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Five Running Games to Play with Your Dog
Dog Play

Just as the iconic image of the Great Dad shows him playing catch with his kids, the iconic image of the Great Dog Guardian would show a person running around with a dog. A few minutes—or even a few steps—are all you need, so don’t resist these easy ways to add joy to your dog’s day.

1. Chase. This game is simple: You run and your dog chases you. Clap or make a “smooch” sound to get your dog’s attention, and then run away from him. When he’s within a few feet of you, turn and reinforce him with a treat, a toy or the start of another chase. Stopping before he reaches you prevents the chase game from turning into the “nip the human on the back of the leg” game. (Don’t play the “chase the dog” game—it will teach him to run away when you approach and ruin his recall.)

2. On Your Mark, Get Set, Go. Combine a little trick work and self-control practice with running. Teach your dog to lie down when you say “On your mark,” do a play bow to the cue “Get set” and start running when you say “Go.” Très cute.

3. Fartlek. Runners worldwide use fartlek training to increase their speed. The word, which means “speed play” in Swedish, refers to the practice of interspersing short bursts of speed within a training run. To play with your dog fartlek style, surge ahead and run few paces, past several houses or even down the block. Chances are your dog will happily follow your lead. (And yes, even serious runners think it’s a funny word.)

4. Hard to Get. This short keep-away game can jump-start a play session. Squeak, bounce or wave a toy around to get your dog’s attention as you run away from him. Just make sure you don’t tease him by playing keep-away too long. The excitement created by a moment of playing hard to get can start another game, but going on too long without giving your dog access to the toy can result in frustration or anger rather than playfulness.
 
5. Crazy Owner. People who are unpredictable in their movements are fascinating to dogs. With that in mind, use the “crazy owner” game to get and keep your dog’s attention. Hold a bunch of yummy treats to lure your dog to your side and then start moving away from him. Change speed and direction often so he never knows what you are going to do next. For example, run five steps, turn and jog slowly for 10, then execute a quick reverse and sprint in the opposite direction. Offer him praise and treats every time he’s right by your side, and keep moving like a crazy person to maintain his interest.

Many people love to play with their dogs. Still more want to play with their dogs but think their dogs aren’t playful, or that they only like to play with other dogs. Certainly, some dogs are more naturally playful or more toy-motivated than others. Yet, I’ve found that time and again, the majority of dogs who are described as “not playful” by the people who know them best actually do love to play, as long as the games are based on running and chasing. Give them a try!
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 52: Jan/Feb 2009

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Jenny H | January 30 2010 |

"Chase. This game is simple: You run and your dog chases you"

Sorry Karen. I think that this is VERY irresponsible advice.

Running away from a dog excites the predatory sequence of behaviours -- most children who get bitten by the family dogs do so as a result of playing 'chase' with the dog. Or playing lively running games in the dog's presence.

As a dog safety presenter (The SPOT program in NSW schools) and as a consultant for (ordinary) dog behaviour problems I STRESS the necessity for children, as well as adults, to stand still if a dog starts to chase them. A child can be as seriously hurt by an excited friendly playful dog as it can be by an aggressive dog.

I would be much happier to see you withdraw this 'play' advice

Submitted by Anonymous | April 16 2013 |

Any game can excite dogs and escalate. Knowing your dog and setting boundaries are prerequisites for any dog-human game. People get bitten playing fetch, when they haven't properly taught their dog not to grab the toy out of their hands! I play chase with my dog quite often and it's helped improve her recall, but she's also learned to stop, sit and wait instantly on my command - it's part of the game.

So I don't believe this specific play advice should be deleted, but a general warning might be necessary.

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