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4 Creative Play Ideas to Entertain and Educate Your Dog

These fun games double as training exercises to teach your pup new skills and behaviors.

Marybeth Bittel  |  Sep 4th 2015


If you’re reading this, you’re probably a dog person, just like me. That means you most likely make choices with your pup’s well-being in mind. You strive for a fun, vibrant, memorable relationship. You enjoy living life with your dog, wherever and whenever you can.

So for you, it won’t come as any surprise that most dogs don’t want to sprawl around on the couch every single moment of the day (though some crave more downtime than others). Reasonable yet consistent mental challenges can often help to sharpen a canine’s innate intelligence. Periodic activity can often enhance stamina and general physical condition. And, of course, playing games together strengthens your bond. If that’s not a win-win-win argument in favor of more creative play, I’m not sure what is.

Below, I share four fun activities that my dogs and I have enjoyed over the years. Many of these double as sorta-sneaky training exercises that help teach your pup new skills and behaviors.

But remember, as a common-sense precaution, it’s always smart to check with your vet before trying anything new — especially if your dog is older or struggling with a specific health challenge. It’s not uncommon for canines to hide their pain and discomfort. So when you do begin a new activity, monitor carefully for any signs of distress.

1. Getchooooo

For many dogs like Grant, "keep away" is a fun, exciting way to get exercise -- just build in reminders so they understand it's only play, and YOU control the game. (photo by Marybeth Bittel)

For dogs like Grant, “keep away” is a fun, exciting way to get exercise — just build in reminders so they understand it’s only play and YOU control the game. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

This one’s a huge favorite with my two current pups — a version of “keep away” that lets you run all over the house or yard (so it’s great in any kind of weather). Grant has always loved this game, but when Maizy was younger she initially seemed uncertain. We learned that breaking character every few minutes — bending down and calling her over to us in an excited voice — helped her understand that we were only playing. After that, she began teasing us with her favorite squeak toy so we’d start a new round.

To play, offer your pup a permitted play object like a favorite toy, or wait until she already has one in her mouth. Start the game by saying “get you!” in an excited voice, and then shuffle/jog after your furry friend as she darts all over the house. Excitedly repeat “get you!” every few seconds. While you’re playing, occasionally command your pup to “drop” or “give” the toy (offer a treat if necessary). That will help reinforce this important cue for unpermitted situations when you really need it (i.e., “Um, hey, isn’t that my hairbrush?”). I should note that over time, our pups have stopped grabbing toys altogether … they just enjoy the thrill of the chase!

2. Slush ‘n’ splash

It's amazing how a few ice chips and some water can turn into an effective, inexpensive training game on a warm day. (photo by Marybeth Bittel)

It’s amazing how a few ice chips and some water can turn into an effective, inexpensive training game on a warm day. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

This is a lot of fun any time the weather is especially hot and muggy. Set out an inflated plastic kiddie pool and dump a few big bags of ice into the center. Then fill to the edge with water and invite your pup to have a super-chilly time splashing around.

Bonus round: If you just have a single dog (or you’re 100 percent positive that you’re not dealing with any dogs who tend toward food aggression), you can practice commands by placing your canine in a “stay” position outside the pool. Then, toss in a favorite toy — or better yet, a yummy turkey meatball or two — and release your pup to jump in and bob for treats! Afterwards, let your dog dry off in the nice warm sun.

3. Green light, red light

A childhood classic is easily transformed into a fun training game for you and your best furry friend. (photo by Marybeth Bittel)

A childhood classic is easily transformed into a fun training game for you and your best furry friend. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

Remember playing this as a kid? If you have a big backyard or a secure dog park nearby, you can re-create something similar with a group of dog lovers. Place all pups on leash and have them line up side-by-side with their owners. Choose a game leader to stand on the opposite edge of the playing area, with her back toward the teams. When the game leader calls “Green light!” all the teams start speeding forward. When the game leader calls “Red light!” and then quickly turns around, all the teams must stop and get their dogs to sit with a verbal/hand cue (allow treats if you’d like). Anyone not sitting by the time the leader is facing the teams has to go back to the starting line. The team that reaches and tags the leader first wins.

4. Flavor fetch

A dog playing fetch with his Kong by Shutterstock.

Add a treat to your next game of fetch. (A dog playing fetch with his Kong by Shutterstock)

Fetch games can provide hours of entertaining exercise for your canine, and they’re a great way to spend some quality time together. For this game, get a clean, old tennis ball and some favorite low-cal treats (Maizy’s a fan of Old Mother Hubbard Bitz, but even a little piece of apple or sweet potato will work for many dogs).

Very carefully, use a box cutter to make a roughly 1-inch slit in the ball. If you’re not a huge fan of hand tools, you can also use a round Kong toy that holds treats inside securely (just so long as your pup can lift and carry the toy with his mouth). Next, let your dog watch closely as you drop one of those favorite treats inside the ball. Finally, throw the ball playfully and encourage your pup to bring it back by slapping your legs or calling excitedly.

As I’ve learned with several fosters, some dogs don’t fetch automatically. This game helps teach that behavior by initially showing your dog that you’ll help remove the stuck treat when he brings the ball back. So the moment your dog brings you the ball, gently squeeze to release the treat and share his well-deserved reward. Once your dog is fetching on cue for fun, whether or not you continue providing the treats is up to you.

What are some interesting, inventive games that you and your dog especially enjoy? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Marybeth Bittel:

About the author: Marybeth Bittel is a freelance writer who lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, her crazy rescue dog Grant, and her level-headed rescue dog Maizy – all of them Heinz 57 mixed breed types. Marybeth identifies as mostly Italian, so she enjoys feeding family, friends and furkids almost as much as Grant and Maizy enjoy eating. She’s also a marketing communications consultant and former marketing/PR exec. Connect with her on LinkedIn or — to see her latest pet pics (and be careful what you wish for here) — check out her family Instagram feed.