There’s nothing like spending some active, high energy time with your dog to have fun and get to know each other better. It’s an opportunity to blow away the cobwebs, get some fresh air and take a break from everyday cares and worries.
And the good news is that with these back garden games you don’t need to go further than your backyard to have a great time. They’re perfect for those evenings when you don’t have a lot of time, or when you’re tired but pooch most decidedly isn’t!
Just throwing a ball over and over again can get boring — for you and for your dog. These brilliant back garden games will help you take your play to the next level. To provide mental stimulation for your dog, and release any pent-up energy.
You can use them to teach your dog rules and boundaries, as well as new skills. Not to mention helping to build and strengthen your bond with your dog.
Whether your dog’s crazy for play or a couch potato, these games will get his body moving and his mind active.
1. He shoots, he scores — play doggie soccer
Instead of just throwing a ball back and forth, why not introduce your dog to the joys of soccer?
If your dog loves to play, he’ll likely be a natural for a ‘kick around’ in the back garden, especially if he’s a herder breed such as a border collie. But rather than feet, the idea will be to get him to use his nose — without trying to bite or pick up the ball.
Soccer’s great because almost no equipment is needed and, extra bonus, no need for you to keep bending down to pick up the ball. (Though obviously don’t kick the ball hard at your dog! Think team mates, not rivals.)
You can use any ball, though to begin with use a ball that you won’t mind if pooch takes a bite out of it. You can also/alternatively get many, various-sized, dog soccer balls — balls made from strong, puncture-resistant material designed to withstand the kind of wear and tear your dog may subject it to.
Incidentally, rubber balls are preferable to plastic; when your dog bites down on hard plastic it can create sharp edges and spikes, which is obviously not ideal.
To train your dog to play soccer it’s best to use a clicker (hand-held training device) and treats. When your dog performs the desired behaviour, press the clicker to create a ‘click’ sound and reward your dog with a treat. Your pet will learn to associate that behaviour with rewards.
This is generally more effective than saying “good dog” because a clicker has a distinctive and unchanging sound and your dog hears the sound at the exact moment the behaviour occurs.
Start by rewarding your dog for looking at the ball. If he shows no interest at first, try rolling the ball; this should get his attention. When your dog is focused on the ball, click and give him a treat. And click and give him a treat when he nudges the ball with his nose, and so on. But, during the training phase, be sure to keep the ball under your control at all times; don’t let your dog play freely with the ball at this stage.
In time you will likely have an enthusiastic soccer partner for some back and forth action with the ball.
If you want to get your dog to roll the ball into a designated goal area then a bit more training, with verbal and hand signals and (of course!) appropriate rewards, will probably be necessary.
2. Adventure and agility
For new tricks of a different kind, if your pup is lively and energetic think of taking a leaf out of the agility book.
Dog agility is an active, competitive sport in which dog and handler navigate an obstacle course. However, you don’t have to enrol your dog in classes or events to have fun. You can simply adopt some of the obstacle ideas and set these up yourself in your garden.
Photo by Murilo Viviani on Unsplash
Just choose the agility challenges that interest you and will best suit your space and your dog: jumps, for example, or hoops, or weave poles, or a tunnel to dash through. You can find inexpensive agility equipment online, or make your own, or improvise with items you may already have at home — some blankets to jump over, for example, or mini cones to weave through.
All these will give your dog a great physical and mental work out, as well as having fun. Just remember not to overdo it, especially if your dog is still a young pup or getting on in years. Protect those joints!
Take the leap
Jumps are a good place to start because, using treats and positive reinforcement, dogs will often pick this up enthusiastically and quickly.
Begin with the jump pole on the ground, and guide your dog to walk over it. Once she’s good at that, raise the pole just a few inches off the ground, and continue raising the bar as your dog becomes familiar and adept at the game.
If you’re making your own jumps use lightweight material, such as plastic plumbing pipe, so that your dog will not be hurt if she knocks the jump pole.
Once your dog is jumping, you could consider taking this in a further direction — skipping, for example.
3. Water play for splashing fun
If it’s hot out, many dogs love water as much as children. A shallow plastic pool can provide hours of fun for pooch, and help to prevent overheating on very hot days. You can step things up by putting floating toys or balls in the pool, or even perhaps apple slices or carrots for an improvised ‘bob for treats’.
This can also prove an effective way to get sceptical pups to take to water, although it has to be said, our Charlie remains fairly unconvinced of the joys of paddling.
Image by sevenpixx
Alternatively, many dogs will also love chasing after the stream of water from a hose. Keep moving the hose to keep his attention. And if your dog finds the stream from a hose a bit too strong, chasing the finer spray from the back-and-forth moving head of a sprinkler might be just perfect.
4. All the excitement of the chase
If your dog loves to chase, but space is limited, then the perfect answer is to get, or make, a flirt pole. A flirt pole (also known as a flirt stick, but either way — hideous name!) is simply a long handle with a bungee-type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end.
There are many different types available that you can buy fairly inexpensively, or of course it is not too difficult to make something yourself that will work as well.
As you move the lure along or in arcs above the ground, in circles or in different directions, you provide an enticing and incredibly energetic game of chase for your dog. The idea is to move the lure so that your dog cannot catch it easily.
Standing in one spot and turning to swing the pole around in a circle, you will be able to get the lure to move quickly in a wide circle. Flexing your hand back and forth while dragging the lure along the ground you can create the effect of an animal running or an object escaping — keeping your dog enthralled.
Whilst the object is to keep the lure just out of pooch’s reach, every few minutes or so you should allow your dog catch the lure. This will prevent him becoming discouraged or anxious. But be sure to have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow your dog to play alone or destroy the lure.
Note: It’s a good idea to give your dog a short walk around the garden before and after play (warm up and warm down) in order to help prevent muscle strain. And do not use the pole for extended periods without a break or opportunity to drink. Equally, such energetic play is best on a soft surface such as a lawn as opposed to gravel or similar, and is not suitable for puppies under a year old or elderly dogs, dogs with joint problems, etc. In other words — apply sensible rules for happy play.
5. Go find it!
Finally, ‘Fetch’ may be the oldest game in the book, but it’s a staple for good reason — it’s useful training, and there are many variations you can weave into your play.
For example, use a frisbee or misshapen ball for an awkward, less predictable flight and bounce. Vary games between ‘chase’, where you run after your dog to get the ball, and ‘fetch’ in which she brings the ball back to you. Or maybe pivot to ‘hide and seek’ — first for your dog to find one toy, then find one from many.
Photo by Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash
Running to retrieve a ball or toy is great exercise and reinforces the human-pet bond. Many dogs will require little encouragement to run after a ball. If yours is unimpressed with the idea at first, you could try smearing a bit of peanut butter or cheese on the ball, or use a toy, such as a kong, that you can fill with something tasty.
If you want your dog to play fetch — rather than chase — ignore her when she runs away and reward her only when she brings the ball to you. Getting her to let go of the ball into your hand may take some time, but persevere with the appropriate encouragement/reward training, such as trading a treat for the ball, and by and by she’ll begin to forget about the treat and play the game just for the joy of it.
Sticks are a traditional item to throw, but these can split and cause injury in the mouth or digestive tract, so a dog toy — perhaps even one shaped like a stick (!) — is preferable.
Your turn now
So there you have it. Five brilliant games to enjoy with your dog. Games that will strengthen your bond with your dog, exercise mind and body, and don’t need a lot of space or time.
Games that you can play whenever you have a free moment; that you can play in your own back garden or a local green space.
Still here? What are you waiting for — open the back door and let play begin.