Looking for at-home ways to keep your dog fit, active and happy? These backyard play ideas will get him going!
Play is very important to a dog’s well-being. It keeps him fit by providing physical exercise, stimulating his mind, and making him happy! Research has shown that dogs score higher in “obedient attentiveness” after play sessions than they do before. So playing with your dog isn’t frivolous – it’s good for him and it creates a stronger bond between you. Let’s take a look at some great backyard play ideas for you and your dog.
Set up a mini-agility or obstacle course
If your yard is fenced in, try setting up a mini-agility or obstacle course for your dog. This is a great way to combine both physical and mental stimulation while having fun into the bargain. The equipment doesn’t have to be expensive or professional – it doesn’t even have to involve “real” obstacles.
These are an inexpensive addition to your agility yard. You can purchase a nice set of PVC jumps online, or create your own; there are lots of instructional articles and videos online. But the easiest way to create a jump is to just to grab a broom.
Place the broom on the ground, and using a treat, lure your dog to walk over the handle. For most dogs, this is pretty easy. Keep practicing until your dog walks easily over the handle, while lifting up his feet and not knocking the broomstick.
Once your dog has completed the first step, you can think about raising the height of the broom handle by 1” increments. At this stage, the broom should rest on a flat surface so that when your dog accidentally hits it with his feet it will just roll off. Do not secure the broom so it cannot fall; this can cause injury. It’s also important to note that dogs should not be encourage to jump very high, particularly if they are seniors, under two years of age or have mobility issues. A good rule of thumb is 2” to 4” for small dogs, 4” to 6” for medium dogs, and a maximum of 12” for larger dogs. Jumping should take place on the grass and not on hard surfaces like patios or driveways.
Here’s another obstacle your dog can try. Stores for children often sell play tunnels that are open on both ends. You can also use a large cardboard box and just cut out the end flaps. If you have a small dog, a cat tunnel is another option.
Tunnels can be a bit harder than jumps for your dog to master. The act of standing on a strange surface and going inside an enclosed space can be scary. First, ensure the tunnel is secured to something, such as the wall of your house and a few heavy chairs. You do not want the tunnel to slide around as your dog goes through it.
Next, toss some healthy high-value treats at the opening of the tunnel, with a few slightly inside. Praise your dog as he’s gobbling up his snacks. If this is difficult for him, remain at this level for a day or two. Once your dog is happily eating all the treats, toss them into the tunnel. As he starts to go inside to eat them, run to the opposite end with more treats. Encourage your dog to come toward you for more treats. As he does, feed him treats while he’s inside the tunnel, then make a treat trail from your dog to the outside of the tunnel so he comes out. Make a big fuss when he’s out, and tell him what a brave smart dog he is.
Play “find it” games
Almost all dogs love “find it” games, and they work for all ages and sizes, and levels of mobility. Another plus is that these games can be played indoors, so they’re great for those who don’t have yards.
Find the treat
This is the best way to teach your dog the meaning of “find it”. Cue your dog into a “stay” position or put him inside the house for a few minutes. Place ten of your dog’s favorite treats on the ground about three feet apart. Release your dog and tell him to “find it.” After each treat he’s eaten, say “find it” again. Repeat this process, and start to gradually increase the distance between the treats. Eventually, the treats will be far enough apart that he won’t see them, but will begin looking for them with his nose. If he seems uncertain, help guide him, and next round place the treats a bit closer together again, until he gets it.
Don’t have a fenced-in yard – or a yard at all? These activities can easily be adapted for indoor play!
Find the toy
Once your dog has a good understanding that “find it” means he’s to hunt for treats, you can introduce “find the toy”. Start with a good game of fetch with your dog’s favorite toy. Then ask him to stay, or place him out of sight, and put the toy on the ground where it will be right within his sight. Release your dog and say “Find the ball/toy/bone”. Once he grabs it, start playing with him again. Repeat this process. As with finding treats, you’ll slowly begin to make it more difficult for him to find the toy.
This is another version of “find it” that you can play in your yard. Ask your dog to “stay”, or duck away when he’s distracted. Hide behind something that’s close to your dog. In a happy singsong voice, say your dog’s name and “find me!” Then be very quiet and still. Let your dog search for you. If he’s having a difficult time, make a little noise or call his name again. When he finds you, jump for joy and tell him what a good boy he is. One word of caution: if your dog seems stressed when he cannot find you, this may not be a good game for him.
These are just a few ideas for enjoying play and exercise with your dog in your own backyard. The sky really is the limit, so use your imagination. The most important part is that you both have fun!