There's way more to do on walks than run back and forth.
Whenever I see posts about why dogs cannot play fetch I am always saddened. I’m not saddened at the suggestion dogs should not play fetch, but because there are always hundreds of comments about how no one will let us have fun with our dogs. I do not think that is true at all, and the purpose of this blog post is to show that there are lots more things we can do with our dogs that are not only fun, but will help build the bond we have with our dog and create shared experiences.
Firstly, a little story about an observation a made a while ago whilst walking on the beach. I was walking two dogs, and stopped to watch a dog playing fetch. The dog was with two people, it ran out for the ball, ran back dropped the ball and waited for the ball to be thrown again. Drop, run, repeat. It occurred to me that the dog could have been anywhere, it would not have mattered because all that mattered to the dog was the ball and the game.
Although the dog appeared to be enjoying the game I could not help but feel a little sad on all the stimulation and experiences it was missing out on. I looked to the dogs I was with. One was stood in the sea, looking to the horizon, sniffing the air, nose going wild! The other was mooching across some rocks, sniffing as she went, stopping every now and then to use her paw to scratch at and investigate different things. They were getting to smell different things, to feel different things. The chances are they would be equally or more tired and relaxed then the dog playing fetch.
So here are some ideas for alternatives that can be just as fun, but massively beneficial for your dog;
- Find it!
- Choice Walk
- Catch and food games
This is a great way to still play ‘fetch’ but slow it down and engage your dogs nose. Essentially you still throw the ball, but wait until it has dropped before sending the dog to ‘find it’, once the dog has the idea you can make it harder by hiding the ball without the dog seeing so it really has to search. The dog is still retrieving the ball but they have had to work both body and mind to be successful and retrieves will take much longer.
Start by throwing the ball so the dog can easily see it. Then you can build up to throwing the ball into different areas and surfaces. Long grass is a really good one for this. Ensure that you keep the game at a level the dog is able to complete and enjoy. This can easily become frustrating which will not be a benefit to the dog. Mix it up. Just because your dog can find harder hides does not mean they will not enjoy the odd easy to find ball too.
Dogs love sniffing! They have 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses (some more!), we have around 6 million. The part of the dogs brain that analyses smell is about 40 times great than ours. Their sense of smell is quite frankly epic! Dogs will lobe to go out and sniff any way. But you could make it more fun by placing things out on the walk for them to find.
You could do this by just dropping odd things around whilst you are out, such as ball, a scented cloth, a sneaky cocktail sausage. Or you could use several Tupperware boxes with a hole in containing different scents. It could be anything, as long as it is dog friendly - spices, stinky socks, different foods, rubber…only your imagination limits you.
This is so much fun to watch and a real role reversal. The choice walk is exactly what is sounds like, your dog chooses were to go and guides you, instead of the opposite way around. This works best if you are somewhere safe for your dog to choose the direction, without too much interference from you. A secure field or quiet park are ideal. If it is not fully enclosed, then you could attach a longline (a static long lead) to give the dog the feeling of freedom.
You could also try this on lead, ensuring you follow the way your dog is indicating he wants to go. Careful not to pull or guide that dog, and if it is in a place where safety is an issue you will need to offer some guidance.
Dogs love to play! But it does not have to be about sending your dog out miles out to come back. It can be about you and your dog in the moment, your relationship and bonding. Tugging is a great way to do this.
Toys don’t have to be bulky to take out, a small animal skin tugger fits easily in a pocket. It’s super important that your dog ‘wins’ sometimes. Who wants to join in a game that you always lose? Tug a little, let the dog win, invite them back in. teach your dog a release to make it clear when the games has ended.
The promise of play can also massively help with recall. Imagine coming back and the first thing that happens is an epic tuggy game with your bestie?
I often play catch with treats on my walks. In fact filming a dog trying to catch in slow motion brings me absolute delight as they re often so so funny! Catching requires concentration and focus, so plenty of mental stimulation. With multiple dogs I often do ‘you her your name, you get a treat’ and chuck for the dog to catch.
You can also try throwing the food, which brings the extra excitement of the chase. You’re unlikely to be able to throw anywhere near the distance you could throw a ball. Food need not be anything more than a little of the dog’s daily food allowance, no need for thousands of extra treats!
These are also great ways to reward your dog if they do super amazing things you’d love them to repeat!
There's so much more, but hopefully that would get you started!
For more information about why fetch may not be the best game for your dog check out Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) https://caninearthritis.co.uk/