Growing up with a dog in the family is one of the most enjoyable and valuable experiences for a child. Here are a few games and activities to engage your child and your pooch.
These days, thanks to the growing dependence on gadgets and related technology, children get hooked on to them from a very early age. Parents have been exploring other options to keep their children occupied and teach them valuable life’s lessons. Getting a pet home is one of the best ways to teach children the meaning of unconditional love, mutual respect, compassion and responsibility. Most dogs bond very well with children and their relationship is magical to experience.
Nothing like play…
Almost all dogs were once bred to perform ‘jobs’. However, our pet dogs do not get any opportunity to work like their ancestors did. As a result, due to the sedentary lifestyle, dogs start getting destructive and ‘naughty’ due to boredom, pent up energy and lack of routine. Here are a few activities that will involve children in various activities with your dog, especially play. Play is a great way for dogs and kids to exercise both physically and mentally. This will not only help your dog find a sense of accomplishment but also help children understand your dog better and develop a healthy relationship with Fido.
Games and activities
Retrieve: Most dogs love to chase toys and other small moving objects. Teach them to pick them up and return it to you on cue. Once the dog learns this, make the child throw the toy for him. Let the child praise the dog every time he picks and returns the toy and reward him with tasty treats. This helps the dog to look up to the child for guidance and helps establish a structure to playtime.
Hide and seek: Scavenging for food was primarily one of the most important jobs for the dogs in the wild. Finding food is extremely rewarding for them. Hide treats around the dog and make him find them on cue. Slowly move towards the hiding objects or dog toys. You can also ask children to hide and call out to the dog to find them. This will also help the dog to build a strong recall with your kids. When the dog ‘finds’ your kid, ask her to praise and reward the dog.
Dog puzzles, homemade toys/treats and chew toys: Help your child make toys and create puzzles for your dog. Hiding treats in crumpled newspaper, stuffing kibble in an open water bottle, filling an old sock with treats and tying up the end, etc will help your dog work for his treats harder and keep him occupied. Kids can also help in making homemade treats. Bake dog-friendly cookies or just mix half a banana, honey and yogurt and freeze them in ice trays. Dogs love them and it is so much fun for the kids to make such treats. In addition to scavenging for food, dogs love to chew. Let your kid offer chewies to the dog after short training sessions. Try offering a full dried coconut to your dog and watch her rip the fibres off. Great toy for heavy chewers!
Teaching dog tricks: Dogs love to work for their food and kids love to interact with dogs. Teaching dogs to perform tricks combines these two aspects beautifully. Always work at the dog’s pace and use gentle methods that use positive reinforcement as the primary technique. Simple tricks like ‘Give paw’ ‘Roll over’, ‘Play dead’, ‘Crawl’, etc are very popular with children.
Tug of war: Tug of war is a great game to play with shy or sensitive dogs. It builds their confidence and helps them to trust children through a fun game. A few tips to play this game safely:
- Teach your dog to ‘leave’ and ‘drop’ on cue before playing tug.
- In case your pooch gets very excited, calmly drop the toys and walk away. Do not chase him or try to snatch the toy. Resume once he is calmer.
- Do not attempt to win the game all the time. Let your dog take the toy a few times.
- Always praise the dog for good behaviour.
Walking with your dog: Take your kids along for walks with your dog. Dogs are social animals and love doing everything together with their family or ‘pack’. Walking is one of the most important life’s rewards for your dog and kids love it too.
Swimming: Most dogs enjoy swimming and playing retrieve in water. Find out dog friendly pools in your city or drive down to a natural lake and let them enjoy some splashy fun. This is a great activity during summer vacations.
Take a vacation with your dog or visit the beach or park: Visiting and exploring new environments is a great psychological exercise for Fido and helps him to brush up on his social skills too. Find out pet friendly resorts where you can camp with your furry friend. You can play fetch at the park; hide toys in the sand and make Fido dig it up or just enjoy the waves at the beach. If you encounter stray animals or other pet dogs, do not force your dog to interact with them. Give her the time and space to make a decision to whether meet the other dog at all.
Obstacle course: Have you watched canine agility trials? Always wondered if your dog can do it? Of course she can! Start with teaching her to crawl under a chair, jump over a pile of books or tunnel through a large open empty cardboard carton. You can use your terrace or space to create dog-friendly obstacles and have fun as both you and your dog complete the obstacle course. Use high value treats to motivate your dog to do the same with your kids.
Some tips to help your dog and kid bond positively
- Train the kid: Introduce kids to dogs very carefully. Training is not only for your dog, children also need to understand dog’s body language and behave accordingly. Teach them to understand to recognise if the dog is uncomfortable or too excited and when play has to stop.
- Keep these in mind: Be mindful of the dog’s age, breed, health condition and temperament while choosing toys and games. Work with the dog’s pace and find out activities that he really likes. For example, most Labradors love swimming but our INDogs may not. You might have to play hide and seek or teach tricks with the latter. Also, do not over tire your dog. Training should be fun!
- Be cautious….always: No matter how well behaved our dog is, always monitor all interactions with your child. Too much excitement during play, accidentally hurting or inappropriate touch may force the dog to get defensive. It is always better to be over cautious around children.
- Keep it short and sweet: No matter how much your dog likes his toys, do not let him obsess over them. Keep training and play sessions short and stop before he gets bored.
- Keeping them indoors: Most of these games can be played indoors and can be used to engage the dogs during monsoon or festive time.
Creating a routine for your dog, shuffling between the above activities and involving all the family members in them will help in channelising her energy towards constructive learning and making your dog’s life more fun. Happy playing!
(Nivedita Kumar is canine behaviour consultant and founder of Confident Dog (www.confidentdogs.com), Bengaluru).