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Is your dog bored, stressed, over or understimulated? Try 15 minutes of play. Play is an integral aspect of mental, emotional and physical health. Play builds relationships, both individual and communal. Play and its experiences create confidence and also a sense of trying again, to make improvements in oneself, and in playing with others. Play can relax, regulate and also stimulate an individual’s response to each moment, situation and environment.
Best of all, play is fun learning. It’s great when dog games involve both the brain and the body, although sometimes play is more focused on one or the other. Try these 15-minute exercises for your dog’s brain, body or both.
Try a flirt pole
A flirt pole is a roughly 5-foot long flexible pole that has a 6-foot long line with a flag on the end that the dog chases. Just move it around on the ground to entice your dog to play. My preferred and favorite flirt pole to use is a horse lunge whip.
Create an agility course
Build an obstacle course either in your yard with some agility equipment or in your home with pool noodles and boxes. Get creative and have fun. You can also find equipment, like a Trixie hurdle ($22.99, Chewy) and HDP tunnel ($38.98, Chewy) online.
Time for fetch
Fetch is the classic quick game to play with our dogs. In recent years there’s been concern about the repetitive motions of fetch and how they can be detrimental, but this is not the case with every dog. If your dog gets super excited playing fetch, wants to continuously play longer and further and it stresses her out, then fetch might not be the best idea to play when there is only 15 minutes to do so.
Go on a sniffari
Sniffaris are special walks where the dog picks where to go, if the environment and direction she chooses is safe. Allow your dog to stop and smell anything and everything safe to gather information from. Sniffaris are amazing olfactory workouts.
Belly rubs, massage and cooperative care practice
Take time to focus on giving and receiving affection. Set aside a focused block of time to give your dog a massage while helping her to willingly accept being handled for cooperative care.
You can start with a chin rest. A chin rest is when your dog chooses to rest her chin on your upward-facing open palm.
Teach with lure-based shaping onto an open palm by guiding your dog with a small food reward and saying “Chin” as your dog’s chin comes to rest upon your target (upward-facing palm). Having a good chin rest is the Swiss Army knife of cooperative care techniques.
This game motivates our dogs to run around the house or yard searching for us, which meets their physical and cognitive needs at the same time. This also leads to meeting their emotional needs when they find us and we throw a party with praise and whatever food or toy our dog loves.
Take some boxes or Tupperware containers (six is a good number), and 12 small pieces of yummy-smelling food (like boiled chicken or unseasoned grilled steak), as actual meat has more scent than a training treat. With your dog out of sight, place the boxes in a line with one piece of meat in each box. Lead your dog back into the area with the boxes and let her explore. Every time she finds a treat, give her a second one right where the first one was. This helps teach your dog to wait for you when she finds something, because she’ll get paid double if she does. Once your dog gets the hang of this, decrease the number of boxes the target scent is in by half, then by three-quarters, until there is only one target box holding a scent for your dog to find.
Playing catch is super fun; I love tossing my dogs blueberries. I count how many times my dog catches something in a row and try to beat our high score each time we play this game. Hagrid the dog, of Salford, U.K., set the current Guinness World Record on September 6, 2018 by catching nine mini sausages in a row. My youngest dog’s current personal record is catching 27 blueberries in a row.
Learn a new trick — Touch
Short 5- to 10-minute fun training sessions engage the brain, tire the body and build the bond between teammates. An easy trick to start with is Touch (or target training).
Be prepared with a small food reward in one hand and hold out your other hand and wait for your dog to touch your TARGET hand with their nose. Dogs are naturally curious so be patient. At the moment they make contact, mark that with the cue “touch” and reward.
Practice this first step repeatedly. It pairs a positive association from your dog touching her nose to your hand to a pleasing outcome (food reward).
There are lots of other dog games to help your dog learn. Shaping new behaviors and reinforcing all the steps along the way of learning is fun. A great book to have for ideas is 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge and Bond with Your Dog by Kyra Sundance.
Have a busy day? Make time to play with your dog. Have extra time in your day? Taking time to play 15 minutes a few times a day will keep the boredom at bay. I often convert a famous quote about children from the amazingly incredible Mr. Fred Rogers: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for dogs play is serious learning. Play is really the work of puppyhood.”