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8 Fun & Attention-Boosting Dog Training Games

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Dog Training By Erin Jones 12 min read May 23, 2021

Games for Training Dogs

Playing games with your dog can be fun, can strengthen your bond with your dog, and can improve the way you communicate with your canine!

Training games are a great way to teach your pup everything from mindful manners to life-saving skills — like a reliable recall!

Let’s dive into several great dog training games and what skills you can expect your doggo to pick up as a result!

Dog Training Games: Key Takeaways

  • There are a variety of dog training games you can experiment with, including name games, engagement games, and hide-and-seek games. Match the right game with the skill you’re trying to teach your pooch.
  • Keep training short and sweet, so your pup doesn’t get frustrated or burnt out.

Dog Training Games: A Great Way to Train Your Dog!

Games can take a relatively joyless task, such as teaching your dog to sit and stay, and make it a fun learning experience instead.

Creating a positive learning environment is important for your dog’s success, and shows that learning doesn’t have to be boring or involve repetitive drills.

Some of the benefits of using training games include: 

  • They’re fun for both of you! The more interesting the lesson, the more interested your four-legged learner will be, and the more enjoyable it will be for you, the teacher. That usually means the training will be more productive too.
  • Games boost your bond with your dog. The relationship you have with your dog is unique. But like all relationships, it needs to be fostered and grown. It’s important for your dog to trust you and to seek you out for guidance when unsure. Training games help build a strong bond between you and your dog that will greatly improve your connection.
  • Training games improve communication. The more we practice and teach our dogs new skills, the better they are at understanding what is expected and how to interact with us. You’ll also slowly pick up on your dog’s subtle body language queues indicating when she’s excited, overwhelmed, exhausted, etc. It benefits both of you! Communication is a two-way street and you both need to learn how to understand each other’s needs and wants.
  • Training games are effective. Training should be fun. When it’s fun for the learner and the teacher, then there’s always a more successful outcome. Chances are that your dog will be more engaged and learn faster and easier if you incorporate games into your training regimen.
  • Training is enriching & energy-burning. A training session is not just fun, but it gives your dog the chance to use her mental power, which burns a lot of energy. In fact, teaching your dog something new can be as tiring for your pup as a walk to the park – just in a different way.
training games for dogs

There are ample games that are both fun and engaging that will improve your dog’s overall skills. Below, we’ll discuss a few of our favourites.

Games for Teaching Your Dog to Focus

Teaching your dog to focus will not only help her learn to give you her attention, it’ll help her pick up other skills more quickly too! We’ll outline two different games for teaching your dog to focus below.

1. The Name Game

Teach your dog to look to you when you say her name!

To play the Name Game:

  1. Say Your Dog’s Name. Say your pupper’s name with a fun and engaging tone.
  2. Treat for Attention. When she looks at you and responds to her name, give her a yummy treat. 
  3. Repeat. Repeat this first step at least 5 to 10 times or until she looks up at you consistently when she hears her name.
  4. Practice in Different Locations. Practice everywhere! Start in easy locations, like the house, the backyard, the front yard. Then, try it on a walk when she’s not distracted. Soon, you can try it at the park or when people or dogs are walking by.

2. Look At Me

Look At Me is a great game for building focus. It’s very similar to the Name Game, but this time you’ll want to specifically work on eye contact with your dog.

  1. Hold a Treat Up to Your Eye. Take a treat from your treat pouch and hold it up at eye level.
  2. Reward For Eye Contact. As soon as your dog is looking up at your eyes, click and give her the treat. Rinse and repeat several times.
  3. Add the “Look at Me” Command. Now that your pup has gotten the hang of things, you can add the “look at me” cue command before bringing the treat up to your eye. Continue as before, now with your cue command offered before taking the treat from the pouch.
  4. Phase Out Holding Up the Treat. For the final stage, you’ll want to give your dog the “look at me” cue and have her look up at your eyes without you picking up a treat. When she looks at your eyes, click and reward!

