Playtime for Your Dog

Cadmos, 128 pp., 2006; $32.95
By Julia Lane, May 2009
Playtime for Your Dog
Cadmos, 128 pp., 2006; $32.95

Do your pups suffer from Winteritis? Four of my five dogs would rather not leave the house until spring if at all possible. (The fifth one is impervious to all extremes, weather or otherwise.) Their cabin fever requires creative ways to keep them active that don’t destroy the house in the process! Playtime for Your Dog, by Christina Sondermann, is my new winter dog bible. (And, since it also has outdoors games for milder weather, it will come in handy throughout the year.)

Sondermann is a German positive-reinforcement dog trainer who emphasizes building a bond with your dog through fun, stress-free training methods and games. In 2001, she and her partner, Christoph Henke, developed a website,, that encouraged people to share ideas for dog games. Playtime for Your Dog is the inspiring end result.

Before you begin, Sondermann suggests that you choose games appropriate for your dog’s age and personality. A senior dog does not need to jump over tall obstacles. Nervous dogs will enjoy games that do not involve other people or kids, at least initially. As they successfully complete one game after another, however, you might be surprised at what even nervous dogs can accomplish.

My pack particularly enjoyed the chapter on sniffing games—what dog doesn’t like to use his nose? While they were downstairs, I hid a small ball on a rope under a rug and then invited them, one at a time, to come find it. My mixed breed, Shelby, prefers to find things visually, so this exercise kept her busy searching; when she eventually found it, she was very proud of her prize. The Dalmatian, Darby, on the other hand, immediately tracked the scent, made a beeline for the rug and flipped it over to reveal the toy.

Everyone enjoyed the “shell game,” in which you hide a treat under one of three bowls set upside down. My youngest dog, Ginger Peach, got a little too excited and sent the bowls skidding across the kitchen floor, so my advice is to try this one on carpet. People whose dogs only come when they feel like it will especially appreciate the “Sit, Down, Come” chapter. One of my agility students has a tough time in class because her dog is easily distracted and doesn’t consistently come back. I introduced my classes to some of the games, including “Treat Lane,” in which the dog must pass by several bowls of boring dry kibble on his way to his owner, who has something super-delicious, like a piece of juicy steak or stinky cheese. Both my student and her dog are now having so much more fun learning this life-saving command through games.

A couple of quick notes: Since the English version is a translation, there are some awkward turns of phrase and minor grammatical errors or typos. Also, the price is a bit steep, even though the information is worthwhile. (If it had been published in the U.S., I’d suggest you wait until a more reasonably priced paperback came out, but I’m not sure the book will be available in that format.) Nonetheless, Playtime for Your Dog offers some excellent options to get your dog moving, thinking and staying out of trouble without emptying your wallet.

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.

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