Games are a part of our family’s fun times together. We have so much fun that on our last vacation, we made up a tournament of five different games—complete with a playoff board for the championship. Maybe your family doesn’t enjoy that level of competition. But with the dogs in play, you can enjoy a variety of challenges and team-style games that might turn into a new family tradition.
As with any games, there have to be rules for safety. Please remember to avoid adding stress to your dog’s experience during gaming. If a dog cares a little too much about toys or food, don’t ask him to share near another dog—especially when people are around and excited. Be sure that the activities you ask your dog to do are safe from his perspective. I find it helpful to get down on the dog’s eye level to see what they are seeing. Look at possible safety hazards like things that might catch toenails in an obstacle course.
Here are a few group dog games to try, arranged from easiest to most difficult:
My Dog Will Eat That.
Easiest game for dogs, ever. This one is always a favorite at our 2015 WillaMutt Strut. Dogs are leashed with their person so that there is no aiding and abetting. One at a time, a bite-sized bit of various doggy-safe food items are placed on a paper plate and then offered to the dog. The dogs have 30 seconds to gobble it up and if one dog refuses to eat the treat, the other dog wins.
Watch out for toxic foods. Try easy to eat foods first – meat, cheese, dog biscuits. Then, grab some less conventional niblets to offer like broccoli, pickles, and seaweed. Last dog eating… wins.
Do this one talent-show style where judges have number cards to hold up to score the entrants. Each dog-handler team gets one minute to do a trick. Judges score the entry from on a scale from one to 10 and the score is recorded. Each team can perform the same number of tricks (suggested no more than three).
My Dog Can Do That.
What is your dog best at? Years ago, Ian Dunbar and Terry Ryan developed a board game for dog lovers and it’s brilliant. You can purchase this game through Amazon for about $45 or you can make up your own cards.
I suggest each competitor create 12 cards, four each of easy, intermediate and hard with different point values for each level. Dogs have 30 seconds to complete the task and must not be coerced in any way. Food lures are encouraged! Skills can range from “Sit” (while you sit or lie on the floor, your dog sits next to you at your first request) to a gauntlet of food and toys that they must perform a perfect recall through.
You can make the games silly – like who can find a hidden hot dog in a shell game first – to complex: choose a singular tennis ball from a row of balls with only hand signals at the send-out. If any dog is unable to do the challenge in the allotted time, any other handler can volunteer his own dog and attempt the challenge.
This is a great one to get the whole family involved. Kids especially seem to rock at coming up with great distractions. Place all dogs a respectable distance apart and in an agreed-upon position (either sit or down).
Handlers must stay at least six-feet away. Agree ahead of time whether the “Stay” cue can be repeated or not. Using a rope or a hose, mark out a line at least three-feet away from the dogs where the distractors can do their stuff. They can run, leap, fall to the ground, throw balls, laugh or eat a hamburger… but they may not offer the dogs food, call them or frighten them. Last dog holding the stay, wins.
Always a favorite, and easy to modify for all dogs’ skills. Just be sure to agree ahead of time about what is permissible. Use a stopwatch for this one. One person distracts the other person’s dog – anything goes EXCEPT touching the dog or saying his name. Meanwhile, the dog’s owner calls the dog using any toy or treat agreed upon. The dog that comes the fastest to his owner’s call, wins.
If you have dogs who like to play fetch, an honor retrieve is a superb impulse control game that can be super-impressive to guests. To begin, the dogs should have a pretty good “sit-stay” and a solid retrieve with an excellent delivery to you. One dog can be held by the collar and rewarded with food for staying. The other dog holds a stay for mere seconds before being released to “fetch” by his handler.
The honoring dog must hold the sit stay until the fetching dog returns. Then, they trade tasks. The first fetcher becomes the honor-stay dog and vice versa.
Scoring this one is harder because it’s a very challenging game. You can decide what’s fair: maybe give points for the stay with one demerit for each replacement and five points for a fetch. You could also add one demerit for not bringing it directly back, playing with it rather than delivering, etc.
Remember to have fun with this. The dogs should be working for the fun of it, not due to a threat if they make a mistake. This game can develop into very nice, polite “taking turns” retrieving, off-leash.
Games are to be enjoyed by all. At Willamette Humane Society, the methods we use to train our shelter dogs and group classes are positive reinforcement based. If you’d like to skill-build with your dog (such as in our fun two-week Holiday Manners Tune Up class or Family Dog series) learn some fun tricks or simply do more with your dog through fun group classes, simply shoot us an email.
We are here to help you enjoy your dog more. Hoping this holiday season brings you and all your 2-legged and 4-legged family members huge blessings.
Latest posts by Catherine Comden, CPDT-KA (see all)
- Second Chances: How WHS and OSCI are Working Together - May 3, 2017
- Come to Me: 3 Easy Recall Games for Dogs - March 23, 2017
- Come to Me: Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching the “Come” Command - March 2, 2017