Dogs love to play outdoors, but when the weather’s bad or it’s too dark to play outside, indoor dog games are a great alternative. Most indoor dog games involve snacks, so have plenty on hand. But if Fido can’t afford the extra calories, then fun toys that make noise or those that can be spiced up with a little cheese or peanut butter will do, too.
Does your dog like playing fetch outdoors? You can play a modified version of fetch indoors. Choose a room that’s large and clear enough so your excited dog doesn’t knock your knickknacks off the shelves. Instead of tossing the toy away and expecting your dog to bring it back, this game aims to have your dog catch the toy in his mouth and bring it back.
This will be very easy for some dogs and nearly impossible for others, but the fun is in the trying. If your dog likes to keep the toy rather than relinquishing it, use a treat to “trade” for the toy. Typically, a dog will let the toy go for something of higher value, like a piece of cheese or other stinky treat. Play until either you or your dog gets tired of the game.
Dogs love being handed a meal, but they enjoy hunting for it even more. This appeals to their prey drive and gives them a sense of accomplishment and confidence. In the wild, wolves and wild dogs don’t sit on the kitchen floor and wait for a bowl of food. They have to be cunning, intelligent and fast in order to eat.
Inside small dishes, place your dog’s favorite treats or your dog’s regular meal split into several portions, then place the dishes in various locations throughout your home. Using dishes is preferable to simply placing the treats or food onto the floor. This way your dog will start to recognize when the game is happening rather than thinking that he has lucked into a fallen treat. Once he sees the pattern — hidden food in dishes — he will know when he’s playing the game and will start to seek out the other dishes.
Good hiding spots include behind open doors, beneath tables and in corners. At first, place the dishes in the same places every time. You may even have to lead your dog to each dish. Once your dog consistently finds each dish, move the dishes to different locations to keep the game fresh and fun. Alternatively, you can also use stuffed treat toys instead of dishes.
Most dogs love the shell game because it includes both treats and an opportunity for using their brains. For the shell game, you will need three opaque cups and a stinky, favorite treat.
Get your dog’s attention and then show him the treat. Place the treat under one cup. When he moves to indicate that he wants the treat, either by using his paw or nose, lift up the cup, allow him to have the treat, and then praise him lavishly. If your dog still doesn’t understand the game, you can use a glass instead of a cup so that he can see the treat as well.
Next, place two cups on the floor, and place the treat beneath one. Move the cups around a couple of times. Your dog should understand that there’s a treat beneath one of them. When he indicates where the treat is, give it to him, and praise. Continue until you’re sure that he understands the game. Phase three of the shell game is to use three cups and mix them up several times before giving your dog the opportunity to choose. The key is to allow your dog to be successful in the game, so go slow if your dog isn’t quick on the uptake. Make it fun.
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Thumbnail: Photography by Melissa Kauffman.
Nikki Moustaki is a dog trainer, dog rescuer and pet expert. She splits her time between New York City and Miami Beach, Florida, and is the author of the memoir The Bird Market of Paris. Visit her on Facebook, on Twitter at @nikkimoustaki and at nikkimoustaki.com.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
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