1. Hide and Go Seek
This game is my FAVORITE because not only is it so much fun for all parties involved, but it’s an excellent way to practice your dog’s recall at the same time! You can never have too much practice with a recall, plus it’s a great way to tire out your dog in the winter months.
Give each kid involved a pocket full of treats or kibble. This game works best with multiple youth (or you can join in, too) so that someone is available to hold or occupy the dog. Start with one person hiding and one person holding the dog. When the person has hidden, they should then begin to call the dog in a fun, loud, and excited voice. Have them keep calling and talking until the dog has found them, and then instruct them to reward the dog. Once they have finished their reward and are ready for the next person, they can call out “OK, ready!” so the next person knows to call the dog.
While the 2nd person is calling the dog, the 1st person can then hide again and the process repeats. If there are more than 2 people playing, just set a schedule ahead of time. Oldest to youngest, or alphabetical, can be ways to decide the order of who is calling the dog next.
2. Teaching a New Trick
Training in and of itself can be a great way to have kids and dogs interact in a safe manner. For older children, they are often able to train the dog themselves with minimal guidance from adults once they have been taught. It’s still a good idea to supervise, however, because youth are not as capable of controlling their feelings and dogs can definitely be frustrating! Use training as an opportunity to help the youth grow and learn, in addition to just the dogs.
Younger kids can still help out in training. Some considerations are to have them give treats once they hear the click or marker word (this gives you the ability to control the marking, which can be the difficult part of some behaviors). If you are working on a simple behavior, such as a hand target, some youth can also participate by watching for the dog’s nose to touch your hand. They can then operate the clicker and you can give the rewards yourself.
Ideas for things to teach with kids and dogs include:
- Hand Target
- Play Dead
- Back Up
- Foot Targets
- Go to a Bed
Some of these behaviors come in handy for kids to know, too! Back up in particular can be useful if there is a larger dog and the kid is looking for space to walk by the dog. Rather than physically moving the dog and risking a potential altercation, they can ask the dog to move out of their way.
3. Find the Treat
This game is great for energetic dogs, because not only does it give kids a way to interact with dogs safely, it also gives dogs an opportunity to use their amazing nose! Dogs have a sense of smell about 100 times better than ours. Sniffing also lowers their blood pressure and engages their brain in a way that’s much more tiring than just a walk.
To start this game, make the treat hides easy for the dog. I like to start with one room that the treats are in, and ask the dog to stay out of sight or shut them in a room until the treats are hidden. Some easier hide examples include putting treats on the opposite side of piece of furniture but in the open, or putting a treat near a table leg but not actually hiding it out of sight. As your dog learns what “find it!” means, you can start to gradually make the hidden treats harder and harder.
Harder hides might mean putting the treat under the edge of a couch cushion or even working higher, like on the edge of a TV stand. Use your imagination!
Starting with smellier treats and progressing to less smelly treats is another way you can increase the difficulty. Let your kids hide the treats (help them with difficulty if they can’t decide what is too hard or too easy for the dog on their own) and then encourage them to cheer and play along once your dog has found the treats!
Fetch is definitely a case of knowing your dog - it might not be ideal if you have a dog that gets over aroused during fetch and might accidentally nip a child’s hand or knock them over. However, if you have a dog with good fetching manners, this can be a fun classic game for kids and dogs to play.
Good rules of fetch include a dog waiting politely for the ball to be thrown (either nearby or running off and waiting, that choice is up to you!) instead of jumping at the ball. Dogs should also have a solid drop it so that kids don’t have to reach into the dog’s mouth. I like using a tool like the Chuck-It! in these cases, because it gives kids the ability to throw longer and harder than normal, but also gives them a way to pick up the ball without putting it in their hands. Even the most well-behaved dog might accidentally try and grab a ball out of a child’s hand, which can be a scary experience for some kids!
5. Obstacle Course
Finally, teaching your dog a few simple cues of “up” and “off” and “through” can open up a wide variety of potential obstacles for kids and dogs to play with! You don’t need an official agility course just to have some fun.
Keep your dog’s health in mind first and foremost. Don’t ask them to jump too high or to exercise too much, especially if they are recovering from an injury or overweight. If you have questions about your dog’s ability to safely engage in an activity, check with your dog’s veterinarian.
Some fun obstacles to play with include:
- Kid play tunnels
- Low jumps with broom handles (make sure it can roll off if the dog touches it!)
- Straw bales to tunnel under or climb on
- A short platform to sit on
- A tree or other pole to circle around
Use your imagination with what you have around you! Some dogs prefer different types of obstacles, so see what your dog loves best and have fun showing youth how to safely interact with the dogs and obstacles.
What games have you played with kids and dogs?