Why should we play games with our dogs?
Dogs are natural scavengers and would be quite happy keeping busy all day looking around for food. This is something that comes naturally, so imagine how awful it is for them to only have two quick meals a day at the same time and place. What would you do with the rest of your long, dull day? Keeping a dog mentally stimulated will prevent behaviour problems such as barking, being destructive or over-grooming. Let’s beat that boredom!
Problem solving to find food is a very natural thing for dogs to do, so we can use this in many ways to encourage them to use their brains and keep them happy. It’s also why using food as a reward during training is so effective.
TOP TIP: If a dog must work too hard for their food when they are really hungry, then they may become frustrated. Always give a ‘work-free’ meal about an hour before any of these games and training sessions, saving some of the biscuits back for the training later.
Games to try in the home and garden.
Interactive toys that you can buy include a Kong, activity ball or snuffle mats. These are all toys that can be filled with food and treats and dogs either have to lick at the contents or they have to roll the toys with their nose or paws so that the treats fall out of small holes.
Homemade versions are just as good though!
Use a cardboard box and fill it with treats and layers of scrunched up newspaper and blankets. They will have a lot of fun digging and pulling out the stuffing to get to the treats. It doesn't have to be large, check out one of ur dogs with a puzzle made from a biscuit treat box and some newspaper.
Sprinkle a few treats on the floor and cover them with an old towel or tea towel – your dog has to work out how to get to them. Or for a more difficult version, wrap some treats up in an old towel or tea towel to make a sort of roll, even tie it up.
Put some treats in an empty Pringle tube or wrap them in a cardboard tube and let your dog work out how to get them. Some will shake them out, others will rip up the cardboard to get to them.
Hide treats or toys and encourage your dog to find them. Only give as much help as is needed, if your dog is happy sniffing around on their own then leave them to it. You can also hide yourself, if your dog is distracted and won’t see you, and there is somewhere to hide! Once hidden, do a recall to get your dog to find you.
Put some treats in a muffin tin and cover them with tennis balls – your dog has to work out how to remove the balls to get to the treats. Also, turn it over and scatter treats across, this then acts like a gobble bowl or slow feeder.
TOP TIP: Introduce new toys and games gradually so that your dog understands what to do and doesn’t get frustrated.
Scent Trail game
A dog’s sense of smell is one of their strongest senses and using their nose can be quite tiring as well as a lot of fun – so scent tracking games are very good to prevent boredom. Here’s how to get started (see also our video further down).
Get a clean old sock and fill the toe with some particularly smelly food that your dog will love. Put them out of sight so that they cannot watch you. Drag the sock along the ground to a hiding place, such as behind a tree or a piece of furniture – but don’t make the trail too long to start with. Take a few pieces of the food and place at the beginning of the trail and partway along, to help them on their first few tries. Bring them to the start of the trail and encourage them to follow it and they should find the hidden sock. When they find it, praise and give them the treats hidden inside.
As they get better at following the trail, stop putting treats along the way to help and make the trail longer and more complicated. For more of a challenge, try it out on a walk.
Digging - where it is OK to dig!
If your dog likes to dig in your garden and you’re fed up with the holes in your lawn, then build your dog their own sand-pit or earth-pit. You can either sink it into the ground or have one that is raised up – just as long as it is big enough for them to get in and have a really good dig. Bury toys and treats inside, but remember to supervise your dog when using a sand/earth-pit.