When we think about getting a puppy or rescuing a dog, certain scenes often play out in our heads: throwing a ball in the yard, tugging on a rope in the living room, offering a chew toy on their bed during evening TV time.
Life happens, though: we get busy with our jobs and kids; the daily schedule gets full of errands and appointments; Summer vacations and holiday day trips mean you're not home as often as you'd like (or as often as other times of the year). Taking extra time with your SideKick can easily slip to the back burner with all of the other priorities on your plate. I 100% get it - I'm one of those folks myself. But, I'd like to make a case for getting some solid minutes of play in with your SideKick each day.
Why should you incorporate more play in your SideKick's daily routine? Several reasons!
It's FUN! Play, games, and activities are fun for both you and your SideKick. Not much more elaboration is needed than that!
Play gives you and your SideKick quality time together, which helps develop, strengthen, and improve your relationship.
Play, games, and activities provide opportunities for socializing your SideKick with new environments, people, things, and experiences.
New play, games, and activities help build your SideKick's confidence; any time you can present a small challenge that your SideKick is able to overcome, they're getting a small boost to their confidence - something that is especially important and helpful with shy or fearful dogs!
Play is a fun way to keep your SideKick fit (and possibly you, as well)!
Don't forget about mental fitness, as well! "Old" dogs definitely can and should learn new tricks (and games and activities); continuing the learning well after your SideKick has learned the basics keeps the mental wheels well-greased!
CHOOSING PLAY ACTIVITIES
If I've got you convinced that you should be playing more with your dog, but you're scratching your head for some ideas, consider some of the following points and questions to help you choose new play, games, and activities!
1) What does your dog like?
Don't fall into the trap of thinking, "My dog is a Golden Retriever, so he will love to play fetch." Breed certainly may play a factor in some of the things your SideKick likes to do, but, above all else, every dog is individual. If you are able to say, "My Rover loves tug and chasing a ball," then you have a point to leap off from for creating or finding new games your SideKick will like - activities that incorporate tug ropes or toys, tennis balls or squeaky balls, tugging and/or chasing behaviors.
Additionally, keep in mind that some dogs prefer physical games or more physical forms of play, while others may prefer training or mental exercise games.
2) If you you have trouble coming up with things your dog likes, don't get discouraged; instead, experiment!
Vary play time with new and fun games and gauge your SideKick's level of interest with each of them. Not only will you be able to see what things your SideKick prefers, but offering variety is a fun way to shake things up and get out of a play rut!
Before diving in and experimenting with new games, play, activities, and ideas, you may already be able to tell what your SideKick will adapt to well - just by considering their personality:
Is your SideKick a "Yes Dog" or a little more independent? Independent dogs tend to be a bit more self-motivated than a Yes Dog or the aim-to-please dogs; the independent ones can present some challenges or may require a little more creativity than other dogs who just want to have fun or who naturally look to you for a lot of guidance.
Is your SideKick shy or fearful? Regardless of the causes for a dog's shy or fearful attitude (lack of socialization, natural personality, etc.), it is important to take things slow and steady with a dog that can startle easy or is hesitant to participate in activities. Never force a shy or fearful dog to participate in any play or games that they seem hesitant to join or that appear to scare them; and reward your shy or fearful SideKick heavily for mustering up the courage to learn a new game or activity with you.
Is your SideKick a team player? These are the dogs that are usually pretty eager to interact with us; they seem to see new things as fun and worth investigating; and they pick up on things quickly because of their willingness to be curious with us!
3) Keep safety at the forefront.
Especially when excited and having fun, dogs do not always exercise caution. Like with a small child, it's important to provide play and games in a controlled environment and activities that are going to be appropriate for the dog:
Is it dangerous or unsafe for a long-backed dog (like a Dachshund) to participate in this activity?
Are the surroundings safe for the activity? For instance, are there busy roads around where you'd like to try playing fetch?
Who is playing with your SideKick? Is the activity appropriate for small children to participate in? Or should older children or adults be guiding the activity with your SideKick?
If it's an activity or game your SideKick can play solo, are the props or toys that are involved safe to use without supervision? Ensuring nothing is sharp or can break or crumble is important if you're not going to be directly supervising your SideKick.
Is the activity too high-impact for a puppy with developing growth plates and joints?
Are there health concerns, such as arthritis, illness, respiratory challenges, or pregnancy, that might prevent your SideKick from participating in this activity?
Should your vet clear you and your SideKick for this activity?
4) Stick with your SideKick's strengths.
When you have a better idea of what your SideKick is good at, what they like to do, and what they can do, stick with those things! Or pepper in some activities that work on your SideKick's "weaknesses." Or don't! All that matters is that both of you have fun!
Even with each of those four points/questions above to explore, you might find yourself wondering, specifically, what play, games, or activities you might introduce your SideKick to. Not to worry! There are probably dozens of books out there that you can reference for ideas, but, to name a few, below are just a few of the books I found when I went looking for books at my local library (and liked for the ideas they had to offer)!
Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, by Sophie Collins
Games to Play with Your Dog, by David Sands
Brain Games for Puppies, by Claire Arrowsmith
50 Games to Play with Your Dog, by Suellen Dainty
Beyond Fetch: fun, interactive activities for you and your dog, by D. Caroline Coile
Adding some extra minutes of play to your day with your SideKick has a lot of benefits - aside from just being fun for both you and your SideKick; so, what new games, activities, and play are you going to start with your SideKick?