When the weather warms up, our dogs love spending more and more time outdoors — and so do we! Some of that time is spent walking and hiking, but we also enjoy just hanging around outdoors with Irie and Tiki.
While they love a lazy summer afternoon nap in the shade, we like to get them up and active, and there’s no better way than with an outdoor game. One of our favorites is also super simple. Our version of hide-and-seek was launched one Easter, when we hid treats and a couple of boiled eggs in the fresh green grass of our yard for them to find.
Over the years, our hide-and-seek game has evolved; today we either hide their breakfast meal, divided up around the yard, or we hide a few training treats as well as toys and chews in the grass. Irie and Tiki remain indoors while we hide the prizes, but they usually peek out through the door to watch. When we let them out on the porch, we put them in a “sit” while their excitement grows, then we release them. This game is not only an active way to serve them their breakfast, but it also appeals to their hunting instincts, honing their powerful scenting skills in the process.
Another way of practicing their scent training through outdoor games is by laying down a scent track. Amy Robinson of Amy Robinson Dog Training explains how.
“Lay a track by tying a string around the dog’s favorite toy, preferably the one he has just been chomping on, since it will have a stronger scent,” she says. “Drag the toy in an L-shaped track, then hide the toy at the end of the track under a big leaf or behind a tree. Then bring the dog to the front of the track and help him ‘Find it!’ Watch his overjoyed reaction when he sniffs out the prize and dances around with it.”
Outdoor games can be a great way to train your dog while getting exercise and having fun at the same time. Anthony Newman of Calm Energy Dog Training in New York points out that games are about more than just fun.
“I love teaching outdoor off-leash games with dogs,” he says, “especially ones that help them learn obedience and manners while enjoying and getting physical exercise and social release.”
One of Newman’s favorite games is Obedient Fetch. Unlike a traditional fetch game, Newman explains that his game works on four behaviors:
- Come! (Recall): Your dog comes all the way over to you with the ball/stick/toy in his mouth. You grab his collar and praise.
- Drop it: Use a combination of audio/visual corrections to make this happen, then reward with happy praise and a treat.
- Lie down: Your dog lies down with belly exposed, calm, submissive and relaxed.
- Release command (e.g., ‘OK!’): You verbally release your dog and throw the ball/stick/toy. He tears after it, happy as can be.
Newman says this turns a joyful game into a therapeutic behavior.
“Whereas ‘unthinking fetch’ trains dominance, demand barking, demand behavior, and rewards hyperactivity and frustration, Obedient Fetch trains calm peaceful obedience while exercising and rewarding!” he says.
Follow The Leader
Newman sneaks in some great safety training as a game as well with his Follow the Leader game.
“Most people think the most important thing they need to teach their dog before feeling safe in off-leash spaces, and especially unfenced parks, is recall,” he says. “No doubt, recall is essential and hugely helpful in many situations. However, even more fundamental to off-leash obedience and safety is what I call ‘Following.’ This is not heeling; the dog can lag 20 yards behind, or even be in front of you if done properly. Instead, it means that when you turn, your dog turns; where you go, your dog follows or at least soon comes running.”
The Follow The Leader game is easy to do and requires no equipment.
“The best way to teach following is by making it a game where you’re actually trying — or at least pretending to try — to get away from your dog,” Newman says. “First, never walk toward your dog; if he’s in front, head at an angle and then turn sharply. When he gets in front of you, turn sharply again. Zigzag and you’ll notice him following you even when he’s out in front.”
Multiple paths add to the fun.
“Pretend to walk up one path, and as soon as your dog runs ahead in it, turn around and yell/whoop/whistle and run back and up the other path,” Newman says. “If done with proper energy/enthusiasm and timing, your dog should come running with a big smile on his face! You’re turning the leadership into a game — obedience training has never been so fun, and so helpful!”
Indoor games are fun, but outdoor games are a great way to enjoy the warm weather, bond with your dog, sneak in a little training, and share some fun and exercise at the same time!