Whoever said, “Bring me a dog who doesn’t like to play and I will stand on my head,” knew the quintessential nature of man’s best friends. We love our canine companions as much as we love our children. In fact, many child-free couples love their dogs as if they were their children. And like children, dogs need to be engaged mentally as well as physically with interactive games and trick training.
Giving the required stimulation on rainy days can be a challenge, especially if you’re stuck on the idea of walks. Fortunately, there are many interactive games that you can play with your dog. Games that provide physical exercise as well as brain work, and which have other benefits too.
According to Karen London and Patricia McConnell (co-authors of Play Together, Stay Together), play has many positive influences on your dog. These include emotional and cognitive development, communication, and behavior. So, no matter what the weather you should engage with your dog on a physical and mental level every day.
If you’re stumped for ideas on what to do when the weather turns foul, take a look at some fun indoor games.
Interactive games for an indoor challenge
This is a game for dogs who are over one year old. Younger pups’ bones and joints are still developing and a wrong move or mistimed jump can cause long-term injury. As you might have gathered, you will need a staircase for this game. Grab your dog’s favorite toy, head on to the bottom of the stairs and put your dog in a sit-stay. Toss the toy to the top landing while building up the excitement by enthusiastically asking, “Are you ready?” “Are you ready?” “Then GO!”
Make sure your dog only shoots off once you’ve said, “Go”. When they bring the toy back to you, give them plenty of praise and some yummy treats. This is a very high-energy game, so try and encourage your dog to slow down on the return. This will also reduce the risk of injury that could result from pelting downstairs. After about 10 repetitions, your dog will have burned off a lot of energy and either need a nap or be ready to tackle a brain game with enthusiasm.
A safety note: Be careful with this game if you have tiled or wooden stairs as dogs can easily slip and hurt themselves.
Hide and Seek/Find It
These are excellent interactive games that you can play with people or objects. They tap into all dogs’ scent instincts and Hide and Seek is a wonderful way to practice recall. If you’re playing Find It with objects, you can introduce cues like Warm, Hot and Cold as your dog gets the idea of the game. This makes it even more mentally satisfying.
Hide and Seek is played with two or more people. One person distracts the dog while the others hide. One by one they call the dog and make a big fuss and treat the dog for finding them. Then the next person calls the dog, and so on.
For Find It, it’s recommended that your dog already knows ‘Find It’ (or something similar) as a cue. Show your dog what you’re going to hide (toy or treat) and put it somewhere obvious, like under the coffee table. Once it’s ‘hidden’, tell your dog to ‘find it’. In the beginning you might need to give your dog lots of clues and may even have to direct them using a pointed finger to keep them on track.
Make a big fuss when your dog finds it. Really pile on the praise and treats in the beginning. Eventually they’ll understand that the tracking is as much fun as the discovery. Start off hiding the items in easy-to-find locations (e.g., plain sight). As your dog get better at the game you can get creative about where you hide them.
Games like this keep your dog’s brain and body engaged. What’s more, it’s a treat to see the joy with which they respond when they figure out what the game is all about.
Under, Over and Through
This is a great game that requires your dog to be mentally and physically alert. You’ll have him pooped out and resting like a hibernating bear in no time. You’ll need a piece of furniture that is tall enough for your dog to settle under, crawl through, climb on and jump over, such as a kitchen chair, a step-stool, foot rest or side table. Teach your dog to crawl under the object and stay there; then teach them to crawl all the way through. Take the same approach and teach your dog to walk all the way around the object and then to jump on it and then over it.
Clicker training is especially effective in this game because it’s an easy, no-pressure way for your dog to work out what you want them to do. Remember to click for the behavior you’re looking for and to reward the behavior with treats. Once your dog understands the different moves, you can ask them to perform them in different combinations.
You can get really creative with your dog once they’ve mastered the basics and have them figure out what they should do with the object on their own and then reward cleverness and creativity.