“A tired dog is a good dog.” While you’ve probably heard the saying many times, there’s a lot of truth to that simple phrase. Bored dogs will often try to entertain themselves—whether that means chewing your shoes, barking at what seem like imaginary sounds, digging up your flower garden, or chasing their own tails.
Playtime can solve many behavior problems and help you strengthen the bond with your dog at the same time. Walks—preferably twice a day for at least half an hour each—are a great way to help your dog (and you) burn some calories but playing together adds a whole additional layer of activity.
Just as children learn and develop through play, our pets need the stimulation, both mental and physical, that play can provide to develop their full potential. Spring is an excellent time to get out and have fun with your four-legged friend. After a winter of often abbreviated outdoor activity, the warmer weather calls for outdoor action.
Here’s a look at inexpensive and fun ways to get out and celebrate the warm weather with your dog:
- Play fetch. Not every dog loves the game of fetch from the start; some require some time to learn why it’s fun to repeatedly chase an object you toss. Be aware of the type of object your dog enjoys fetching, a tennis ball, a toy, or a flying disc. Reward your dog when he returns the toy with lots of praise or treats, and he’ll learn to love this game. Eventually, you can graduate to longer throws (try a tennis racquet if you need help) or uphill fetch games to help your dog get more exercise.
- Play hide and seek. Dogs enjoy a good game of hide and seek, and it’s a great way to help exercise your dog’s problem solving abilities at the same time. Start with your dog in a sit- (or down-) stay then hide in a fairly easy-to-find place. Be sure to have some great rewards with you, like super treats or a favorite toy, so you can praise your dog when he finds you. As your dog gets better at this game, you can graduate to more difficult-to-find locations that require your dog to rely on scent to locate you.
- Create your own dog park with friends. Do you and a couple of neighbors have fenced yards and dogs that enjoy each other’s company? Arrange a play date every week for your dogs to enjoy some fun play time. It will save you a drive to the dog park, save some gas money, and help socialize Fido and you at the same time.
- Freestyle fun. OK, you’re no Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers but you can get out and enjoy some freestyle dance fun with Fido. Turn up some tunes and dance with your dog. With a search for “canine freestyle” on YouTube, you’ll find many videos of competitive freestyle competitions for some ideas…or just improvise. Whatever you try, your dog will never laugh at your dance steps.
- Get nosy. Help your dog develop his instinctive scenting abilities by training him to track. Using a harness and a long leash, you can teach your dog the “track” command, starting with an easy-to-find scented object (try a dirty t-shirt) in clear sight; after the “track” command, when your dog walks up to the item, give him lots of praise and reward him. Eventually, you can progress to hiding the item out of sight. Help your dog by laying a scent trail by dragging the item to the location. This exercise can be fun for your dog and fascinating for you as you learn to appreciate your dog’s amazing sense of smell.
- Try some agility fun. You don’t have to have a full agility course to teach your dog to enjoy agility exercises; one apparatus such as a tunnel or a bar jump can mean many afternoons of fun. As your dog progresses, you can add additional agility equipment or consider joining an agility club for even more challenges.
- Get sporting. Whether your sport is rollerblading, scootering, or biking, your dog can join the fun. It can be as simple or involved as you choose, with your dog running alongside you or taking part using special equipment. Sports such as Bikejoring, a dog mushing activity involving a bicycle, and dog scootering, in which dogs pull an unmotorized kick scooter, challenge dogs and their people at the same time. Whatever your idea of outdoor fun, your dog will be happy to join. The increased activity can prevent behavioral problems and help you and your dog celebrate spring together.