll be reinforcing good listening and previously learned behaviors. The more you teach your dog to do, the more fun the game will be.
What you need: A build-it-yourself agility kit, or just some items from around the house you can use as obstacles (pillows, chairs, sofas, etc.), reward treats
We talked yesterday [will link here once today’s post is up] about the benefits of dog agility for physical exercise, but there is a lot to be gained mentally as well from practicing agility. Learning to navigate her way through an obstacle course—whether it’s made of hoops and ramps or pillows and chairs—requires concentration and obedience on the part of your dog, and encourages her to think and act in a dedicated manner. Make the course trickier as she gets more confident, adding in steps, jumps, and turns.
What you need: Toys, a basket, reward treats
It’s 52-card pickup for dogs! Starting slow with just one toy, train your pup to pick up a toy, drop it in a basket, and leave it there. Keep the command simple—just “away” will be sufficient—and reward him copiously when he succeeds—this is a hard one to master. Eventually you can build up the number of toys on the ground for him to put away. Your dog will have to exercise patience and really use his brain to solve this puzzle, but once he does he’ll be picking up all his toys on his own just to try and get treats (and that’s a pretty great benefit!).
The name game
What you need: Toys, reward treats
There was a viral video some time ago of a dog who knew hundreds of names for different toys. You don’t need to teach your dogs hundreds of names, but you can have a lot of fun teaching her just a few. Assign words to certain toys (starting with just one) and train your dog to bring it to you when you say the name. It takes a lot of repetition and practice over time, but your dog will pick up on it eventually. Practice with one toy at a time until your dog has mastered it, and then add in more toys and more names. Make sure names are simple and that you don’t use them for anything else—the point is for your dog to build associations between words and items, and you set him up for success by not making things so complicated that he gets confused.
Brain games, agility games, puzzles…all of these methods of play encourage healthy habits and add variety to playtime with your pup. Most importantly, playing games with your dog strengthens the bond you share, showing your dog that he really is the best friend you could ever hope for.