Danielle Chenery hunts out the five best games to play with your pet and discovers that the simplest games are actually the best.
One of the benefits of having a dog is forced exercise – it is almost impossible to live with a pooch and not take him or her for their daily exercise fix. But as fantastic as “walkies” are, it doesn’t have to end here.
Any physical activity you do with your dog is considered a game to them. And nothing says “I love you” to your pooch more than some quality time spent playing together – especially on the weekend after working for five consecutive days!
Dr Alpha Au from Greencross Vets at Coogee-Maroubra in Sydney agrees there are many benefits to playing games with your pooch. “Benefits include developing the human-animal bond, fun, exercise, mental and physical stimulation and to teach problem solving and boundaries,” Dr Au says.
“In puppies, it has the added benefit of aiding physical and mental development – they learn through play.”
Dr Au says fetch is a classic game to play with your dog, but says to always use a ball and never a stick as this can cause terrible penetrating injuries. “Don’t underestimate the walk – dogs love it for the physical and mental stimulation and agility,” Dr Au adds. Fly ball and even doggy dancing are other activities Dr Au mentions.
Also, don’t forget that your dog can also play games by themselves when you’re not at home, which is the perfect boredom buster for them and guilt alleviator for you. “There are lots of new toys designed for when owners are not at home,” Dr Au says. “[These are] great for mental stimulation and exercise while you’re away, as well as problem solving [with toys such as] puzzles, treat dispensing toys and balls such as wobblers.”
Karen Uden, the director of dog-inclusive health and fitness community Barx Active, agrees people can nurture the bond that they share with their dog through shared physical activity.
“We believe that the best challenges for dogs are ones that challenge the human too – because the happiest and healthiest dogs are the ones with the happiest, healthiest owners,” she says.
“I have a background in physiotherapy, the fitness industry and dog care, and have put together drills and exercises which bring out the best in both humans and their dogs.”
Karen’s simple to follow drills can be seen online (at http://barxactive.com/barx-fitness/barxercise/barxercise-videos/) and they will certainly get your blood pumping as well. Similar to an exercise video, you can watch and do from the comfort of your home; the website has short video demonstrations of each drill, making it easy to learn and get started. See box for more information.
The top five games
- Hide and seek: Person hides in the garden or house (out of sight from dog) and calls the dog. You can try this in different locations. If you are playing with two people, you can alternate playing the game back and forth hiding in different locations. Be sure to reward your dog with treats and praise when they find you.
- Treasure hunt: Hide your dog’s dry food or treats in the garden or house, and then encourage your dog to find their daily food rather than eating out of a bowl all the time. This one is a bit cheeky, but sure to encourage fast learning!
- Play tug and give with your dog: Make sure you follow the rules – keep a special toy for this game that your dog doesn’t have access to any other time, and teeth on skin stops the game. Once the game is over, the dog has to give the tug toy back. You can swap it for a treat if this feels too harsh.
- Targeting games: Teach your dog to touch its nose to your hand, or any object you choose. Have fun building distance and duration. The ASPCA has great guidelines on its website to explain how to do this, and it’s all in the treats! (a) First, cut treats into pea-sized pieces, and then take the treats and your dog to a quiet place with no distractions. (b) Once you’re ready, hold an open hand in front of your dog, about two inches from her nose. Once your dog moves forwards to sniff your hand and you feel her nose on your hand, immediately say yes and give her the treat from the other hand. Repeat from the beginning. This is the basis for teaching your dog targeting games. (c) Next, teach your dog to respond to a cue word such as “touch” and before too long all you’ll have to do is say the cue word and your dog will know to touch its nose to your hand or any object you transfer the skill to.
- Teach shake the paw: (for wiping paws and general handling including nail clipping): Starting with the dog sitting in front of you, gently massage the shoulder, while the other hand offers a treat to the nose. Gently stroke down the back of the front leg to the wrist and gently lift up the paw. Make sure to watch your dog’s body language to be sure your dog is confident and happy for you to be lifting the paw. Release the treat once you have lifted the paw. Once your dog is really good at this, you can add a cue word such as “shake” or “paw”. Be sure to practise with both front paws.
Karen Uden’s top 5 drills
Go to Barx Active’s website to watch how to do these drills:
- Squat Weaves: http://youtu.be/WuEjO4oCtDE
This drill helps the human to improve their leg strength, and the dog to learn the cue “through”.
- Reverse Suicides: http://youtu.be/oZWJkCqpsIw
This drill helps the human to improve their cardio strength, and the dog to practise “heel”, plus get a good run.
- Punch and Shuttle: http://youtu.be/xyd9quoI-hY
This drill helps the human to develop their upper body strength, and the dog to practise the sit-stay-run combination.
- Sit Up Pats: http://youtu.be/_NnXKp4RYw0
This drill helps the human to develop their abdominal strength, and the dog to learn to sit-stay when their human is close to the ground.
- Figures of Eight: http://youtu.be/davZKGC4Ydg
This drill helps the human to develop their cardio fitness and agility, and the dog to practise following the human’s lead while running.