Living in the city presents special challenges for dog owners and their pets. While in other settings dogs have room to run through a field, swim in a stream or chase something furry to their hearts’ content, here we must find appropriate ways to stimulate and engage our dogs’ brains and bodies. Below are some games you can try even in the smallest yards and apartments.
Digging: Does your dog love to dig? Everywhere he shouldn’t? Digging is pure pleasure for many dogs, and a pure pain to the city gardener or tenant dealing with a tiny space. Rather than scolding your dog for something he so clearly enjoys, how about giving him a digging area? Whether a section of the yard or a kiddie pool or sandbox with a lid, fill an area with sand and, when your dog isn’t looking, hide a few toys, tennis balls and/ or bones in the sand.
Show your dog where to dig – dig a little yourself, talk in an excited voice if he needs encouragement. Very soon that patch of sand will become everybody’s favorite place in the yard. Be aware that some dogs really like to throw that sand around when they dig, and you may have to sweep or rake sand back into the box from time to time. Re-bury the toys at night so your dog has new treasures to find each day.
Hide and Seek: Really! Your dog will love it. If you have a young puppy, start by just hiding in the next room or on the other side of the couch and calling her. You don’t want to frustrate her by making it too hard. When she comes galumphing in to where you are, tell her what a good girl she is and give her a few treats to reinforce the idea that finding her human is a wonderful thing.
With dogs of any other age, you can play this game all over the house and yard. Make your hiding places easy at first, and always be very excited when she finds you. As she gets the game, you can make your hiding places harder and more interesting. This is a great game for kids to play with their dog, and uses up a little kid AND dog energy – never a bad thing.
Find it: Put your dog in a sit stay (or tie the dog to a door or fence if he doesn’t know how to stay). Place a treat or toy several feet away from the dog, go back to him, say, “find it!” and release him from the stay or untie him. Let him get the treat and praise him. Do this several times, then “hide” the treat where he can see you do it – behind a tree or chair, for instance while he’s watching you– and again, release him and say “find it!” Whenever he finds the treat, praise him and tell him how great he is. If it’s too hard for him to find it, help him.
Vary the number of treats (or kind of toy) used, distance and difficulty as the dog gets the game. Hide them where he can’t see them. Eventually, you can hide several toys or many small treats around the house or yard and turn it into a veritable treasure hunt. This is another great game for kids and dogs, with plenty of running around but no direct mouth-to-hand contact.