If you want to have your dog take part in the Christmas festivities, you need to create some dog-centered games. Remember with all games and training, you must ensure your dog is enjoying it, however, you should also keep good control. If your dog seems to be getting overexcited or frustrated, take some time out in the garden or somewhere where your dog can have their own space to relax and calm down. This should not be a punishment, merely a pleasant and calm wind down opportunity.
Pass the parcel
Set up a parcel as you would for children, but this is one especially for your dog, with treats hidden under relatively loose layers of paper and a longer lasting chew at the centre of the package. You can set some music playing and pass the parcel around the humans just for fun. When the parcel gets to your dog, the music stops and your dog can settle down to the job of finding all the treats – the humans could now have their own parcel – but they might prefer to enjoy watching their dog.
Hide dog treats around the house or garden - you can hide treats for the children too. Choose things that are not harmful to either such as carrot sticks, cheese, apple or hide human treats out of reach of the dog. Give the children a map to follow and let the dog use their own nose – see who finds the most. Not recommended for a dog that like scavenge.
First think about your dog, their size, athleticism, weight, health status and age. Don’t put together obstacles that are too challenging for your dog, however it’s okay to build up to little challenges in increments, as long as you don’t do too much repetition or make it too demanding. Even puppies can join in as long as all of the action is ground level and doesn’t require jumping or too much body twisting.
A home-made obstacle course in the garden is ideal – be inventive – use what you can find around the house or garden. Think of things that your dog can climb over, jump over, walk along, sit on, get their paws on etc. For example, a broom handle across two chairs for a jump (or lower for small dogs), a plank of wood raised on a brick or two for a dog walk, or some bubble wrap, wrapping paper or cardboard to walk on. You can also use an upturned washing up bowl to stand on, or right side up to get in, or you can rig something up to crawl under (a sheet on some chairs perhaps). Other ideas include weaving between obstacles such as plant pots, laying a ladder or poles down and walking in between the rungs, and buying quite cheaply compact tunnels – why not add one to your Christmas list? The children will love it too. Alternatively, a large cardboard box with its top and bottom folded in or cut off can create a great tunnel. If you want to spend a little, a few cones and poles bought from sports supply shops can make low jumps, weaves, and more, and a balance cushion can be fun and help your dog gain confidence as well as building muscle.
Muffin tin scent
A favourite amongst dog trainers is a muffin tin and the equivalent number of tennis balls to fill all the holes, then a treat is put under one ball – your dog should use their nose to find the right one. You can leave your dog to work it out by trial and error or you can be a bit more interactive.
Teach your dog to catch if they can’t already do it. To do this, hold a treat just above their nose so that they look up for it and carefully drop it into their mouth, making it easy to catch. Once your dog has the idea, you can gradually work on the degree of difficulty. Now your dog can catch, get the children throwing a set number of treats to see how many your dog can catch. If you have more than one child, you can see who the best thrower is, or you could make a chart to see if your dog and child improve their score over a few days. With some dogs and children it is better to have your dog behind a baby or dog gate so that they don’t get over excited and knock the child over.
The rules are:
- Only a set number of agreed treats so your dog doesn’t get an upset tummy
- Make sure your dog finishes eating a treat before throwing another (it’s not a race)
- Your dog can move but the child should stand still, or at least in a specific place
- Make sure your dog has access to fresh drinking water
Of course, teaching and doing tricks is a firm favourite at any time of year. Get the basics under your belt and these will lead to others. Start with give paw, left and right, down can become roll over, going around in a circle following a treat can become spin one way and twist the other. Remember with all of this to take your time and help your dog by showing them what you want and rewarding your dog, rather than just repeating a command while your dog looks at you blankly. Make sure you always give rewards when training.
Please note: there are many different ways to train your dog. This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice.
For more information and advice, you can find a puppy foundation course with The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme, browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.