Dog playing game with owner

Six efficient games to play with your dog!

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How can I keep training fun? Six efficient games to try

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the

Dog training games can be a fun way to train your dog whilst building a strong bond. Here we take a look at some of our favourites.

Dog training can sometimes feel like a chore, particularly if your pup is easily distracted or you’re tired out after a day at work. Fortunately, there are lots of options out there that move training away from old-fashioned obedience training, keeping things enjoyable and interesting for both dog and owner.

Dog games are the perfect way to keep your dog’s mind active and stimulated, and they don’t need to take up too much time. There are plenty of great 10-minute training games to try, reinforcing behaviours you’ve been working on with your canine companion.

How can I build connection with my dog through fun games?

One of the advantages of dog training games is that they help to build a connection with you and your dog. It’s important to keep sessions short enough they remain fun, and often enough that any learning is retained.

Keep sessions frequent

Having a routine in training can help maintain consistency for your dog. Plan for some of your interaction to involve fun dog training games each day, this will help build on learning as time goes on.

Praise often

This is a huge motivator for your dog, and if you want to build a strong connection, praise will be essential. Reward comes in different forms, depending on your dog. Some love affection and kind words, while others would do anything to chase a ball. Work out what makes your dog tick and be sure to offer regular reassurance and encouragement as you play.

Remain calm

It can be disheartening when you’re putting the effort in and your dog seems disinterested. Learning can take time and energy, and it will take a while for your dog to get the hang of the games. Be patient and calm at all times, as any frustration or anger could be harmful to the bond you’re working to create with your dog.

Offer affection as well as food

When we talk about rewards in dog training, we often think of toys and food. While these are hugely motivating for most dogs, building a connection takes more than this. Give affection as well as tasty treats. Your dog will love the contact and attention you’re offering.

What game should I teach my dog?

When it comes to choosing what game to teach your dog, the options can seem a little overwhelming. There are 3-minute dog training games, 10-minute dog training games, scent games, brain games and so much more out there.

The important thing to remember is that each dog is an individual, with a certain set of needs, interests and abilities. One dog may whizz through the first game much faster than you planned, while another may need a slower pace and more patient approach.

That’s fine! Be guided by your dog and how they learn. It will make things more enjoyable and more productive in the long run.

Dog training games are all about teaching through play, so when it comes to choosing a game, you’ll need to think about what you’d like your dog to practice. If your dog is a bundle of energy struggling to settle, a mat training game could be perfect. If they tend to follow their nose, a game encouraging close walking may suit better.

Let’s take a look at the options.

Six dog training games and exercises to make dog training fun

Game one: Leave it on walks

This game is great for teaching your dog not to drag you to every exciting crumb they find on walks.

With your dog on a lead, toss a treat out of reach of your dog. Call leave it and wait for your dog to stop pulling to get to it. Once your dog stops pulling, encourage them to look at you and offer a high value reward. Treat your dog, and once there’s no tension on the lead, walk towards the item. Repeat over multiple sessions.

Your dog will learn they need to be near you and paying attention before they’re allowed to approach any food they find on walks.

This game also works well if you don’t want your dog to move towards the food at all. Instead of moving towards the treat, simply call your dog in an excited tone and move forward with your walk. Offer high value rewards and plenty of praise as you move on.

Game two: Treat in hand

The treat game works to teach your dog they can’t snatch food from hands. Here’s how to play:

With a treat in your closed hand, ask your dog to sit and wait. Open your hand, to show the treat resting in your palm. As you do so, ask your dog to leave it. If they reach out with their paw or try to snatch it, close your hand immediately. If they wait without snatching, they get given the treat and lots of praise.

Game three: Relax on your mat

Teaching a dog to settle and relax is an excellent skill. It can help them to regulate excitement and enjoy a safe space when needed. To start, you’ll need a blanket or a mat that isn’t your dog’s usual bed.

Place this on the floor. Any interest shown by your dog should be rewarded immediately.

If your dog looks at the mat, moves towards it, paws at it or sits down, offer lots of encouragement and praise.

Over time, narrow down what you’re asking of your dog, and only reward these behaviours. Most people choose the “lie down” command to encourage relaxation.

At first, treat your dog every time they’re lying on the mat.

As the sessions progress, start looking for signs of true relaxation, such as a lowered head, soft eyes and relaxed ears, a resting tail. Reward these by calmly placing a treat by your dog.

Over time your dog will learn to go to the mat and lie down whenever it’s brought out. This can be a great tool for outings or busy spaces, as your dog will have learn to rest and relax on their mat.

Game four: Eye contact game

Focus is important in so many aspects of training, and this is what the eye contact game encourages.

Hold a treat up to your forehead and ask your dog for attention. As they look at you, give them the treat. Repeat this over multiple sessions, always asking for eye contact before praising and rewarding. Over time, fade the food signal out, so you’re asking for your pup to make eye contact without seeing the treat. As soon as they look at you, they get their reward. You can add a “watch me” or “eyes” cue as the game progresses.

Game five: Traffic Lights

To play this dog training game, your dog will need to know how to watch their owner and how to sit down.

Start with the word “red light”. Have your dog sit slightly away from you and face them. Call them towards you and as they move forward, raise your hand to make a stop signal. Say the words "red light" quite forcefully, and move towards your dog. This usually stops your dog from moving forward, at which point toss them a treat and offer lots of praise.

Repeat this again and again, until your dog stops on the hand cue and & red light command.

To train the green light with your puppy or dog behind you or in front, and in an excited tone, say "green light". During this time your pup can play, run and bounce beside or behind you. Encourage eye contact regularly.

The play the traffic light game, walk and play with your dog as usual and then give the red light signal and command. At this point your dog must stop, sit and wait. Only when they hear “okay, green light” can they go again, at which point they’re released from the sit.

This game helps teach your dog to listen to cues when excited and is great when it comes to training self-control.

Game six: Catch me

This three-minute dog training game is quick to practice and fun for your dog.

Starting in an area with no distractions, move away from your dog and in an excited tone shout “catch me”. Move away quickly, at which point your dog will want to come too!

As they get to you, throw your dog a party. In training, this means giving lots of things your dog loves… Attention, belly rubs, their favourite toy, whatever it takes to make you more interesting than what’s out there to explore.

Repeat over multiple sessions, increasing the level of distraction around as your dog learns.

This isn’t a substitute to recall training. To teach your dog to come when called, click here.

As you can see, there are a number of training games to play with your dog, and this list is just the beginning.

Spend some time getting creative and thinking of ways your dog could have fun learning. It’ll strengthen the bond between you and make training sessions enjoyable for you and your canine companion.

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