Training an excitable puppy or more stubborn older dog might sound like a lot of hassle, but it can actually be an entertaining and rewarding way to spend time with your pup.
Regular training helps your dog understand what’s expected of them and therefore be better behaved around the house. Many training exercises are also great for providing the mental stimulation your pup needs to stay happy and healthy and offer a fun-filled bonding opportunity.
In this article, we’re going to take your doggy training a bit beyond “sit” and “come.” Instead, we’re going to look at some tricks for training your dog that feel less like a classroom… and more like playtime.
These games are enjoyable and rewarding for you and your pup, and each has valuable lessons to be learned… Although you might not notice because you’re simply enjoying yourself too much!
1. Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is a fantastic game to improve your dog’s recall response. It can also be beneficial if you and your pup get separated on off-leash walks. Training your dog to stay calm and use their nose and ears to seek you out, even when they can’t see you.
How to play
- Start by practicing calling your pup from another room and rewarding them with a treat and lots of praise when they find you. If they really struggle, call them again, but try to stay quiet to encourage your pup to sniff you out.
- As your pup masters the game, increase the quality of your hiding place, so the dog has to look longer and further to find you. Have them sniff behind curtains, use their dog ramp (like the ones from Chasing Tails) to check higher spots, and ensure they stay calm during the game.
2. Go Find It
This is an awesome mental puzzle for toy-loving dogs and a great way to release pent-up energy. Over time, you can expand this game to teach your dog the names of other things, too.
You can also combine this game with “drop it” training or use the game to teach your dog to help with chores or put their toys away.
How to play
- Start with just one toy out. Standing away from the toy, tell your pup to “Go find X” (or your chosen phrase). Use an excited voice and point to the toy you want. When your pup gets the toy, reward them with treats, praise, and playing with it.
- For the next step, phase out the pointing. Continue to reward your pup when they pick up the correct toy.
- Next, introduce another toy and put it together with the toy you’re training your dog to recognize (you might want to pick a toy that’s not quite as beloved as the first). Repeat the game and reward your pup when they choose the right toy.
- Once your dog can pick out the correct toy from a group, try introducing a second named toy to the game by repeating steps 1-3 with the new toy. You’ll need a toy they love about the same as the first one; otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure!
- Once your pup can identify the two toys, alternate which one you ask for.
- You can gradually increase the number of toys and words your dog knows by name over time.
3. Ready, Set, DOWN
This is a brilliant game for training your dog to calm down and stop when they’re really excited. Maintain a consistent verbal cue when you want your dog to drop the toy and stop playing so it can be used in wide applications.
To play correctly, your dog needs to know how to play tug of war nicely, how to drop a toy on cue, and a minimum of one other command (sit, down, touch… any command-based behavior will do).
How to play
- Start by playing a light game of tug of war with your dog – you don’t want them too excitable.
- After a few minutes of playtime, cue your dog to drop the toy, then tell them to sit, lie down, touch, or any other command they know well.
- Reward your dog for obeying the cues by restarting the game.
- Repeat the game, slowly increasing the intensity as they get the hang of it. It’s a good idea to also try mixing different commands to mentally stimulate the dog (and help them practice a range of other commands).
4. The Shadow Game
This game has the goal of training your pup to walk nicely even when off-leash, teaching recall and polite walking.
How to play
- Start at home with your dog on a loose leash and plenty of treats in your pocket.
- Begin walking around (in any direction). Reward your dog whenever they catch up to you.
- If your dog starts pulling ahead of you, turn 180-degrees and place a treat on the ground (let the pup see you do this). As they eat their treat, walk ahead a few paces and give another treat when your dog catches up again.
- Mix up the shadow walk by walking in different directions. As your pup gets better at being your shadow, take the game outdoors and play over different terrains at different speeds.
Training = Fun
Teaching your pup good behavior and manners doesn’t need to feel like an uphill battle. With a little patience and creativity, you can easily transform the learning experience into a fun and exciting adventure that you and your pup will both love.
Not only will you teach your dog valuable skills and commands, but you also get to spend lots of time doing the thing your dog loves most: spending time together!