May 21, 2019 5 min read

There are few things in this world that dogs enjoy more than a good play session with their favorite humans. Regular play with your dog will always be the quickest way to their heart and obedience. When it comes to the relationship that you have with your dog, play will not only strengthen your bond but also act as the perfect avenue to teach them new skills. Ultimately, play is your secret weapon to take your training to a whole new level. As a result of using dog training games, your dog will be quick to do anything you ask and enjoy doing it as well!

As a dog trainer and dog owner for almost 10 years, I get a first-hand look at the power of play and it's effectiveness with all dogs, no matter their breed or age! Here are five of my favorite dog training games that help with everything from impulse control, to focusing while distractions are present.

Green Light, Red Light

This fun game sharpens your leash walking skills with your dog and will help teach them to come back to you when they feel any tension on the leash.

  1. Starting in your backyard, put a leash on your dog and start walking around.
  2. Randomly stop without saying anything and wait.
  3. If your dog stops with you and the leash has no tension then mark with a clicker or say "yes!" and reward your dog. If your dog keeps going and pulls on the leash, wait until the leash is slack again, and then mark and reward your dog.
  4. Practice around the yard until your dog is consistently doing well and then gradually increase the difficulty by walking in areas with more distractions.

Tip: You can also mark and reward your dog anytime they look at you. This will teach your dog to look to you automatically, and will help speed your progress!

Ready, Set, CUE!

Tug toys and flirt poles are a great way to engage in play with your dog. This fun game will utilize such toys while teaching impulse control and increasing your dog's overall reliability with their cues. Before you begin, make sure your dog knows a reliable "drop it" cue and at least one or two other cues that you can ask for.

  1. Start some light play with your dog using their toy of choice. Keeping play calmer at first will make it easier for your dog.
  2. Randomly cue your dog to drop the toy and stop the play.
  3. Once your dog drops the toy, cue them to lie down or ask for a cue that they know really well.
  4. When your dog does the behavior you asked for, mark it with a clicker or "yes!" and then immediately start the play again!
  5. Periodically restart the play right after your dog drops the toy to mix things up. You can also try changing up the cues you ask for to keep your dog guessing!

Tip: If your dog is having a hard time, take a break and try again with the game being calmer or shorter.

Look At That!

Many dogs will struggle with distractions at some point, and this game teaches them to notice distractions calmly. Stay consistent with this game and your dog will eventually learn that distractions are a cue for them to look to you!

  1. Take your dog for a walk and make sure to bring plenty of food rewards!
  2. As soon as your dog notices a distraction, mark them looking at it with a clicker or "yes!" and give a reward.
  3. If your dog is overly focused on the distraction, then get more distance or higher value food rewards and try again.
  4. Soon enough, your dog will notice the distraction and automatically look at you! This behavior is your end goal and once it is achieved, you will start to mark and reward your dog for looking at you.

Tip: Keep in mind that dogs are not good at generalizing, so stay consistent and go back to step 2 if your dog isn't looking to you.

Hide & Seek

A reliable recall could save your dog's life and it is one of the most important behaviors you can ever teach your dog. This game makes coming when called fun and exciting!

  1. With some food rewards in your pocket, hide just around a corner when your dog isn't looking and cue them to come to you.
  2. Reward your dog with food, praise, or even a game of tug once they find you. The point of this game is to teach that coming to you always brings something your dog loves!
  3. Slowly increase the difficulty of your hiding spots and eventually, you can even play outdoors with a long leash.

Tip: If your dog doesn't come to you right away, try calling them again, but avoid repeating your cue over and over. Try instead making an exciting noise like kissing noises to interest your dog and motivate them to come to you.

Exchange Games

Playing exchange games with your dog is a great way to prevent resource guarding which is a very normal and common behavior in dogs, just not one that we like to see. If your dog is already protective over their resources, please consult a dog training professional near you before trying this game.

  1. Give your dog a valued item like a favorite chew toy, bully stick, treat-dispensing toy, or bone.
  2. Toss a high-value food reward to your dog as you approach. The reward must be of higher value than the item they have.
  3. Now toss a couple of rewards just out of reach, and make sure they see you do this.
  4. As your dog is eating the rewards, pick up the item.
  5. When your dog is finished eating, give the item back.
  6. Continue this game, with plenty of breaks in between, until you see your dog look to you excitedly when you approach.

Tip: If your dog is tense or shows any signs of stress during the game then discontinue the game and contact a professional for further help.

Time to Play!

I hope you and your dog enjoy these games as much we have! Each one was inspired and learned from top dog trainers in the industry such as; Laura VanArendonk Baugh of Canines in Action, Inc., Karen Pryor of Karen Pryor Clicker Trainingand Karen Pryor Academy, Jean Donaldson of the Academy for Dog Trainers, and Kayla Fratt of Journey Dog Training. 


Contributor: Presley Carte of One Fine Canine Dog Training

Presley started her training career in 2011 and is certified through the Certifying Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA). She uses humane, science-based training methods and specializes in wolfdogs and fearful/reactive dogs. She loves nothing more than working together with pet parents and their dogs to achieve their goals and build their relationship.