The following information has been adapted from Dr. Brenda Griffin’s Playing Games with Shelter Dogs
Most dogs love food games. They are simple to play. They only require that you have food that the dog is eager to eat. Depending on the individual dog, that food might be dry kibble, baked chicken or something in between. Many food games can be played with dogs that must remain confined to a run. For shy dogs that are too uncomfortable to eat in front of you, leave some extra delicious treats with them in their enclosure to discover on their own time. This will hopefully promote engagement with you the next time.
Toss food left – GET IT GET IT – toss food right – GET IT GET IT – repeat sequence a couple of times.
Find a printable version of Get It Food Toss.
MATERIALS: Dog treats or something tasty (e.g. cheese balls) work great for this game
WHAT TO DO:
- Start with a short toss at first – get the dog’s attention and be sure he sees you toss the treat.
- When he gets the first treat, wait until he turns back to look at you and then toss the next treat in the opposite direction.
- Repeat steps.
Once the dog knows the game, then a target version can be used to help the dog confidently go to new places. The target (small dish, lid, or paper plate to place the treat) can be used to encourage a shy dog to walk down a hall, explore a room, or go close to strangers. Place a series of targets in a trail and use the same commands — GET IT GET IT! It is quite the confidence builder for many shy dogs.
A love of running and chasing is hard-wired in dogs. It is a big part of play between dogs and can be very engaging for the dog, especially since you know this type of play too. This model of play teaches the dog that running to you is enjoyable. It is a great foundation for a fun and reliable recall. Consider interspersing chase games and obedience commands for a fun session.
One absolute rule: It’s one-way only. The dog should chase you and not the other way around (don’t encourage the dog to run from you). Find a printable version of Chase Me.
What to Do:
- Run away from the dog and make some noise: clapping and giggling are good. This should encourage him to run towards you.
- When he is only a few feet away, toss a treat behind you (even through your legs) so he keeps running in your direction.
- Turn and run the other way. You only have to run 5 or 10 feet to play.
Know When to Stop:
- If chase leads to nipping, mouthing, and/or over-exuberant jumping, then the game stops
- This game is not recommended for young kids to play
- You may be able to redirect the dog if you modify the game – try tossing him a toy to carry in his mouth, or focus on tossing the food to redirect him before he gets to you
This game is often very good for shy/anxious dogs. It can be confidence building. For shy dogs, be sure to take it slow at first so they are not overwhelmed or frightened by your movement. Use high value treats that they love, and encourage them without being too forward until they relax and join the fun of the chase.
See It Drop It
This game uses food to teach impulse control. The dog learns to wait and look at the food before being cued to GET IT GET IT! This is a handy way to teach stay as the dog just thinks it is a fun game.
See It, Drop It is a great game for any dog that needs to learn to look, listen and wait and is notably excellent for those strong, impulsive types.
Find a printable version of See it Drop it.
- Dog treats
WHAT TO DO:
- The game progresses from gently restraining the dog so that he waits and sees it, to the dog doing this on his own, to the dog doing it even if the treat is dropped or tossed.
- The handler patiently helps the dog succeed with a playful attitude.
- Short sessions will prevent frustration and keep the dog (and handler) in the game.
“Place” is a type of target game. In dog training, a target is anything that the dog must focus on and perform some action towards. Trainers use targets to help get dogs into the position they want or to perform a specific behaviour. Dogs tend to develop strong positive associations with targets. They provide a positive focal point, which is especially helpful for dogs that tend to worry or for those that are very busy. Targets are very useful for building many skills, playing many games and can be faded as necessary over time.
In this case, the dog’s target is his “place” (a bed, a mat, a platform – whatever you would like for it to be). As you play this game, the dog will become very confident that whatever you have designated as his “place” is:
- A really great place for him to be
- That good things happen when they go to their place
It makes this game particularly beneficial for those shy dogs. This can be a powerful tool for meeting new people because if they are in a positive emotional state when on their place, they will be more likely to engage a new person in a more confident and friendly manner.
If your dog is not comfortable with the mat or platform that you have chosen for his place, allow him to become familiar with it first. Encourage him to sniff it, walk over it, or eat a few treats off of it before you begin the game.
The game is to make him choose to go there and when he does, he earns a reward. Place is also very helpful for dogs that need to learn impulse control. It can be used as a foundation for teaching stay or wait. The dog must remain on the place until you tell him that he can get off.
