Games for Active Dogs

Many of us have dogs that come from working or herding backgrounds that thrive on activity or simply dogs that are very energetic. I often get asked about good activities to help dogs burn energy or “take the edge off” so they are a calmer. Often dogs can run out in a yard or a field for long periods of time and seemingly still be full of energy and looking for things to do. While free form exercise is an important component of most dogs’ days, having activities that provide both physical and mental exercise are most effective in regulating energy levels. Organized activities such as agility, obedience, nose work, and so on definitely provide the physical and mental activity required but for many reasons it’s not practical to rely on these alone for daily exercise needs. Walking, hiking, and swimming are also excellent activities that I covered in a previous post, but there are times when it’s useful to have a set of other activities that can be done indoors or outdoors depending on the weather and can be done at home or another safe and convenient location.

The following 3 games come from the Whole Dog Journal

Find It Game

Most dogs love to use their noses. Take advantage of this natural talent by teaching yours the “Find It!” game. The “find it!” game can be played indoors or outside. Nose work is surprisingly tiring for dogs.

1. Start with a handful of pea-sized tasty treats. Toss one to your left and say “Find it!” Then toss one to your other side and say “Find it!” Do this back and forth a half-dozen times.

2. Then have your dog sit and wait or stay, or have someone hold his leash. Walk 10 to 15 feet away and let him see you place a treat on the floor. Walk back to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” encouraging him to go get the treat. Repeat a half-dozen times.

3. Next, have your dog sit and wait or stay, or have someone hold his leash and let him see you “hide” the treat in an easy hiding place: behind a chair leg, under the coffee table, next to the plant stand. Walk back to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” encouraging him to go get the treat. Repeat a half-dozen times.

4. Again, have your dog sit and wait. This time hide several treats in easy places while he’s watching. Return to his side, pause, and say “Find it!” Be sure not to help him out if he doesn’t find them right away. You can repeat the “find it” cue, and indicate the general area, but don’t show him where it is; you want him to have to work to find it.

5. Hide the treats in harder and harder places so he really has to look for them: surfaces off the ground; underneath things; and in containers he can easily open.

6. Finally, put him in another room while you hide treats. Bring him back into the room and tell him to “Find it!” and enjoy watching him work his powerful nose to find the goodies. Once you’ve taught him this step of the game you can use it to exercise him by hiding treats in safe places all over the house, and then telling him to “Find it!”

If you prefer something less challenging, just go back to Step 1 and feed your dog his entire meal by tossing pieces or kibble from one side to the other, farther and farther, with a “Find it!” each time. He’ll get exercise just chasing after his dinner!

Hide And Seek

This is a fun variation of the “Find it” game. Have your dog sit and wait (or have someone hold him) while you go hide yourself in another room of the house. When you’re hidden, call your dog’s name and say “Find me!” Make it easy at first so he can find you quickly and succeed. Reinforce him with whatever he loves best – treats, a game of “tug,” petting and praise, a tossed ball – or a combination of these. Then hide again. As he learns the game, make your hiding places harder and harder, so he has to really search. This could be inside a closet, under a bed, etc.

Manners Minder

If you are into higher-tech exercise, use a treat dispenser called the Manners Minder that spits out treats when you push a button on the remote control. This one is especially useful if you don’t feel like exercising along with your canine pal or can’t, due to physical restrictions of your own:

Teach your dog to use the Manners Minder, by showing him several times that when he hears the beep, a treats fall out of the machine. You can use his own dog food, if he really likes his food.

1. Set the machine a few feet away and have your dog sit next to you. Push the button, and let him go eat the treats. Repeat several times, encouraging him, if necessary, to go get the treats when he hears the beep.

2. Put the machine across the room, and have your dog sit next to you. Push the button, and watch him run over and eat the treats. If he’s not doing this with great enthusiasm, repeat Steps 1 and 2 several more times with higher value treats, until he really gets excited about the treats when he hears the beep.

3. Set the machine in the next room, and repeat the exercise several times. Call him back to you each time, so he runs to the Manners Minder when he hears the beep, eats the treat, and runs back to you to wait for the next beep. Gradually move the treat dispenser into rooms farther and farther away from you, until your dog has to run all the way across the house, or even upstairs, when he hears the beep.

Variations on the Find It Game

There are several variations of the “Find It Game” that you can play with toys. The easiest is to take a favorite toy and as with the food start inviting your dog to find it. Start off by letting your dog see the toy and then progress to hiding it somewhere in the same room or a different room and ask your dog to find it. In order for this game to be successful it should be a toy that your dog really likes and is motivated to find. It’s also helpful to remove other toys and certainly toys of similar value from the environment if this will be a distraction.

For ball motivated dogs finding their favorite ball is a great game to play. This also has the advantage that you will be waiting for the ball to come to a stop before letting your dog find it. So unlike a regular game of fetch your dog should be minimizing the amount of jumping, diving, and twisting to reach the ball – all of which if done repetitively can cause injury. Start by throwing the ball not too far away so your dog can see it. Once the ball has come to a stop, release her to the ball. Progress to throwing the ball further and further away before releasing your dog to find it. You can even have your dog facing the opposite direction from where the ball is thrown. Particularly if this game is played outdoors with a throwing device, like a Chuck It, where the ball can be tossed a long distance then the dogs can get quite a workout.

There is one caveat about all the games where you are asking your dog to dash off to find something – make sure that the surface is appropriate for running, so for example it’s not a slick floor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s