Outdoor games

Woman playing with her dog outside

There’s so much to do with your dog in a garden – even if you only have a small space, you and your dog can have fun.

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 and then encourage your dog to find them – hours of fun!


Similar to the ball pit – get a child’s sandpit or make a small area that can retain sand and fill it with sand, 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!

Seeking with your dog

Follow your dog around the garden or other 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

Fill a bowl or paddling pool with water. 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.

Treat hunting

Hold your dog back, or tell them to ‘stay’ if you have trained them. Show your dog a treat 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 hunting 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. 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 – its 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 Training scheme, browse our full list of The Kennel Club Accredited Instructors or find a dog training club near you.