An excellent way to train this exercise is through “shaping”. This means you will reward successive approximations of the behaviour (e.g., reward when the dog has one foot on the place, then two feet on it, and so forth). You will gradually raise the criteria for a reward until the dog is completely on his Place.
What to Do:
- Begin no more than a foot away from the “place”. Try to refrain from luring the dog to the place. The plan is to get him to do it himself and then reward him for it.
- The dog needs to know you have treats (and needs to be motivated by the fact that you do). The dog’s task is to figure out how to earn the treats. Stare at the place. Use your body language if you need to help him (lean towards the place) but try to refrain from luring him with your hand or leash.
- Click (or use a “reward” word) and immediately give him a treat for each contact with his place.
- You can feed the treats by hand, or toss them as a reward (see GET IT GET IT food toss game).
- Each time he comes back to his place, you toss him another treat.
- After the dog readily goes to his place when you stand next to it, then it is time to add the command “Place.”
- Work from a little farther distance away. Stand back from the place a couple of feet and stare at it. Stay at this distance until the dog goes to his place all by himself.
- The moment the dog sets foot on it, toss him a treat or maybe several.
- Gradually increase the distance you are from the place in small increments.
Note: A dog crate can also be designated as the dog’s place. Dogs can learn to race into their crates by playing crate games. This can actually be a pretty impressive trick to see when the dog makes a mad dash across a room to dive into his crate!
Find a printable version of Leave It. It is always a good idea for dogs to learn how to take treats gently from your hand. They should learn how to “LEAVE IT” and not grab it from your hand until it is offered to them. You can teach this skill readily to any dog that wants the food you are holding. Here are a few fun, simple methods to teach dogs to learn this important skill.
Leave It – (Method 1)
- Hold a tasty treat in your fist.
- Hold your fist out to the dog with the treat inside.
- The dog will likely investigate your fist – sniff, paw, lick…try to nibble…
- Wait quietly until he stops and moves his nose away from your fist: the instant he does this, say “YES” or click, and open your hand and let him eat the treat from your flat palm.
- Remember to add the cue when the dog is reliably refraining from getting the treat – you can say “LEAVE IT”.
- When he is doing well, raise the bar (make the game a little harder.) Try offering him the treat in an open hand. The goal is for him not to take it until you give him permission to do so. Be prepared to close your fist around the treat if he tries.
- When he is doing well, try doing this in different situations – treat on a chair, treat on the ground, etc.
Remember to add the cue when the dog is reliably refraining from getting the treat – you can say “LEAVE IT”. You should also use a cue to let him know when he has permission to take the treat – “TREAT”.
Leave It (Method 2)
- Hold a dry biscuit in one fist and a higher value treat (and your clicker if you are using one) behind your back.
- Hold your fist out to the dog with the biscuit inside.
- The dog will likely investigate your fist – sniff, paw, lick…
- Wait quietly until he stops and moves his nose away from your fist: the instant he does this, say “YES” or click + feed him the high value treat from behind your back.
- Remember to add the cue when the dog is reliably refraining from getting the biscuit –you can say “LEAVE IT”.
- When he is doing well, raise the bar (make the game a little harder.) Try offering him the biscuit in an open hand. The goal is for him not to take it so be prepared to close your fist around the treat if he tries. If he successfully refrains from trying to get the biscuit, say “YES” or click + feed him the high value treat from behind your back.
- When he is doing well, try doing this in different situations – biscuit on a chair, biscuit on the ground, etc.
Leave It (Method 3) *Note: This Method is not Recommended for Hand Shy or Fearful Dogs
- Hold a tasty treat in your hand.
- Position your hand palm up with the treat between your thumb and forefinger, and the rest of your fingers closed gently over your palm. Offer the treat to the dog and let him take it. Repeat this a few times in a row until he has happily taken several treats from your hand.
- Next, hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger, but change the position of your hand such that your palm is facing down with your other fingers closed gently over it. When the dog approaches to take the treat, encourage him to move away by straightening your fingers out and waving them or gently pushing his face to block his advances. The amount of insistence you use will depend on the dog, but NEVER hit the dog and be very careful not to frighten the dog with your hand.
- Wait quietly until he stops and moves his nose away from your hand: the instant he does this, say “YES” or click, and return your hand to the original position (palm up) and let him have the treat.
The position of your hand becomes the dog’s cue as to whether or not he may take the treat. This tends to slow down a dog that wants to snatch the treat right out of your hand because he learns that he must look to see what position your hand is in before he can approach and take the treat. For some dogs, this works very nicely.