Dogs thrive in an environment that stimulates both their body and their mind. As natural athletes, dogs love to explore the space that surrounds them. They are also extremely clever, as any dog owner will agree, and have a huge capacity for learning and engaging with new activities.
Brain games challenge your dog to think things through and problem solve, which can be great mental exercise. This, coupled with the right amount of socialisation and time outdoors, will lead to a balanced and happy dog at home.
What games are fun for dogs?
The kind of games your dog will enjoy, depends significantly on your dog’s genetic makeup, training and temperament. Some high energy dogs love to run and burn off steam whenever the opportunity presents itself, and they may benefit from more physically demanding games.
Young puppies, older dogs or dogs with limited movement, may find this overly demanding, quickly becoming reluctant to play. Nervous or anxious dogs may enjoy a calmer environment, for which ideas like dog puzzle toys work perfectly.
Finding the games your dog enjoys should be a fun process, of observing and being guided by your canine companion. Watch to see whether they seem happy and enthusiastic about the game. If they don’t, take a look back through our list and try something different. The good thing about fun dog games is that there are plenty to choose from!
In putting together our favourite ten games for dogs to play, we decided to split the games into different categories. Some of our games work best outside, others are the perfect games for dogs to play alone. The remainder are great games for dogs to play indoors, keeping them entertained and happy when outdoor time is not an option.
Games your dog can play alone
It can be hard to know how to entertain your dog during working hours, even if you are able to work from home. For dogs, any time of day is playtime. Our four-legged friends have no concept of working hours or the importance of conference calls, as anyone who has ever had a dog jump into the video of a call will tell you! It’s our duty as their carer to think up ways we can keep them entertained as we work. Here are some fun and easy home play games for you to try:
This is a brilliant option if your dog likes to use their nose. The mat, made of different sizes and strips of fabric, means food treats can be buried within the pockets of the mat. Your dog then has to work to remove them, stimulating their brain as they search for treats.
A wobble food toy is fun for dogs because they never know at what point their food is going to come out. Made of hard plastic, the wobble toy has a screw on base through which treats or kibble can be put in, and a smaller opening at the top. Your dog will have to paw at and nudge the toy, which will wobble and dispense the food at varying angles.
Dogs love food games. In fact, we would argue all dogs love food games, whether they’re confident and outgoing or shy and reserved. They stimulate scent work and natural foraging instincts, both of which feel good to dogs. Treat toys tap into this, as your dog has to work to associate the toy with the food and then use their teeth to get it out.
Fill the treat toy with something your dog loves. Peanut butter usually works well. For more nervous dogs, you may need an easy option to encourage them to play, loosely filling the toy and choosing one with lots of gaps to get food out. For the more avid chewers out there, extra strength options are available. Your dog can spend hours licking and chewing at the toy to get to the good stuff… all the while leaving you to get on with your work in peace.
Games your dog can play indoors
It may be blowing a storm outdoors, you may have a young puppy, or perhaps a less mobile older dog… whatever the reason, being prepared for some games inside is never a bad thing.
There’s no reason fetch has to be limited to the outdoors if you have a little bit of space at home! Fetch inside can be great fun for your pooch, just be sure to clear any breakable items away first.
Hide and Seek
Dogs love hide and seek, and it can be really good practice for recall. Have your dog stay in one room or be held back while you hide, somewhere out of view of your canine companion. Call your dog to you from your hiding place and let them use their nose and ears to work out where you are. When they reach you, make a big fuss and reward them. You’ll find your dog picks up on the game so quickly, they’ll be finding you - without even being called - before you know it.
Trick training is fun for both you and your dog and is also very mentally stimulating. Training for short sessions each day can really help settle and balance your dog at home. Take a look at our list of the most efficient training games here. These can work well when playing with puppies, as they can have fun and practice desired behaviours all at the same time.
Games your dog can play outdoors
If the weather is good enough, your dog will most certainly prefer to play a game outdoors where they'll have plenty of space to stretch their legs and lots of fun smells to discover at the same time!
Tug of War
This game is physically and mentally challenging for dogs, as it involves using both the brain and the body. Contrary to old myths, tug of war, played in the right way, does not encourage aggression in dogs. It’s actually a good outlet for energy and can help with impulse control in dogs that tend to get overexcited. Before playing, be sure your dog knows how to leave it, so that you can end the game when you feel the time is right.
Frisbee is great for high energy pups. Start with small throws or by rolling it on the ground. Praise and reward any time your dog interacts with or picks up the frisbee. Over time, as they get the hang of the game, you can build the throws to be further and higher. You may find you’re living with an athlete and you didn’t even know it!
If your dog enjoys being in or around water then this is a game not to be missed. Watching a dog trying to catch water droplets or splashing around with absolute joy, makes this game one of the best. You can either fill a paddling pool with water, throw some toys in and encourage your dog to jump in and play, or use a hose to create a stream of water. Your pup will have great fun trying to catch the droplets, burning energy at the same time.
This game works best for active, confident dogs. Select a ball based on the size of your dog, as smaller dogs may struggle with standard size footballs.
Place the football on the ground and encourage your dog to interact with it. Praise and treat any interest involving sniffing, pawing at the ball or nudging it with their nose. Start to move the ball around and get your dog involved.
If your dog bites at the ball, pick it up and end the game. Always praise and reward other interactions with it, making a big fuss when your dog pushes or paws at the ball. Have you always fancied a football superstar in the family? Maybe you’ve been overlooking your most athletic member. Give this game a try to find out.
The entertaining games out there are really only limited to your own imagination and creativity. Dogs make the best out of any situation, finding fun in the tiniest of things. Make the most of this wonderful quality to experiment with different games and have fun with your dog.
You’ll find that through regular play with your dog your bond is stronger, your dog more attentive to you. They’ll be calmer and more able to settle as well, having received the mental and physical stimulation they need.