9 Fun Games to Play with Your Dog

Woman playing a game with Golden Retriever on beach

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Playtime is the perfect opportunity to bond with your dog. With these and other fun games to play with your dog, she gets to release energy, stay agile, and enjoy one-on-one time with her favorite human (you). Regularly engaging with your dog helps develop both physical and mental fitness and can even help your dog maintain cognitive ability as he ages.1

The games the two of you play together can go well beyond fetch. Many of the games on our list work inside or out and can be modified for dogs of all sizes, ages, and energy levels.

1. Hide-and-Seek

Hide and seek isn’t just for kids. Dogs love it too. To play hide-and-seek one on one, your dog will need some basic obedience skills. She’ll need to understand come, stay, and sit.

Take your dog into a different room, and tell her to sit and stay. You get to hide in another room. Keep in mind that dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell.2 Get creative in your choice of hiding spots because chances are she’s going to find you pretty quickly.

If she’s still working on obedience, you can play this game with the dog and two people.3 One person stays with and reminds the dog of their sit and stay commands. The other person gets to do the hiding.

2. Obstacle Course

An obstacle course lets your dog practice obedience while getting some exercise and working on agility.4 Chances are you’ll get a little exercise, too.

Obstacle courses work indoors and out. Since you get to make the course, you can also adjust it to fit your dog’s fitness and agility level.5 On a rainy day, you can use pillows, your dog’s indoor dog house, dog toys, and chairs to create a course that takes your dog over, under, around, and in between.

In the outdoors, use everything at your disposal—a swing set, stairs, and patio furniture can all become part of the fun.

3. Pole Bending (aka Cardio Twist or Upright Poles)

Small dog playing pole bending game

If you’ve ever watched a rodeo, you might have seen pole bending. It’s a timed event that requires the horse and rider to weave in and out of six poles. A similar event, upright poles, is used in dog agility events.

Most people don’t have poles lying around, so get creative. Grab some buckets, chairs, or pillows (if you’re inside). The first time through, have your dog follow you as you weave through the poles.

As she starts to understand the game, use hand cues and see how fast (or slow) she can complete the poles. Work on obedience by making your dog stay by your side as you change speeds, forcing her to pay attention to you.

4. Hidden Treasure

This game requires you to hide your dog’s “treasure.” The treasure could be a favorite toy or a treat. If you’re playing indoors, hide the treasure under a box, behind a door, or somewhere else that makes your dog work to find it.

You can use hidden treasure to work on your dog’s nose skills, too. Don’t walk directly to the hiding spot. When you hide the toy, drag or touch it to objects along the way. Zigzag, touching objects as you go. Then, go under and over all kinds of obstacles. Then, make your dog sniff her way to the treasure.

5. Tug-of-War

Golden Retriever playing tug of war

Dogs love this game. It’s simple, fun, and burns energy. You can use a tug toy specially made to take the forces of a dog who loves to pull. It’s also fun when you have two dogs who like to play together.

However, (and this is a big however) it’s not the best game for every dog. Fearful dogs may growl or become aggressive when someone takes a toy. If that’s the case, keep moving down the list for a game that won’t trigger your dog’s fears.

6. Ready, Set, Down!

Obedience lies at the heart of this game. You want to get your dog really excited about something like going for a walk or playing fetch. Once she’s really excited, give her a different command like “sit” or “stay.” When she obeys, give her a treat, and the game starts again.

Use this game to help your dog learn listening skills when she’s excited. As your dog gets better at playing, you can up the difficulty. For example, ask your dog to drop the ball in the middle of a game of fetch or tell her to sit. When she does, treat her, and start playing again.

7. Flirt Pole

Flirt pole works well in small yards with limited space. Attach a toy to the end of a rope (or fishing pole if you’ve got an old one sitting around). Now start spinning. Your dog gets to chase the toy.

You can use this game as an obedience and listening tool. Make your dog sit and stay while you spin or run with the toy. Extend the time you spin before releasing her from stay to practice listening and obedience skills.

8. Frisbee (Disc Dogs)

Dachsund playing frisbee

Disc dogs is an actual sport, but you can do it at home without requiring your dog to do any fancy catches. It’s an alternative to fetch that uses a frisbee, giving you and your dog a change of pace.

A frisbee requires your dog to consider timing and work on coordination. Of course, if you want to get fancy, there are online classes or YouTube videos to teach you a few of the more demanding moves.

9. Bubbles

Bubbles are just as magical for dogs as they are kids. Start blowing or pull out a bubble machine to get your dog hopping on a sunny day. She might need encouragement the first time or two, but before long, she’ll get ready to pop when the bubbles come out.

The Wrap Up

Games serve multiple purposes for your dog. They keep her fit, active, and offer a fun way to work on training. It also gives the two of you some time to focus on each other, and that’s what being a dog owner is all about.

If you’re looking for more information on how to keep your dog fit and their minds occupied we have a series of resources on how much your exercise your dog needs, how to train your dog to use a treadmill (along with a guide to buying the best treadmill for your dog) along with a number of training guides including tips for getting your puppy to sleep through the night, training your dog to stay out of a room you don’t want them in, a guide to crate training a puppy, and a guide to training a dog to pee outside, an article on keeping your dog out of the trash (along with a guide to choosing the best dog proof trash cans),

Article Sources

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  1. Chapagain D, Virányi Z, Wallis LJ, Huber L, Serra J, Range F. Aging of Attentiveness in Border Collies and Other Pet Dog Breeds: The Protective Benefits of Lifelong Training. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017;9:100. Published 2017 Apr 20. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00100
  2. Jenkins EJ, DeChange MT, Perry EB, When the nose doesn’t know: Canine olfactory function associated with health, management, and potential links to microbiota. Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine. 2018. doi:10.3389/fvets.2018.00056
  3. Wallis LJ, Szabó D, Kubinyi E. Cross-Sectional Age Differences in Canine Personality Traits; Influence of Breed, Sex, Previous Trauma, and Dog Obedience Tasks. Front Vet Sci. 2020;6:493. Published 2020 Jan 14. doi:10.3389/fvets.2019.00493
  4. Baltzer WI, Firshman AM, Stang B, Warnock JJ, Gorman E, McKenzie EC. The effect of agility exercise on eicosanoid excretion, oxidant status, and plasma lactate in dogs. BMC Vet Res. 2012;8:249. Published 2012 Dec 28. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-249
  5. Farr BD, Ramos MT, Otto CM. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center Fit to Work Program: A Formalized Method for Assessing and Developing Foundational Canine Physical Fitness. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:470. Published 2020 Aug 13. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00470
Dr. Suzanne Harrington
Dr. Suzanne Harrington is a small animal practitioner who has worked both in small animal general practice and shelter medicine. She received her Doctorate at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine where she was a member of the Phi Zeta Veterinary Honor Society. During her time at U of I, she completed externships with the ASPCA Humane Alliance Program, Tree House Humane Society, and Greenville County Animal Care Shelter. She was a ​2018 AVMF & Merck Veterinary Student Innovation Award recipient for her educational instagram account Ready.Vet.Go. ​Dr. Harrington lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, her cat Georgia, and her rescue rottweiler Birdie.