Fun Christmas games for your dog

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.

Treasure hunt

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.

Obstacle course

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.

Catch

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

Tricks

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.

Ball pool

Get a bag of children’s soft play balls (from a supermarket or online) and empty them into a box, washing up bowl or small paddling pool. Let your dog watch you drop treats in or hide their favourite toys inside. Encourage your dog to find them by being near them and joining in - smiling and praising them for getting involved and celebrating with your dog when they find whatever it is that you have hidden – hours of fun!

Sandpit

Similar to the ball pit – get a child’s sandpit or make a small area that can retain sand and fill it, then bury your dog’s favourite toys and interesting things that your dog can sniff out and find. This is great for dogs that dig in the wrong place in your garden as it gives them a place to focus where the ‘treasure’ will be found! You can also use tennis balls in a muffin tin or make use of your recycling bin items (e.g. cardboard boxes and yoghurt pots) to hide treats or toys in.

Seeking with your dog

Follow your dog around the garden or another safe outdoor area, and have a good look and sniff of where they are looking at and sniffing! Your dog will love that you are taking an interest in their world, especially if you get down to their level as well.

Water retrieve (for when the weather is good!)

Start with an empty bowl or paddling pool and throw in a toy, teaching your dog to find the article in an empty container first. Then, gradually fill a bowl or paddling pool with water, getting the dog used to doing the retrieving exercise as you go. Throw a toy in so your dog can see it moving and then encourage them to fetch it out. Repeat the game or add a few of your dog’s favourite toys and encourage them to fetch them out, or simply play in the water. Make sure you monitor how much your dog is playing this game and that they aren’t swallowing too much water.

Treat searching/toy searching

Hold your dog back, or tell them to ‘stay’ if you have trained them. Show your dog a treat/or their favourite toy and throw it into longish undergrowth or grass. Release them with a ‘find it’ cue, and encourage them to go and find, and of course eat, the treat. Start close by and then extend the distance and vary the area. You can also do this with toys or other articles for the more advanced dog. Once your dog has the idea, you could leave them indoors so they can’t see the direction it went, so your dog has to hunt the whole area. Help them if they need it. In fact your dog will love it if you work together to find the reward!

Detector dog

Once your dog has mastered your searching game, your dog can move on to detecting. Select a smelly, safe herbal teabag, such as camomile. Give your sniffing cue and reward your dog for sniffing the new scent. Repeat this two or three times and then you can start with an easy search. Place your dog’s favourite toy and the tea bag together in the same place, just out of reach. As your dog makes the find, release the toy to them for a game and reward with a treat. After a couple of times, you can leave the toy in your pocket and your dog will normally make the connection that it is the teabag smell they are after. Give your dog a chance to do the find themselves. It sometimes takes a little while but be patient – your dog’s nose is brilliant, let them learn how to use it! As soon as it is obvious they have made the find, bounce the ball out for your dog or give them a treat with lots of enthusiastic praise and adoration for your brilliant dog. Train your dog to find other scents in the same way – dogs are capable of finding many differing aromas, you can name them if you want. Avoid using highly scented substances, it’s best to use much more subtle scents.

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 training classes 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.