3. Engage/Disengage Game

There’s a lot of overlap with these games and the skills and reasons for using them.

This particular game isn’t just great for teaching your dog to focus on you, but it is also great for teaching your dog impulse control and for building a strong relationship with you.

To play the engage/disengage game:

  1. Get a Clicker. You will need a clicker in hand (you may also choose to use a marker word “yes” in place of the clicker).
  2. Charge the Clicker. First, we need to “charge up the marker.” This means helping her associate the sound of the clicker (or you saying “yes”) with receiving a treat. So, simply click the clicker and give your dog a treat. Repeat this 5 to 10 times until your dog predictably knows that as soon as she hears the click or the word “yes”, a treat will follow.
  3. Click for Engagement. With your clicker in hand and a pouch or pocket full of treats, click the clicker every time she sees a person, dog, or bike (or any other things that get her worried or excited). Make sure the click happens immediately when she engages (looks at) with the person, dog or bike, and the click is followed directly with a treat. That is, the click happens when she engages.
  4. Look for Her Attention. Repeat this step until you notice that she is immediately looking back at you for her treat every single time she hears that click.
  5. Click for Disengagement. Now you are ready for the disengage step. When your pupper sees a person, dog or bike, wait a few seconds before clicking. She should start to look back at you before you click. This means she is disengaging. Click her as soon as she looks back at you and follow through with a treat. 

This game is especially fantastic for reactive dogs working on being calm when seeing other dogs on leash!

Games for Enrichment 

Preventing boredom and ensuring your dog enjoys a rich, stimulating existence is important for your dog’s mental and emotional health. Besides, enriching your dog’s like is usually fun for owners too!

4. The Find-It Game

This is an easy game to beat boredom and help your pup hone her skills. To play:

  1. Have your dog sit and stay. If this is too difficult for her, try having someone hold her or put her in her kennel.
  2. Hide treats. Take a handful of treats and hide them around the house or yard. The first few times make it easy for her to find the treats. Then slowly make the hiding places more difficult.
  3. “Find It”. Release her and tell her “go find it!”
  4. Celebrate & repeat. Once she succeeds, be sure to celebrate and tell her how good she is!

Games for Loose Leash Walking

It’s no fun walking a dog who’s constantly pulling on the leash and dragging you around. But while leash-pulling is a pretty common problem for owners, games are also a great way to work on this issue.

5. Follow Me

This game is great for teaching your pup to walk on a loose leash, but it is also something to add to your training repertoire before you start working on recall.

To play, the follow me game, you’ll want to:

  1. Start Out Easy. Start this exercise in your house in a quiet environment. Use a standard leash and collar or harness and use a treat pouch or deep pocket for treats. 
  2. Start Walking in Any Direction. As soon as your doggo catches up to you, give her a treat. 
  3. Turn Around When Necessary. If your pup gets ahead of you, simply turn gently 180° and wait for her to catch up to you again. 
  4. Walk Different Ways. Try walking forward (your dog is beside you), backward (your dog comes towards you), sideways, fast, slow, go around trees or pylons, over curbs or any other obstacles you find along the way.
games to help train your dog

Games for Recall

Reliable recall (aka teaching your dog to come when called) is not only a convenient skill to teach your dog, it will also help keep your dog safe and keep her out of trouble while off-leash.

Once again, games — especially hide-and-seek — will help your dog learn this skill.

6. Hide-and-Seek

You probably loved hide-and-seek as a kid – well guess what? Your dog loves it too! This training game can provide very real-life skills for your dog.

If you’re ever momentarily separated from your dog at the park or out on a hike, hide-and-seek will have prepared you both for this very moment as your dog learns that seeking you out is a fun and rewarding activity. 

