On New Year’s Day I told you that my resolution was to play more with my dogs. Many of you got in touch to say that you decided to try this too! I wonder how many of us there are trying to fit more play time into our dogs’ day - and whether, like me, you sometimes find it difficult?
Like many of you I work full time and it’s so hard fitting everything into one day. The recommended number of play sessions per day is six and so I set that figure as my goal, calling it the Dogwood 6 Play Challenge. But 6 separate sessions is a lot! I cut the morning walk short to fit in a play session before I go to work and then I do one when I get home and another later in the evening. Luckily Ruben can step in with a couple more playtimes during the day. I’d say we’re hitting 5 on average at the moment.
Don’t worry if you haven’t started building play in your dog’s day – this blog series is here to help.
How can we encourage our dogs to play?
Several of you got in touch to tell me that you would love to play more with your dog but they don’t seem interested.
It might be helpful to broaden our idea of what constitutes play. We often tend to think of it as something quite narrow – retrieve or tug for instance – but play can be many things and it’s first a good idea to discover the sort of play your dog enjoys.
The 4 categories of play
Tug of war – toys include raggers and rubber rings
Chase & Retrieve – use balls and Kongs on rope
Hide, Seek & Search – can be played with people, toys or food
Pounce & Shake – squeaky toys encourage this type of play
For dogs who are reluctant to play or anyone who is just starting to play with their dog, Hide, Seek & Search games may be a good place to start. These games are great for rescue dogs or others that have not engaged in a lot of structured play.
We’ve all seen the adrenaline junky dog obsessively chasing a tennis ball? Hide, Seek & Search games are also a great way to finish more high-energy games as they bring dogs’ adrenaline back down to a manageable level.
Hide, Seek & Search games to play at home
What you’ll need:
Strong smelling treats cut into very small pieces.
I like to use a training pouch to keep treats in as they’re easy to access and it helps with the speed of delivery, but you can also hold them in your hand.
1. Start with 10 treats and your dog in front of you. Say ‘Find it’ in an excited voice and place one treat off to the side. Not too far, make sure she can still see it. As soon as she eats that one, place another in the opposite direction and say ‘Find it’ again.
Keep doing this in opposite directions until all 10 treats are gone.
2. Take another 10 treats. Ask your dog to stay/wait. Place a treat off to one side and release your dog with an excited ‘Find it!’ Repeat this with the rest of the treats, gradually placing them further away from her.
3. Repeat step 2 but this time while your dog is staying/waiting, walk a few paces away before placing the treat on the floor. Return to her and pause a second (so that she doesn’t think your return is the cue to release) and release her with ‘Find it!’ Gradually increase the distance.
This is where it gets interesting because she will start using her incredible sense of smell rather than relying on sight alone and you’ll watch and learn how to read her body language when she’s ‘on scent’.
4. Make it harder! Instead of placing the treats in plain sight, begin to hide them behind table legs, under cushions, on top of chairs. Make it more difficult for her to see exactly where you hide the treats by walking behind a sofa or hiding them in a series of empty cardboard boxes. Each time you hide a treat, return, pause and release with ‘Find it!’
5. Ask her to stay/wait in another room while you hide the treat. As before, return to her, pause and excitedly tell her to ‘Find it!’
PRO TIP! Don’t find the treat for her or she may learn to wait for you to show her rather than working to find it herself. If she can’t find it use an open, sweeping hand gesture to show her the general area to search.
Hide, Seek & Search games to play at Dogwood
Hide & Seek
Your dog will use a combination of wind scenting (sniffing the air to locate you) and tracking (sniffing along the ground to follow where you have walked).
1 player version
When your dog isn’t watching, go off and hide behind the mound or under the adventure play frame. If she tends to stick close to you, scatter a couple of treats in the grass and while she’s distracted go off and hide.
Call her name (if you scattered treats, wait until you think she has finished them first).
When she finds you, give her some treats and lots of excited praise!
One person distracts your dog while the other hides.
The person hiding calls your dog and throws a treat party when she finds them.
While she is claiming her reward, swap roles so that the person distracting your dog now goes to hide.
Nose games are tiring so your dog may enjoy a rest afterwards!
I hope that has helped any of you with dogs that seem reluctant to play. Like with any training, it may take a while but the results make it all worthwhile!
I’d love to hear how you get on with your play sessions this month or even better – send a photo! And if you have a session booked at Dogwood, tell us how your Hide, Seek & Search games go!
Thank you to all of you who registered your interest for Social Sessions last month, we are busy working on the details. If you haven’t already, please register here so that you are the first to find out all the details.
I look forward to seeing you back here next month for more things play and enrichment!