We do a lot of playing here, since Silas only gets out a few times a week. (His choice, not mine.) I thought I’d post some of our favorites, in no particular order.
1) Tug. Silas loves to play tug. I find that the trick to tug is to tug less than ten seconds, then ask for the toy back and give an easy cue. As a reward for the easy cue, we tug again. This takes the super-rowdy edge off. If you have an active dog, too much uninterrupted tug can get them a little jumpy/mouthy. Trick for getting the toy back, if your dog doesn’t have a good “give” cue: tug with a thin rope toy. You hold both ends and give the dog the middle. As you say “give,” pull the toy right up against your leg and hold it still. As a reward for letting go, cue the dog to take back the toy immediately.
2) Get the cookie! This one is good when I’m tired–I have Silas sit, then throw a kibble as far as I can while saying “get the cookie!” As soon as he closes his mouth on it, I call him to come back. He RUNS back and gets another cookie as a recall reward. Every now and then, just to see if he’s really listening, I cue him to do something else instead of come back.
3) Any variation of run and chase. My personal favorite is to throw something (usually a toy, but sometimes a cookie) and then sprint off in the opposite direction. Right now we’re working hard on Silas bringing the toy all the way back, so we play variations on this a lot. I always use a cue (“I’m gonna get you!”) before I chase–I don’t want him to learn that me moving toward him means it’s a great time to run.
4) Hide and seek. Silas loves this in any iteration–we do it both with people (one person hides while he finds the other) and with toys or treats (he waits while I go in a different room and hide something).
5) Fetch games of all kinds. Lazy: I sit at the top of the stairs and throw his ball down. Active: as we practice heeling, I have him sit next to my leg. I throw his toy out ahead, then send him to go get it. When he comes back we have a tugging/chasing/crazy PARTY that he didn’t break his sit. If he does break the sit and beats me to the toy, I ask for the toy back immediately and we do a few simple sits/downs before we try again.
6) Get your feet! My behaviorist would probably have a stroke if she watched us play get your feet. I’m sitting on the ground and reach over to grab Silas’s feet. He snatches his feet away, play-bites at my hands, and dances around while I try to get his feet again. (The game does stop if he actually gets me, and I promise that he really is playing.) True fact: Silas will snap from a down to a sit with military precision because I trained it while we played “get your feet!”
The real key is that nothing in our house is just a game for very long. I don’t think it’s possible to tire out a smart, active dog in a house the size of ours with purely physical exercise. Not only is there training hidden (or not so hidden) in all of these games, I also use them as rewards or breaks in our more formal training. Some of these games aren’t even suited to playing for more than just a few seconds at a time, but that’s exactly why I like them. A dog who uses his mind and his body together is a happy dog.
What is your dog’s favorite game?