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Game of Throws: 9 Backyard Games that Reinforce your Dog's Skills


In this time of social distancing, we are all looking for fun things we can do at home to provide distraction. What if we told you that you could have fun with your dog AND be productive by fine tuning their training skills? Our trainer Nicole Skeehan has compiled several backyard games you can play with your dog that work on critical training skills. When this is all over, your dog will be so well trained you can take them anywhere this summer.

The three core training skills every dog should know are:

  1. Come When Called – any dog you want to allow off leash needs to reliably ‘come’ when you call her. It’s for her safety.

  2. Stay – when there’s temptation like birds, treats, or balls, it’s often hard to get a dog to stay. But this is also important for his safety when out and about.

  3. Leave It – sometimes you just don’t want your dog to chew something, but often it’s because the item is poisonous or unhealthy for them. Getting your dog to leave a deliciously smelly item is essential to keeping them safe. It’s also important for stopping them from chasing animals and getting lost, or getting involved in encounters with skunks, porcupines, or bears.

Fun Games for the ‘Come’ Command

Has your dog mastered the simple ‘come’ command where you stand across from them, show a treat and say ‘come’? If not, review Nicole’s video, Dog Training – Come, on how to do that. If so, here are three dog games that have a lot more distraction and can solidify those skills. They are also more fun and involve the whole family! See our Dog Recall Games blog post for full instructions.

  • Puppy Drag Racing – Two people switch off as holder and chaser, one releasing the dog to chase the after hearing the command. This is great for puppies who are just learning, since it’s in their nature to chase.

  • Bounce Back Recalls – Use treats to lure the dog away from you and call them back with the command. This teaches your dog to ignore temptation and listen to you.
  • Hide and Seek – The whole family hides in the backyard. One by one, each person yells the dog’s name and the command “Max, come!” and waits for the dog to find them. This reinforces the command even when your dog can’t see you and also helps other family members to establish authority with your pup.

Fun Games for Working on the 'Stay' Command

If your dog has not yet mastered his ‘stay’ in a controlled environment where you are just walking a few feet away, you can learn more by watching Nicole’s video, Dog Training – Sit/Stay. If your dog already has this skill down, you can try these tempting games to reinforce it and have family fun.

  • Red Light, Green Light - Sit your dog next to you and give them the command to stay. Throw their favorite toy, a ball, or stick. Repeat the ‘stay’ command. Release them with the ‘take a break’ or ‘go’ command. Once they have this mastered, you can combine it with ‘fetch.’

  • Doggie in the Middle – Sit your dog between two people. Give the command ‘stay’. Have the two people toss a ball, stick, or Frisbee (whichever is most attractive to your pup) back and forth. Repeat the ‘stay’ command. After a few tosses, give the dog the ‘go’ command to release them. Have one of the game players toss the dog the item. Add on a ‘fetch’ to retrieve the item and begin again. 

  • Shell Game – Have a family member select an item your dog loves – a toy, a stick, or a treat. Grab three clean buckets from your garage. Make sure your dog sees the favorite item as you put it under a bucket. Sit your dog and give her the command ‘stay’. Have a family member lift the bucket and show the special item. Tempt your dog by waving it around and maybe even naming the item. Repeat the ‘stay’ command. Give your dog the ‘go’ or ‘take a break’ command to let her get her favorite thing. For an extra bit of mental stimulation, move the buckets around and see if she can remember which bucket her toy is under.

Games for Working on 'Leave It'

You can work on the basic ‘leave it’ command by watching Nicole’s video series Dog Training – Leave It. To create a super strong leave it, these games can help you cement the skill. The great thing about this command is that it can be used both to have a dog drop something they want to eat, and if your dog is chasing an animal or human.

  • Tug of War - As long as your dog doesn’t have resource guarding issues, engage in a game of tug of war with a rope or towel. Get your dog all riled up and excited. Use the command ‘leave it’. If your dog obeys, praise or reward him with something other than more tug of war. Engage again.

  • Temptation Alley – Place a few of your dog’s favorite things in a line in the backyard. Walk your dog up to the first item and give the ‘leave it’ command’. Praise if he obeys. Move to the next item and do the same. Release with the ‘go’ or ‘take it’ command when he can take the items. To make it more challenging, space out the items. For one item, give the ‘leave it’ command, for another give the ‘take it’ command. Be sure to mix it up so your dog does not associate the command with a type of treat or toy. It’s the command, not the item that determines ‘leave it’.

  • This Little Piggy – Put a smelly treat under your big toe. Tell your dog to ‘leave it’. If he tries to get it, smash it with your big toe. If he obeys, reward with a treat from your hand, not that treat under your toe.
Give these games a try and let us know which ones were most fun – for you and your family!

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