Indoor Games for People and Dogs

Get ideas for games to play with your dog when ugly weather keeps you indoors.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
September 27, 2010
Episode #016

Sometimes it rains for days on end. Sometimes there’s a blizzard or a plague of frogs. In this week’s episode, I’ll suggest a few games to keep your dog from going stir-crazy when the weather traps you both indoors.

The Find It Game

The easiest doggy game of all may be “Find It” -- you can’t go wrong when sniffing and food are involved. Show your dog a piece of dry food or a tiny treat. Say “Find it!” and toss the food on the ground. If your dog doesn’t quite get the idea of hunting outside the bowl, start her off by dropping the treat right in front of her. Then at each repetition, toss it farther and farther away. You can feed your dog entire meals by playing Find It; for some reason, dogs rarely seem to get bored when looking for food. Make the game more challenging by asking your dog to stay while you hide the treat behind a piece of furniture or in another room. Come back, release your dog from the stay, and wish her happy hunting. I do not suggest using the couch cushions as a hiding place.

Hide and Seek

The hidden item in “Find It” can be a person, too, which turns the game into hide-and-seek. This is easiest to teach with two human players -- one to go hide, the other to stay with the dog and encourage him to find the one who’s hiding. The person hiding can make a big fuss over the dog once she’s found -- give the old praise-and-scritch, throw a treat or toy, or play a quick round of tug.

The Muffin Tin Game

Amy Samida, of the Naughty Dog Café, in Ann Arbor, told me about the “Muffin Tin Game.” Amy found it online and we’d both love to hear from its inventor, so we can sing his or her praises.

Take a 6-muffin tin and put a treat in each cup. Place tennis balls in about half the cups. Once a dog has found the uncovered treats, he usually figures out that knocking away the tennis balls reveals more goodies. As your dog gains experience, you can start hiding treats under only some of the tennis balls and using a 12-muffin or 24-muffin tin. Some dogs, Amy tells me, find it’s the most fun to smack the muffin tin and send all the balls and treats flying -- which you could go with, assuming your breakables are somewhere else. Or you could take Amy’s suggestion of screwing the muffin tin to a large piece of plywood. Keep your dog hard at work!

Go Wild and Freeze

A famous game is “Go Wild and Freeze,” first developed by the trainer September Morn. You can find September’s e-mail address at the bottom of this page. There are many ways to play “Go Wild and Freeze” – here’s one. Start by dancing around and acting excited till your dog gets going, too. After a minute or so, you all of a sudden stop moving. Ask your dog to sit, or down, or do another behavior she knows well. The moment she does it, start dancing around again; when your dog joins in, stop, ask for that sit or down again, and reward her by re-starting the party.

Mix things up by varying what behaviors you ask for and how long you wait before re-starting the game. If your dog is super-excitable and likely to mouth you or ricochet off you, start with a pale-vanilla version of “going wild” -- your dog’s introduction to this game can be “Take a Single Step and Freeze.” You can also retreat behind a baby gate if need be.

“Go Wild and Freeze” is not only fun, it helps teach your dog self-control as she learns to respond to your cues even when excited. End the game clearly, for example by saying “All done!” and sitting down with a book. If you say the same phrase every time, your dog will learn that it signifies the end of play for now. Ignore any attempts to reel you back in -- otherwise, she’ll learn that pestering works.

Training Manners, Having Fun

I’ve included “Go Wild and Freeze” because it’s not only a fun game but also a training game. The heavy-handed training styles of old -- which, unfortunately, haven’t yet vanished from the earth -- prime us to think of training as work. Grim, tedious work, at that. Modern reward-based training is a different story -- useful, yes, necessary, yes, but also fun. Spend a few minutes morning and evening of a rainy day tiring your dog’s brain by teaching him to spin on cue, or close a kitchen cabinet, or heel off-leash around your living room. Whatever we teach our dogs, as long as we present it in a light, affectionate, enjoyable spirit, “It’s all tricks to them!”

In another episode I'll discuss games that you can play with older dogs.  Until then, for more resources on playing with your dog, explore more episodes at dogtrainer.quickanddirtytips.com.The Dog Trainer loves your input. Email me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com or call 206-600-5661. Visit me on Facebook. Thank you for listening!

Play Resources

September Morn
Dogs Love School, Shelton, WA
Pat Miller. Play with Your Dog. Dogwise, 2008.
Karen B. London, Ph.D., and Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs. McConnell Publishing, 2008.
Clicker training information: www.clickertraining.com; www.clickersolutions.coma
Image courtesy of Shutterstock