Your dog loves fresh air and sunshine as much as you do—not to mention all the new and interesting sights and smells the outdoors brings. As the weather warms up, try some of these outside games and activities; a few would be perfect for including the whole neighborhood’s dogs in your Memorial Day weekend plans!
You can change these games depending on how your dog is best motivated: praise/belly rubs, favorite toys, items to fetch, or treats. If you do use treats, one way to keep your dog from gaining weight from too many snacks is to use some of his mealtime kibble to play the games. As with any activity, keep each session short and fun! It’s better to end the game before your dog gets bored or overly excited.
If you have a body of water available that your dog is allowed to play in—such as a lake or pool—it can be a great way to take fetch to another level and cool off! Take a couple of balls or toys that will float to the water’s edge and throw them in for your dog to swim after! If your dog hasn’t had much experience in the water, start by tossing the object just at the edge of the water, so all he has to do is get his feet wet, and slowly throw it farther. Remember that not all dogs like to swim—don’t push your dog to go in deeper than he is ready to. Also, our instinct is to try to get out where we went in, so first make sure to teach your dog where he can safely and easily exit the water.
Take your dog to a large open area or yard and have him follow you around as you deliver commands: SIT, DOWN, STAY, COME, etc. Give lots of praise when your dog completes the correct action. You can then move on to more advanced commands, teaching your dog to BACK UP, JUMP over something, CIRCLE around, etc. Continue walking around the area; this forces us to focus our attention on you!
For a twist on traditional fetch, grab a Wiffle bat and a dog-safe ball to hit across the yard or a park and have your dog play outfielder—no glove required! Try not to hit another ball until your dog has brought the first all the way back to you; this teaches us that we have to return the ball for the game to continue.
Wonder just how much your dog has picked up from watching all those agility shows on TV? Get him off the couch (come on, it’s like reality TV for dogs, you know how addicting that stuff is) by setting up your own obstacle course. Try including a tube (such as an agility tunnel/chute, available at most pet retailers) for your dog to run through, a pause table, a ladder, weaving sticks, poles to jump over, etc.—you can be creative with everyday items already in your yard, like sticks or Hula-Hoops. Start with your dog on a leash, and walk him through the course in the order you want him to complete the obstacles. Give him lots of praise when he gets it right, and recruit friends, family and neighbors to serve as judges—or to bring their own dogs to compete!
You can use a Popsicle mold or just an ice cube tray to freeze yummy, refreshing treats for your dog. Get creative by tossing ingredients such as yogurt, bananas, peanut butter, and carrots into a blender with a little water or, for picky pooches, chicken or beef broth (all-natural or low sodium versions are best). If your dog is a dedicated chewer, try stuffing a KONG® with your concoction and putting it in the freezer. I’m drooling just thinking about it!
While not all dogs will take to scenting and tracking, it’s a fun experiment to try! Go somewhere that your scent isn’t already scattered—or use a strong- and unique-scented piece of leather—and shuffle your feet or rub the leather in a distinct but straightforward pattern. Have someone else stay with your dog indoors or out of sight. Then, have your dog sniff you and your feet (or the leather) and lead him along the path you created; it helps if you encourage us to sniff along the way. If he seems to be getting it, try it again, somewhere you haven’t been, and increase the complexity of your trail.
WET & WILD
Fill up a kiddie pool with water and encourage your dog to splash around. For even more fun, grab a hose and have your dog chase the stream of water in and out of the pool. Add some dog-safe shampoo to fool your dog into a bath—don’t tell him it was my idea, but he’ll be having so much fun he’ll hardly notice.
Start with your dog in a SIT/STAY, allowing him to smell a treat, then hide it somewhere in the yard. Release your dog from the SIT and watch him explore with unbridled enthusiasm to find it! As your dog masters the game, add a degree of difficulty by hiding a number of treats in advance. You can also try scatter-feeding your dog his kibble at mealtimes (throwing it all around the yard)—I spend hours hunting for every last bit.
WALK THIS WAY
In addition to being great exercise for you and your dog, walking is an activity almost anyone can participate in and a great way to get to know your neighbors! Organize a monthly, weekly, or even daily walking group for your neighborhood or apartment building. Keep it interesting by choosing different destinations (like dog parks or dog-friendly stores and cafes), or up the intensity by choosing portions to pick up the pace.
Once your dog has a firm grasp on basic obedience and on-leash manners, consider bringing him along on your bike rides! There are a variety of devices and special harnesses that are specifically made for this sport—called “bikejoring”—that attach your dog safely to a bicycle. Never attempt this by just holding your dog’s normal leash in your hand while steering. Start slowly, guiding your dog along at a steady pace, and keep rides short. Gradually build speed and distance. You can also check for canine biking classes in your area.
In addition to the activities above, Training Dogs the Aussie Way by Bark Busters founders Danny and Sylvia Wilson contains about 20 pages of tricks to work on with your dog (available at BarkBustersBoutique.com, Amazon.com, or from your local Bark Busters trainer). Remember that basic obedience is the foundation for having fun with your dog—games and activities should be a fun and rewarding bonding experience, not a stressful time, for you and your dog.