To teach your dog how to play hide-and-seek:

  1. Start Out Easy. Start at home in a quiet environment. Just call your dog to come to another room and throw a party when she finds you. Lots of treats and praise! 
  2. Hide Around the House. Practice by hiding further away so your dog has to search the whole house to find you. 
  3. Repeat, But Outside. Now practice the same steps outside. Gradually make it harder and harder to find you. Have a friend distract your dog while you go off and hide nearby. As soon as you’re out of sight, call your dog and when she discovers you give her a treat.
  4. Make It Harder. When your floof has grasped the idea of the game, make the hiding places more ambitious and include the whole family so she can find each of you one by one.

7. Ping-Pong

When you practice calling your dog to come, you want it to eventually become an automatic response. You want her to come to you as quickly as she runs to the front door when you pick up her leash!

This game is a great way to practice. With two or more friends of family members, each ready with treats and a whistle (or your recall word), stand in different corners of the room. Everyone needs to always use the same word or whistle.

To play ping-pong:

  1. Call Your Dog. Start by calling your pup to you while you drop some treats at your feet. 
  2. Have 2nd Person Call Your Dog. The second person then calls her over to them, while they then drop treats at their feet. 
  3. Have 3rd Person Call Your Dog. The third person then calls your dog, and so on. Call your dog back and forth in an unpredictable pattern.
  4. Spread Out. Take this game to a large field or open space where you can spread out. If she’s not ready to be off leash, try using a long lead and make sure that there aren’t too many distractions around to start.
The give game for dogs

A Game for Teaching Your Dog to Drop Something

Dogs are great at picking up things they shouldn’t, so it is important to instill a strong “drop it” cue. This skill is also helpful for preventing resource guarding, and helps eliminate the need to force a toy out of your dog’s mouth.

8. The Give Game

This game is a great first step in teaching some more advanced skills like fetch and “bring it.” To play the give game, you’ll want to:

  1. Start On Leash. Start with your dog on leash so she doesn’t have the opportunity to lure you into a fun game of chase!
  2. Trade for Toy. Toss one of her favorite toys on the floor and when she picks it up, put one hand on the toy and with the other, present a treat to trade her. The treat must be better than the toy, so use something really yummy!
  3. Use the “Give” Command. As she gives the toy to you, say the cue word “give”. When she gives you the toy, praise her and give her the treat.
  4. Practice! Practice this as often as possible with toys and other items your dog may pick up like shoes and mittens. Don’t forget that you should always trade-up for something that is a higher value than the item she has in her mouth. 
  5. Nailing the Cue. After a while, you should be able give the cue “give” and wait for the response before you bring out the treat.

Training Your Dog with Games: Important Points to Ponder

Just like any training you do, there are some important rules you’ll want to follow when playing training games. Here are some things that will help make learning successful for your pup:

  1. Games shouldn’t last forever — 5 to 10 minutes is plenty. The last thing we want is for your pup to get bored. It’s also good to end on a high note, so keep games short and sweet.
  2. End training sessions with some play time. Studies have shown that ending training sessions with a bit of play can help your dog better retain any new information she has learned. So have a little unwind and play some simple tug or fetch with your pooch!
  3. Always set your dog up for success. Don’t take your dog to the park to play a recall game if she hasn’t yet mastered the skills at home. Start out in easy environments that won’t be too overwhelming to increase your chance of success.
  4. Safety first! If your dog isn’t ready to be off leash, use a long line. If your dog has a history of resource guarding, putting your hand on her toy may lead to a bite and isn’t safe. Think about your surroundings and the dog in front of you and make sure there isn’t anything obvious that may cause anyone harm.

***

Training should be fun! Our dogs are actually learning all the time, not just when we are standing in front of them asking them to sit. So by incorporating problem solving skills and play, learning can happen anywhere! 

What are some of your favorite training games to play with your pup? We would love to hear about them in the comments!

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Written by

Erin Jones

Erin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. After completing her MSc in Anthrozoology, Erin moved to New Zealand early in 2019 to complete her PhD at the University of Canterbury – New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies. Her research focuses on the ethics and social constructs of the human-dog relationship and humane training practices. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband and their dog, Juno.

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